Tell Me About It: Her mother always insisted she put on a happy face

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While I'm away, readers give the advice.

On minimizing feelings: There is no way minimizing a loved one's issues could possibly comfort them. It might shut them up so the minimizer won't have to risk effort or embarrassment by being supportive, but the damage it does in the process is incalculable. Minimizing is belittling and it's an insidious form of verbal abuse. It runs in families. It ran in mine.

My mother was clearly a victim of this process and she did her level best to pass it down to me. I was not permitted to be too cold, too hot, feel pain, be dissatisfied, mourn the death of a pet, or express anything negative by any sort of physical manifestation. My feelings shifted between guilt at breathing other people's air and intense anger. Mom was bound and determined I should be happy, and she stayed home with me instead of getting a job in order to make sure of it.

After I left home and married a man who was good enough to cut me some slack, I finally became a person. I will never forget how horrified my mother was when I hugged my daughter after she skinned her knee.

 

On awful partners and great ones: My best friend is married to a guy I don't care for all that much. I think I knew my now-husband was for keeps when I discovered that whenever we spent time with Bestie and Husband, my guy both made Husband somehow less awful, and was happy to engage with Husband so I could engage with Bestie.

I try to return the favor whenever we see one of his good friends and that friend's irritating wife.

 

On when to tell the kids about a prior divorce: I have a previous marriage that did not produce children. I told my kids (second marriage) when they were little and it never was an issue. After two decades, my ex-husband contacted me after the death of his parent, and we became close friends again.

He is divorced now again, but unlike me, he did not tell his (now adolescent) children about our previous marriage. This recently became an issue, because his youngest snooped on his phone and sent me a text demanding to know who I am (I told her I was an old college friend). Also, he was in the area and planned for months to pay a visit with me and my family (as he had done a prior solo visit), but because he had his three kids with him and still hadn't told them, he freaked out and canceled at the last minute.

Frankly, that hurt. And it made me question why I bothered even letting him back into my life if he has to hide me when it becomes inconvenient for him. His excuse is that he and his ex are experiencing postdivorce co-parenting turmoil, to which he does not want to add drama. Like so many, he is waiting for a "right time" to tell them. This kind of secret gets more and more difficult to reconcile the longer you wait to come clean; his kids will probably wonder, "What else have you kept from us?"

 


tellme@washpost.com.

Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.