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 Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Hax clients only)

By CAROLYN HAX

(BEG ITAL)Dear Carolyn:

My son is almost 9 and loves to chat, with his friends mostly. He pronounced 99 percent of the words perfectly, including their context, since age 2. That tells me his speech section of the brain developed faster.

Now his teacher complains he chats during the class and does not calm down easily. I am working on it in collaboration with the teacher.

How and where should I train him to turn his speaking power into an asset for him in the future, by teaching him the parameters and quality of talk?

-- Working on It(END ITAL)

How wonderful for your son that he is precocious.

Please don't make so much of it that it becomes a burden to him.

Kids develop at different rates, that much we're all told. Within this reality there are smaller realities, such as, a kid can excel at some things and lag in others; a kid can roar out of the gate at something (or everything) and prove over a lifetime to be the bearer of special gifts; a kid can be an early standout at speaking, reading, music, sports, whatever -- and by 11 or 16 or umpty-three be overtaken by mid-to-late-bloomers and absorbed as one of the crowd. A kid can grow up great at/immersed in/preoccupied for an entire childhood by X and drop it one day for Y. Abruptly and for good.

It is good to feed kids' interests and talents. Of course you hand instruments to budding musicians.

But there is a fine line between feeding their interests and co-opting their talents in service of your own pride.

The way not to cross it is to banish "future" for now. You sign him up for X because he loves it, not because visions of X scholarships dance in your head.

The reason for this is within the sub-realities of development. It's painful to watch a frontrunner child who has been encouraged to "train for the future" -- whose one spark or another has been attentively fanned and coached and tutored, and whose identity is built on that talent -- wrestle with the universe-altering reality of watching the rest of the pack catch up.

The other extreme is painful, too, where the child remains a standout but feels trapped and isolated by a life of narrow pursuit.

And don't get me started on the poor kids tagged as "the ____ one."

Maybe this isn't what you meant by "turn his speaking power into an asset for him in future." But it tripped me up hard because your child's precocity has no bearing whatsoever on the answer to his classroom disruptions. Which is:

1) Set clear limits.

2) Enforce them kindly and firmly.

3) Encourage him to roam freely within those limits, and roam joyfully with him.

That's it. Unless it comes to:

4) Develop Plan B if your child's needs aren't being met -- anything from developmental screening (for the "does not calm down" thing) to a school with more generous recess.

So the only answer to the "how and where should I train him" question is to encourage him every day, at each opportunity, with an eye to balance and a healthy tolerance for trial and error, to be true to himself and respectful of others. Any parent, any child, any gifts.

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) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

CAROLYN HAX COLUMN

(Advance for Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Nov. 19, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Hax clients only)

By CAROLYN HAX

(BEG ITAL)Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I recently broke up with my girlfriend, who had been saying repeatedly of our relationship, "This isn't working." She was referring to things like, we don't live close enough to each other to make getting together quick and easy, and that our financial and career situations are in very different places right now. When I broke up with her I thought she would basically agree it was the right thing to do, given her repeated complaints.

Instead, she cried, screamed, and then told me, "This isn't working," was supposed to mean, "Just dating isn't working so you should propose."

I'm kind of flabbergasted. Does the fact that I didn't pick up on what she was saying mean I have problems with reading people? Or does it mean she has problems with communicating, which is all the more reason I was right to break up?

-- This Isn't Working(END ITAL)

It means you both have problems with communicating.

She didn't say what she actually meant, and you didn't ask her to explain what she meant, or ask what solutions she had in mind for the "isn't working" stuff like commutes and finances. And/or you didn't say, "I'm confused, I think it's working great -- I really love being with you."

Now, you might be thinking, you asked and she answered and so you did your part. But if all this time she was really trying to hint-nudge you toward a proposal, then presumably the emotional/physical connection was at least somewhat good, yes? And so there was some kind of a gap between that emotional/physical connection and the verbal message of, "This isn't working." Good communication on both sides is what turns a confusing message into a coherent one.

Not for nothing, but I don't get any sense from your letter that you actually love[d] her. If you're looking for "all the more reason I was right to break up with her," then here's one: If you don't feel like a piece of you has been removed with this breakup, then she's not the one you want to marry.

Revisit as appropriate if both of you learn how to talk.

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG ITAL)Dear Carolyn:

My daughter's friend, who grew up in foster care, likes to call me Mom. I don't want to sound like a Meany McMeany, but I only want my daughter to call me Mom. I cringe every time her friend says the M-word, but I never correct her. I have been super kind to her by buying her things, making sure she has food at home and giving her rides from work. Should I just suck it up?

-- Not Your Mom(END ITAL)

I actually sucked in my breath reading this.

It is great that you have given material support to your daughter's friend. But this person, who has no family of her own, is giving you the gift of love. If you can look at that gift in your hands and seriously feel annoyed that you can't exchange it for a different size or color, and if you think you can aw-shucks this annoyance using cutesy poo McLanguage, then I don't know what I can possibly say to you to change your mind.

Heart, I should say. To change your heart.

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) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

CAROLYN HAX COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Hax clients only)

By CAROLYN HAX

(BEG ITAL)Dear Carolyn:

My partner wants a baby and I don't, and because we are same-sex there would be some difficulty involved in having one.

After many frustrating conversations, we have decided we will not have one. I see this as nothing more than sticking to our default state of childlessness, but my partner clearly thinks I have gotten my way and feels owed something in return.

I suggested adopting a new pet and that provoked anger, snide remarks, and tears.

What else can one person provide to make up for not having a child? Even if I sound glib about it here, I actually do feel guilty about this on a daily basis.

-- Baby Substitute(END ITAL)

You can't provide a substitute for a child. You didn't choose a different thing, you chose a different life.

And the fact that you stuck to the same thing you already had doesn't mean your partner did as well. Your partner's "default state" was childlessness, technically, but that state included plans for future parenthood. So that default really was (BEG ITAL)parenthood-to-be(END ITAL), which is not the same as your childlessness.

Your decision lopped off your partner's expected life path. You came to it mutually, yes, but in areas where there is no compromise, just either-or, even a mutual decision means one of you 100 percent gets your way. You did here. This is not just something your partner "thinks."

Understanding that, and saying so out loud, and being sensitive to it hereafter -- enough to imagine yourself in your partner's position before you start making suggestions -- are three things you can provide to help make up for your partner's loss.

Feeling guilty is not the same thing; that's just feeling as if you did something wrong. Your decision was no more wrong than it would have been had your partner's druthers prevailed.

Your question sounds glib not because you're not trying -- you obviously recognize you need to do something -- but because your response to your partner so utterly lacks empathy. Look again: You say (BEG ITAL)our(END ITAL) default." When it comes to feelings, assuming "my" means "our" is a potentially relationship-ending mistake, and your whole letter comes down to, "I'm not grieving, so why are you sad?"

Your partner is grieving. Respond to those needs accordingly.

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG ITAL)Hi, Carolyn:

My husband and I are friends with a couple who are just starting the divorce process. We've been approached by both for advice, since we've been through divorces of our own. We're trying hard to be supportive of both and not take sides. Until recently, they were still living together and showing up to social events together with their kids. Wife appears cheery and "normal," tries to steer clear of husband at these things, but husband is generally morose and tends to hover around wife. (He doesn't want the divorce.)

Now they're officially separated. We are all part of a bigger social community, so how do we pick which one to invite? Or do we continue to invite both and hope they sort it out? We are closer to the wife, but we don't want the husband to feel like he's lost friends, especially since he's sought out my husband's support. But inviting them both seems tone deaf, especially given husband's visible awkwardness around her. Do we just alternate invitations, or invite the person we think would most enjoy the particular event (almost always wife)? Ack!

-- Trying to Be Sensitive(END ITAL)

Invite both and let them sort it out. The husband's "visible awkwardness" is liable to change over time -- possibly even soon -- but the slap of being excluded by one's friends from a social event tends to sting for a very long time. Especially one delivered when you're already at a personal emotional low.

If one of them makes a habit of behaving badly at these group events, then, sure, revisit the idea of inviting only the well-behaved one -- and also keep an eye out for their actual attendance. If one or both routinely opt out, then make plans with them individually and sustain the friendship that way.

However you approach it, the new normal will soon have its say and start making these decisions for you; think of your choices now as just a bridge of decency to help them to that other side.

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG ITAL)Dear Carolyn:

My sister keeps her two daughters, ages 10 and 8, in car seats. Full-on, cushions-around-their-heads, CAR SEATS. The law in her state says to stop at age 8. Whenever I hint the kids should just ride in the car with seatbelts, she goes ballistic on me. Thoughts? I think she's infantilizing them.

-- Anonymous(END ITAL)

Maybe so. But infantilizing your (apparently infantile) sister is a delightfully ironic non-solution.

Plus, seats are but a tiny battle that also happens to be self-winning, since they'll soon outgrow the seats.

Overprotected kids need adults who notice and reward their competence -- that's the war. Just be that adult for them.

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) 2018, 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