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Carolyn Hax: Don’t beat yourself up over your bad parents

Washington Post

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

On parents who play favorites:

By the time I was in my 40s – and after beating my head against the wall until it pretty much exploded – I had to accept that rationality is the last thing this is about. Yes, it hurts in a place so primal that you may never get past all of it emotionally. But it wasn’t EVER about what was “wrong” with you as a child, or now as an adult. The party in all this who is wrong is your parent, who at this point is probably past fixing.

So, save your breath for something you can change, i.e., yourself. Avoid the temptation to call your parent out on it – trust me here – because it will only put you into yet another place from which your parent can criticize/marginalize you. Use other relatives and friends who do love you as a light to guide you out of this, and believe that the testimony of many honest hearts outranks that of one damaged one.

– Unfavored Child

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On being asked by parents to buy stuff for their child’s fundraiser:

My solution to the “parents selling stuff for children” is this. I agree to buy up to $100 of whatever the child is selling. The child has to agree to take the sold items to a food bank or other charity, go on a tour of the facility, and get a tax donation receipt for me.

The children get non-preachy exposure to those less fortunate, and a number of times the child’s group has adopted the charity as its project. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and have had a kid do a runner only once.

– M.

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On avoiding the competitive emotional landmine that is Mother’s Day:

On Mother’s Day, my wife gets nothing from me. No cards, no presents, no acknowledgement.

However, she does get presents (plants and chocolate, I know what she likes) and a card with explicit “thanks” twice a year … on our sons’ birthdays. That is the real Mother’s Day. On those dates, she was, damn it, a warrior. She worked so hard to bring them into this world, and I am grateful beyond the words I choose each year, remembering her magnificence. Her sacrifice. That is Mother’s Day. There are two of them. Each year. And there always will be as long as I tread this mortal coil.

– E.

I’ve devised a win-win situation for days like Mother’s Day and my mother-in-law’s birthday: I have my husband take her out (either a week before, or close to the day) for dinner, just the two of them. My mother-in-law has my husband’s undivided attention, they get some mother-son time, they can gossip about everyone they know, and the kids and I don’t have to sit through it. An added bonus is that I’m planting the seed for future mother-son meals of my own, even after our sons grow up and have children of their own. Win-win-win!

– Contented Daughter-in-Law

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… And a brambly, cathartic rant on “the holidays”:

When will people realize that holidays federal, religious, personal and traditional, all of the above, are OPTIONAL?

If Thanksgiving, Christmas, a birthday or the seventh full moon of each year makes a person miserable – for whatever reason – participation is not mandatory, and “celebration” may not be possible.

Many people have suffered trauma at these forced “most wonderful times of the year.” Physical, verbal and mental abuse, memories of poverty or deaths, all modern versions of personal tragedy – whether the occurrence was in childhood, adulthood, or both – can make a person not want to live through the barely changing “celebrations,” again and again, year after year. Even post-therapy.

True celebrations make people happy. Things that deserve a special time of attention, and not rote, “But we’ve always done it this way!” events. The first day you realize all the trees are finally fully green and leafed out after a hard winter. Landing a decent job after a period of terrifying unemployment. Finding a fine forever home for that kitten you found shivering in the snow. Fill in the blank; fill in YOUR blanks.

I’m sure each and every one of us can make a list of a dozen things that make us infinitely more happy than a dead tree and a dead, dry bird on the same day, in the same place, at the same time, every. single. year. If your vision of true happiness requires the presence of someone at your “official date,” although it would make that person or branch of the family miserable, then how could you possibly be happy, much less celebratory?

– I Know What Makes Me Happy and Hallmark Has No Clue

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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