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Carolyn Hax: Reaching out to a brother; a daughter’s relationship status


Dear Carolyn:

My little brother and I used to be close, but have had a more tense relationship in recent years (I thought he needed to grow up, he thought I wasn’t fun anymore). I think there’s equal fault on both sides.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Anyway, I just found out he’s going to be a dad. I met the mom at a family event and she is very nice, but they both have to work very hard to make ends meet, so I know this is going to be tough on them. I’d really like to let my brother know that I think he’s doing a good thing by working hard to prepare to be a good dad and that I’d like to be there for him and his new family. But I don’t know how to say it. “I’m proud of you” sounds condescending.

Brother Having a Baby

It sounds that way because it is, unless it’s something you can easily imagine his saying to you. Which I can’t.

Why?: “Little” brother; “he needed to grow up”; “he’s doing a good thing by working hard to prepare to be a good dad.” Each of these translates to, “I am the adult in this relationship and he is the child.” I have sisters, too — as in, sisters, not “big” sisters, and I’m not their “little” sister, unless there’s a need to distinguish one from another, like, “I have two sisters, and the older/younger one . . . ” blah blah blah blah.

Since such distinctions aren’t necessary here, the “little” in “little brother” is bias.

To get the strain out of the relationship will take concessions from both sides (aptly), but I suspect your contribution will solve it. That’s because your part is to dismantle your bias and see him as your equal, no qualifiers. Can you do it?

Dear Carolyn:

Daughter, 32, owns her own lovely townhouse. Been living with Boyfriend for three-plus years. Boyfriend recently took a promotion that requires him to be in another city three weeks per month, and one week with her. She seems okay with the situation. He’s even moving some of his furniture there. I think it’s a strange situation for a young, unmarried couple. Should I just butt out? It bothers me — like Daughter can’t get on with her life. Any comments?


Would it bother you less if Boyfriend sat on the floor three weeks per month, instead of moving some of his stuff?

Yes, they appear to be on course for less of a commitment to each other vs. more — “appear” being the operative word — and yes that will bother a loving bystander who defines “get on with her life” in terms of marriage, children, commingled furniture, detached home.

I’m less impressed by how unconventional this arrangement is, though, than I am by how self-sufficient your daughter seems to be. Sure, there are plenty of risks involved in this semi-long-term, semi-long-distance relationship, some of them obvious and some not so. But I don’t see any hint in your letter that she’s not capable of spotting, managing and, if needed, recovering from these risks herself.

Love her, trust her, root for her, be available to her if needed — and butt out. And never ever I-told-you-so her, even if you turn out to be right.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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