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Carolyn Hax: Readers’ advice on dealing with teens, MILs and bad luck


While I’m away, readers give the advice.

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

On getting through to your teenager without harping:

One thing my father did all throughout my teen years was take a walk with me after dinner. He said HE needed to get some more exercise and was more likely to get it if he had company.

I enjoyed having 45 minutes of his time every night. I knew I would have a chance to talk to my dad every evening. More to the point, I knew that time was important to him. I was important to him.


I was very fortunate to have a mother who I called the “kitchen table psychologist,” because she was able to tap into our emotions to enable us to vent. She was nonjudgmental and understood the basic need to express our emotions, and perhaps problem solve, but as soon as the words were out the “problems” were lessened by just putting them out on the table. She would say, “There is nothing that bad that we cannot talk about,” and it was usually not that bad.

She would usually end the discussion with a humorous anecdote, usually about herself, and we would have a good laugh at the end of the conversation. That was so great to have.


On all those evil mothers-in-law:

Admittedly, I was not close to my husband’s (weird and difficult) mother, but I always was respectful, patient and kind to her, given that she was the mother of my spouse and grandmother of our children.

Now that I am of age to become a grandmother, I see the other side and am much more sympathetic to all the older moms out there who maybe feel a little lost, a bit lonely. Aging can be a scary process, and having to redefine oneself and find new ways to find purpose can be daunting as people age.

While certainly those buttinsky mothers-in-law need to be dealt with using a firm hand, I do wish young moms would understand that the way you feel about your babies and little ones is just how we felt about our children, who are now all grown up and who may have forgotten there was once a close bond between us. Sure, establish healthy boundaries, young moms, but please show a little compassion and understanding.

Future MIL?

On feeling like the bad-luck fairy has moved in with you and is sleeping on your sofa:

People with plenty of money have crummy luck all the time, too, but it’s just an inconvenience for them. My parents are millionaires. Last week their heater, car, and garage door broke. So what?

If they were poorer, each problem would’ve caused two more problems. People living on the edge are vulnerable to every mishap in a way that is catastrophic. It’s very hard to break the cycle. You need a string of good luck that lasts for years.

By the way, I’ve always tried to live within my means and got hit with the housing crisis in a perfect storm that reduced me to zero. So I’m not saying here that poorer people are doing something wrong; it’s just about having more than enough money to be able to recover.


Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at



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