While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On responding constructively to the pain of exclusion:
My older sisters [often left me out] and one time it just broke me. I told them my grievance and said I would be taking a break.
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Once we reconciled months later, they were much more considerate. I told one friend who I trust but did not want my husband or two children involved and they still do not know — though my children have voiced out of nowhere that they feel I am dismissed as the youngest. I just let it go.
My relationship with my sisters has gotten much better over time, worth working on quietly without starting a family war.
On the emptiness of titles when it comes to family:
I married my college sweetheart just before senior year. We were married only one year when we were hit by a drunk driver and I lost her.
I recovered, fell in love again and remarried. However, neither set of our parents approved and mine never spoke to us again.
One summer, on a family vacation, we stopped to see my first wife’s family. They adopted my wife and children with open arms. We enjoyed a great relationship with them and they were better “grandparents” than our own parents were.
On the angry older relative:
I asked my Dad, 89 at the time, why he was so angry about family gatherings and celebrations.
He would become sullen and argumentative with large groups. Dad was not one to speak of feelings.
In a moment of pure clarity, he said he was tired of being the star attraction in the family dynamics. He was bored with his life as his body and health slowly failed. Having been a robust, active man most of his long life, this was an insult to him. I asked what he would want, and his reply was totally understandable. He wished all these folks would truly take an hour or two and come to see him one or two at a time. Fill his afternoons, or early evenings with visits that included direct conversations.
I learned more in the last years of my dad’s life than in the other five decades combined. Those one-on-one conversations are now priceless memories.
On feeling stuck at work and in life:
When my husband and I began dating, we were both unhappy in our jobs. A year later, he quit his job and picked up a part-time job with a community organization where he had previously been a volunteer. Two years after that (we were married by this point), we both quit our jobs, got rid of our apartment and our possessions, backpacked on the cheap around Latin America, studied Spanish, and volunteered for a couple of years for a human rights organization abroad. We were lucky that we had worked long enough and lived cheaply enough that we had savings for our adventures.
It changed our lives. When we came back, we were ready to think outside the box about careers and try new things.
My advice [to people feeling stuck] is to examine their assumptions and fears.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.