On using privacy as a form of control: I lived in constant fear as a child that I was going to let slip one of our so-called secrets — which I realize now were innocuous life details that no one but my parents would care about. And yet I remember getting in trouble many times for releasing this prized information. It made no sense to my child-self then, but now I see it as one more way my parents were trying to control both their lives and mine. It gave them a sense of security and fooled them into thinking they could control every detail. I make sure I never burden my own kids with that type of pressure.

On showing up for single friends the way they showed up for you, even when you're broke and busy with kids: With no children, we have been to many friends' children's events, with no opportunity to receive reciprocation. It goes with the territory.

My guideline is: If they died and you would go to their funeral (despite the cost), then go to the celebrations. People have money for what they want to have money for.

On the tug-of-war with parents over wedding plans: If asked for advice, I tell every parent of a future bride or groom: Give the happy couple money toward planning their wedding, then get out of their way. I add that if they, the parents, want to plan a big party, then they can throw an anniversary party next year.

One cousin told me, plain out, she could not take my advice because her daughter would not plan the kind of wedding she, the mom, would want. That tells it all, doesn't it?

On wishing for a child of one gender over the other: When I was pregnant, I wanted a girl desperately. I had visions of baking cookies, sharing secrets about boyfriends, and doing all sorts of girly things to make up for my deficient relationship with my mother. My first was a boy. I had a C-section with general anesthesia. The nurse asked me if I wanted to see the baby. I asked her the gender and, when told it was a boy, I opted for more sleep instead.

I love that little boy more than my own life. We baked cookies, and enjoyed each other's company doing boy things like digging for worms. My second was a boy, and I enjoyed him so much that when I was pregnant again, I was perfectly ecstatic with the idea of three boys.

My third was a girl. She does not enjoy baking or sewing and has never been open to learning any of the girl skills I envisioned teaching. She is secretive, and never confides in me about the smallest of life events. I love her dearly, but it certainly isn't the relationship I dreamed of.

My point is that before we have children, we picture certain relationships and ways of being a parent. Then the reality of each child, with his or her own unique personality, asserts itself. Just being open to enjoying the child you actually have, instead of the one you dreamed of, makes all the difference.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.