While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On sleeping arrangements for unmarrieds: While we were still dating, my wife’s parents didn’t want us sharing a room out of some random puritanical inclination. It was somewhat superficial because they knew we would sleep in each other’s rooms while at college, and we usually stayed up later than everyone in the house, so it wasn’t keeping us from having sex.
The one lasting impression, though, was that their silly and arbitrary rules made it that much easier for us to cast off their advice on other things as silly and arbitrary.
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Overall, I think these types of arbitrary rules strain relationships.
Treat your children age-appropriately, and they will probably come to you like an adult so you can help them with their real adult problems. If you are worried about the impression on younger kids, tell any older children you want them to set a good example and prefer guests to sleep on the couch, but you understand they are adults capable of making adult decisions.
On finding other ways to experience family: I don’t have kids of my own and don’t want them, but my husband and I both really enjoy children. Ever since our closest friends had kids (they’re 8 and 6 now), we’ve been going to their house for a potluck dinner once every few weeks so the parents can have grown-up company without forking out for a baby sitter, and we can play with the kids. (We still have adult outings with them, too, just less often than we used to.)
It turns out that my husband is the BEST wrestle-monster around and I’m a really good audience for goofy songs and impromptu dance recitals.
Last time we were over there, my girlfriend pulled me aside and said: “Susie just asked me if you guys are part of our family. I told her you are. Because you are.” I glanced at Susie and she was grinning from ear to ear and when we left that night, she gave us massive hugs.
If you have kids and you have friends, don’t be afraid to mix them. Not everyone wants to be a volunteer aunt/uncle, but a lot of us do. And everybody benefits.
On being an overwhelmed parent: Little ones get more independent and need less supervision as they get older, but people don’t realize that they get busier as they develop interests and start school. The parent’s answer to survival is to learn to say “No”:
No, we don’t need another pet.
No, we will not buy a bigger house with a longer commute.
No, I will not bake three dozen cupcakes for the fundraiser.
No, you cannot do more than one sport per season.
No, we will not drive to visit grandma this weekend, she can come here.
No, we are not making two different dinners today, you will eat what is on your plate.
No, I will not host the baby shower.
No, I cannot be the den mother/classroom mom.
No, you cannot have another sleepover tonight.
No, I will not coach soccer.
Your life is only as complicated as you allow it to be.
On criticism: I complained one day to my mother-in-law about her son. She gently said, “While he is your husband by choice, he is my son by birth. I know intellectually he’s not perfect, but my mother’s heart says he is. You’ll understand when ‘Billy’ (my son) has a wife.”
I took it to heart, as my disgruntlement was momentary but also, more importantly, not respectful to my husband or my mother-in-law.
On pushy grandmas: When they show up, be proactive. Immediately hand over the baby – don’t wait to be asked; tell other child/children, “Go ask your Grandma,” or call her over and say, “Here’s a problem for you to solve.”
Be very “appreciative” of her involvements (“Gosh, it’s great to have help”) and keep on bombarding her with the kids. Tell her again how much you appreciate the free time she gives you by taking care of the kids. Leave her at the house and go shopping, get your hair done, etc.
Worked for me.
On dreading, then grieving, a mother’s death: Take some comfort in the natural order of life. I outlived my first grandchild and it still makes my stomach hurt. Your mom wanted you to outlive her.
Sadness means you loved and valued her. Keep her memories alive by talking about her with family. You still have her!
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.