Carolyn Hax

Washington, D.C.

 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.

Besides the daily column, Carolyn has a weekly live online discussion (noon Fridays), the Hax Philes forum and a Facebook page. She also has a policy of saying yes when NPR calls but avoids TV like something forgotten in the back of the fridge; the feeling appears to be mutual.

Carolyn lives in Massachusetts with her husband, three boys and medium brown dog, Billy, but sees D.C. as “home.”  

Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning.

Chat with Carolyn

Tackle your problems with Carolyn every Friday from noon until she falls on her keyboard. Plus dip into her deep archives.

Nick Galifianakis

See more of Nick’s artwork

Hax Philes

Hax Philes are your place to weigh in and help your fellow Haxies. Share your thoughts on dilemmas that came up in recent chats and columns. Or comment on one of the Hax Philes Open Threads, where we discuss anything and everything that's on your mind.
Books by Carolyn Hax:  

Tell Me About It: Lying, Sulking, Getting Fat ... and 56 Other Things Not to Do While Looking for Love

Buy it from Amazon
Recent Articles

CAROLYN HAX COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Hax clients only)

WRITETHRU: In 3rd graf, 5th sentence, takes out extra word, so now reads "... not to kiss my kids"

By CAROLYN HAX

(BEG ITAL)Dear Carolyn:

To say I don't get along with my parents is an understatement.

The only thing they like more than their grandchildren is being in control. Neither of them has any respect for the rules my husband and I set for our household. If I say no, my mom keeps asking, or storms out of the room. When I tell her we don't give treats before meals, she waits until I leave the room and gives my toddler cookies just minutes before dinner. When my parents are sick and I tell them not to kiss my kids, I get yelled at. When I remind my parents about my child's nut allergy, my father tells me I'm overreacting. It feels like any rule I try to set, any direction I try to go in, they're behind me undoing all my efforts.

My mom makes promises to my toddler like, "You're going to come stay with us for the summer!" or "We're going to take you to Disney World!" without ever talking to us to make sure it's OK -- and quite frankly, it's not.

A few years ago, I noticed a male friend of my mother's was sharing photos of my child on Facebook without permission -- I didn't even know the man -- so I asked my mom to stop posting photos of my child. She recently started posting photos again of both my children, without asking, and I know she still remembers my request because she complained about it several times.

These are just a few examples. We used to get along, when I was younger, because I did everything they told me to without question. But eventually I grew a backbone, and they're not happy.

My brother and his family cut my parents off three years ago for similar reasons -- constantly giving their unsolicited opinion, going against the way my brother and his wife wanted to raise their kids, and getting extremely offended when called out on their toxic behavior. Rather than try to learn from that, they treat me and my kids however they want as compensation for what they lost.

When one of my sisters tried to approach them, my parents blamed her for the problem, talked about her behind her back, and had little to do with her for over a year. I feel so much anxiety about the situation, because I know my children love them and deserve to have grandparents around, if possible. But I have no idea how to have a positive relationship with people who make me feel so upset all the time and who deny any wrongdoing on their part. What would you do in this situation?

-- Exhausted(END ITAL)

They minimize your child's food allergy? The visit is over. You leave, or you ask them to leave. (Sweet holy nuts, what is wrong with these people.)

They yell when you ban germy kisses? Then the visit is over.

They slip your child a pre-dinner cookie? Then the visit is over.

They post photos of your children? They take them down or they receive no more photos of your children.

Your mother says, "We're going to take you to Disney World!" You say (BEG ITAL)on the spot(END ITAL): "I'm sorry, Poohbear, that's not true -- I don't know why Grandma said that."

Why? Because, judging by the pathological behavior you describe, they don't "like" their grandchildren. If they liked the kids, then they'd care about their well-being, yes? So would people who genuinely cared for the kids do things deliberately to undermine you and your husband? Your parents are actively damaging these kids' very emotional foundation: the parent-child bond. Wow.

What your kids "deserve" is protection from manipulators and other sick influences.

So you are the New Sheriff, and you take (BEG ITAL)no(END ITAL) bull. Zero. Let them either respect your rules, or feel the proverbial butt-thump of the door on their way out. It's learn or lose.

What your parents apparently do like is the booster effect your kids have on their ego and self-image. They give cookies and over-promise trips and post pictures, why? Not for your kids' benefits, but for their own, to be seen as Fairy Grandparents.

Therefore, if you're balking -- or if anyone's harrumphing -- because it's "just a cookie," then you need to remind yourself: "Just a cookie" also works as a great argument for your mother (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) to give a treat she was explicitly asked not to give.

Don't be shy about running these possibilities by a skilled family therapist.

You'll be in your brother's position -- soon -- if your parents keep trying to undermine you even as you deny them such opportunities. In the meantime, though, maybe it's not the worst thing to be in your sister's position: Tell Mom and Dad explicitly you won't stand for their disrespect of your and your husband's authority as parents. Maybe they'll see fit to reward you, too, with a year's worth of relative peace.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

CAROLYN HAX COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Hax clients only)

By CAROLYN HAX

(BEG ITAL)Dear Carolyn:

I just got engaged to one of four brothers who are very close. My fiance's oldest brother has been married to "Jackie" for a year. I sense Jackie is used to getting a lot of attention for being "the daughter we always wanted" to my future parents-in-law, and may also have some vision of herself as the up-and-coming family matriarch (gag).

I don't care about any of this; I am just doing my own thing and hoping to get along with everyone. I happen to be a nurse practitioner and the first medical professional to join the family. I do not brag about this or really talk about it, but the family likes to bring it up when introducing me to new people.

Jackie seems to find it threatening and has started telling everyone who will listen that she also has a "nursing degree," which is technically true but pretty misleading. She has an associate's degree from a college where she took some pre-nursing courses, but her degree itself is in something else and she never attempted any licensure exams.

While I get these weird misstatements are about her and not me, and are not hurting anyone (unless she tries to intervene in someone's medical emergency), it drives me crazy that she's trying to make a competition out of something that isn't one, and I'd really like to nip it in the bud. Any suggestions?

-- It's Not a Competition!(END ITAL)

I hear the rest of the family in the kitchen making popcorn.

But I also hope you and Jackie deny them that satisfaction.

If it's not a competition, then prove it by forfeiting -- or outright losing. Voluntarily, kindly, joyously, every time.

Please take this in the spirit it is intended, as an attempt to be helpful from someone who has spent a lifetime managing (or failing to manage) her own competitive impulses: Jackies can only drive you crazy if you (BEG ITAL)do(END ITAL) "care about any of this," on some level.

You can see through Jackie's attention cravings, not care to be anyone's matriarch, not need to be the daughter anyone "always wanted" -- I believe you on all counts, by the way -- and still not like the sensation of someone else thinking she beat you. So admit that to yourself. You can know intellectually you're not competing and still feel a mad impulse to say, "HA HA, LOSER, I DON'T EVEN CARE."

So that's where you can make a difference in your relationship with Jackie. Recognize the competitive feelings she triggers in you with her competitiveness; be prepared with a healthy outlet for those feelings so you don't react in the moment (laugh them off, walk them off, repeat a restorative mantra, resuscitate someone); and adopt the type of cooperative mindset that eases insecurities versus inflaming them. Such as:

Give her time to adjust to you.

Don't judge her forever on her struggle with this.

Remember her humanity.

Note her strengths.

Seek her opinions.

Learn when and how to change subjects gracefully.

Nurture an alliance, if not a friendship.

Swear off pettiness in all its forms.

Marriage into a close family comes with a duty not to be the reason it stops being close. If you can't be pro-Jackie, then be as Jackie-neutral as a person can be.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

CAROLYN HAX COLUMN

(Advance for Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Hax clients only)

By CAROLYN HAX

(BEG ITAL)Adapted from a recent online discussion.(END ITAL)

(BEG ITAL)Dear Carolyn:

At the ripe old age of 45, I am both excited and happy to have found my biological father through DNA testing. He abandoned my mother and me shortly after I was born so I have no illusions about the past. But I want to get to know him and my half-sister. He has shared his medical history with me, which I really appreciate.

Other than my mother, everyone in my family, even my adoptive father, is extremely supportive of me establishing a relationship with him, and even my mom says she doesn't want to stand in my way. My bio-father and I email daily and share stories of our lives. He is apologetic about what he did, reassuring that he is happy I found him, etc.

My only concern is that he refuses to tell his wife about my existence. They are both in their mid-60s and in good health and could live many more years -- long enough to see my children have children. I don't expect to be immediately (or ever) invited into the fold of their family. I don't want or need money from them.

I would like to eventually meet my bio-father and he says he wants that too, but I refuse to be a dirty little secret. The response from him about his wife and daughter is always that he doesn't want to bother them with "this stuff." That feels like a dismissal, like I'm not good enough to be shared. Or maybe I just need to be patient? We've only been corresponding for a few weeks. Am I pushing for too much too soon?

-- Hidden(END ITAL)

I balk at the idea that not wanting your entire existence kept secret is "pushing."

But, you're right, this is new for both of you, and it's a little early for "always."

Stick with the emailing for now, keep getting and giving information. Drop the issue of meeting him or being introduced to anyone.

When you get to the point where you're no longer interested in a relationship made entirely of email, when you've exhausted the utility of written words: State your preference for coming out into the open, one more time. Remind him you are not "stuff." If he says no again, then don't be afraid to step away from this correspondence, after telling him why.

You wouldn't be cutting him off, you'd just be exercising your right not to keep corresponding with him on his terms of keeping you a secret. This way you give him time to get used to the idea of including you in his life, and give yourself room not to go nuts.

You can always change your mind later, or just check in at some interval, say hi, and ask if he's changed his mind. Repeat as long as you have to -- or still want to.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

About
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. Besides the daily column, Carolyn has a weekly live online discussion (noon Fridays), the Hax Philes forum and a Facebook page. She also has a policy of saying yes when NPR calls but avoids TV like something forgotten in the back of the fridge; the feeling appears to be mutual.

Carolyn lives in Massachusetts with her husband, three boys and medium brown dog, Billy, but sees D.C. as “home.”  

Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning.

Chat with Carolyn

Tackle your problems with Carolyn every Friday from noon until she falls on her keyboard. Plus dip into her deep archives.

Nick Galifianakis

See more of Nick’s artwork

Hax Philes

Hax Philes are your place to weigh in and help your fellow Haxies. Share your thoughts on dilemmas that came up in recent chats and columns. Or comment on one of the Hax Philes Open Threads, where we discuss anything and everything that's on your mind.
Books
  • Tell Me About It: Lying, Sulking, Getting Fat ... and 56 Other Things Not to Do While Looking for Love
Links