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. For more than 20 years she has answered thousands of reader questions about everyday life — friendships, dating, parenting, in-laws, siblings, exes, dogs.

The Post is publishing collections of Carolyn’s columns that address different sides of familiar issues. Below are excerpts from and links to Carolyn’s columns about dealing with neighbors.

Go to the weird neighbor's party, for your kid's sake

A reader presented this neighborhood dilemma back in 2017: Their kid was invited to a neighbor kid's birthday party, but neighbor kid's mom (a former friend) has given them the cold shoulder in recent years, and they're not sure why.

The reader and their husband want to skip town completely, but should they go to the party to prevent their child from feeling excluded?

Here's what Carolyn said:

Ever read a situation and wonder how it's possible that people don't see how weird their behavior is?

Total multiyear lockdown on a onetime friend, except to issue an invitation. Okay.

As tempting as it sounds to flee for the weekend, joining this neighbor in her weird alternative universe for one afternoon would serve your kid best.

Why? Because you share a neighborhood. That's everything.

I've seen a lot of these neighbor-suddenly-stops-speaking-to-me stories in my inbox over the years, and I can't recall even one where the kids' friendships weren't severed as a result. The fact that your kids have kept playing together through this cul-de-sac cold war is remarkable. It jacks up the weird to another level, but it's remarkable all the same.

It's commendable on the part of Ms. Silent Treatment USA, even — it's only fair to say. Cul-de-war shunnings are extremely painful for the children caught up in them, because they get to watch out their windows as everyone gathers without them.

So don't risk it. Go, play along, hold your kid's place in the crowd.

Read the full question and response here.

Apologize when you screw up

In a letter from 2017, a reader asks Carolyn how to make amends with a neighbor they haven't spoken to ever since a parking disagreement four years ago. A friend parked in front of the neighbor's driveway, which led to an argument, which then led to the reader's husband reporting the neighbor's dog to animal control.

"After that, most of the neighbors took my side and avoided her," the reader wrote.

Her question to Carolyn: What can be done to make amends?

Here's what Carolyn said:

Oh, you've done plenty.

You made her the bad guy when your friend blocked her driveway, yes? You sicced your temper-challenged spouse on her, who then reported her dog as "vicious" with zero facts and an abundance of spite; you turned the entire neighborhood against her; you made no attempts to apologize even as four years of accrued evidence of her fundamental decency towered over her original offense of being "unnecessarily harsh" — about your friend's screw-up; you did no 2-plus-2 on the possibility that her past service and relocation might equal a recent separation from the military and the stress that entails, which might explain a one-time "harsh" response to a careless neighbor; you had the high nerve to describe her as "aloof and distant" and "missing out" on your "close-knit" and "supportive" neighborhood when her being thus traces directly to the self-righteous shunning you subjected her to.

Invitations to the block party? As anyone's idea of a gosh-I've-tried-everything answer to four years of your neighborhood's idea of inclusion?

Nope.

The answer was to drop by four years ago, the moment tempers cooled, to apologize for losing your mind over a driveway spat and to invite her and her nice trained dog over for a pleased-to-meet-you do-over.

Now, the answer is genuine remorse. And pumpkin bread. Bake some and leave it for her with a note apologizing, in full, for the shocking chain of unneighborly events that you — you — set in motion. Say you hope this is the year she joins you at the Christmas party.

Then don't hold your breath.

Read the full question and response here.

Offer a neighbor your support, just don't pry

In 2017, a reader wrote to Carolyn after noticing their neighbor is now bald after previously having long hair. The reader assumes she may be dealing with "some sort of health issue, likely cancer," but they're not sure how to offer support without seeming nosy.

Their question to Carolyn: Do I offer? Or, do I say nothing until they mention it?

Here's what Carolyn said:

Why else? Autoimmune, thyroid conditions, she said, answering a rhetorical question.

These might not require the support from neighbors that chemo often does, but still — for every person who's relieved not to have to explain her baldness to yet another busybody, there's another who's stunned and saddened that not one neighbor or acquaintance stepped forward when she was plainly sick.

So while it's generally a kindness not to pry into people's health conditions, sometimes it's worth it to hedge. As a neighbor who sees and talks to her regularly, and therefore is in a unique position to be helpful when needed, you can, I believe, justify a one-time reference to the hair. "I realize it's none of my business, but I noticed the radical new 'do. If you're having health issues, then I'm happy to help — rides, grocery shopping, whatever you need."

That phrasing allows her the full range of responses, from absolutely nothing beyond, "Thanks, I'm fine," to a specific, "Yes, rides would be a godsend."

However she responds, take that for a complete answer. As in, don't mention it again unless she does.

Read the full question and response here.

Remember: The kids are watching (and learning)

From 2016, a reader’s preteen daughter is often on their back porch listening to music or talking to friends on the phone. Neighbors complained about the noise, adding they can hear everything from inside their house. The neighbors asked the reader to move these hangouts elsewhere so they can enjoy some “peace and quiet.”

The reader asked Carolyn: Who’s right and what should be done?

Here's what Carolyn said:

You want what you want and to hell with everyone else, as long as it bothers someone other than you. This is the lesson you’re okay with teaching your kid?

With neighbor-noise issues, you can usually go one of three ways: 1. Dig in because it’s your house; 2. Give in because you don’t want to start a war with people you see every day; 3. Try to find a compromise — it’s your house, yes, but you’d hate it if they crashed your peace and quiet every day with their music and refused to turn it down.

Again: You have kids, so think a little bit. What path do you want to train them to follow when they’re adults?

You have two obvious points of compromise. You can buy your daughter high-quality headphones, and you can research sound-absorbing strategies to make your porch less of an amphitheater; presumably she’ll be eager to help when she realizes her preteen musings are public. These are so much cheaper and easier in the long run than thinking — and modeling the ethos of thinking — only of yourself.

Read the full question and response here.


We’re publishing collections from Carolyn’s past columns that touch on common relationships in our lives — regarding marriage, dating, in-laws and more. If you have a topic you’d like to see covered or any feedback, tell The Post.

Is this collection helpful? If you’re new, let us know in the comments. If you’re a longtime fan, tell us if there’s another column worth adding here.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

Read other collections from Carolyn Hax: