The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Readers’ advice on toxic grandparents and more


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 grandparents who are a bad influence:

My father married an emotionally unstable woman. She managed to engineer their lives (and mine) through our collective fear of her anger and tantrums. I spent 20 years kowtowing to her out of fear she would force my father to choose between us.

One of her favorite zingers was that I had all this education and what was the point when I chose to stay home with my children? I suspected I would never win the showdown if it came to that.

However, she started to compare my children in a negative way when they were under 8 years old; the eldest, a girl, was the “genius” and my son was a challenge because he did things differently than she thought he should. I put my foot down.

I started pushing back against her nastiness to me and our children. This caused a catastrophic tantrum on her part, and my father did as I suspected and chose her over us. Sadly, we are happier, even though I desperately miss my father and his presence in the children’s lives.

I wish parents would feel empowered to protect their children from becoming the next generation of victims of their family dynamics.


On friends who forget to care about what’s going on in your life:

I follow what I have vaguely come to think of as the 70/30 rule of friendship. It doesn’t have to be 50/50, but there has to be some give-and-take.

Sure, if someone is having a problem or a particular situation, it can be all about them for a while, but if it’s clear it’s just going to be all about them all of the time, I start backing off . . . way off.


On judging people who don’t have college degrees:

College costs a lot of money. Not everyone has it. Some of us come from families and lives so dysfunctional that there’s not a single responsible adult on the scene to explain the availability of student loans and help figure out how to get one. Some of us, when we figure out these things DO exist, are sufficiently scarred by a childhood of crushing poverty to reject the idea of signing on for years of debt.

That’s MY story; someone else’s is probably different, but rest assured s/he has one too. Why don’t you ask people what it is, rather than measuring their worth by an arbitrary yardstick of blind privilege?


On responding to comments like, ‘I barely recognized you’:

When people I hadn’t seen lately would say, “You look good,” or, “You lost some weight, didn’t you?” when I hadn’t, I used to take it the wrong way. I would usually say, “Wow. How bad did I look before?” Then the person, obviously embarrassed, would backtrack and say that wasn’t what they meant, etc.

Then I would feel bad because if they were trying to pay me a compliment, I wasn’t accepting it graciously.

Even though I am 71, have wrinkles and am overweight, I now say, not in a mean way but with a laugh, “Oh, you probably just forgot how beautiful I am!” The other person laughs too, without being embarrassed.


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

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.