Ditch parental-fad-go-round

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - CAR­OLYN HAX Chat on­line with Car­olyn at 11 a.m. each Fri­day at wash­ing­ton­post.com. Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Wash­ing­ton Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20071; or email tellme@wash­post.com

DEAR CAR­OLYN: It seems that par­ents are con­sid­ered re­miss if they don’t have their kids sched­uled ev­ery minute of the day. Do you rec­om­mend free time so that chil­dren can ex­er­cise their imag­i­na­tions?

— Time Man­age­ment DEAR READER: I’m afraid you’ve fallen a bit be­hind — par­ents are now con­sid­ered re­miss if they do have their kids sched­uled ev­ery minute of the day, and don’t block out the req­ui­site free time for them to ex­er­cise their imag­i­na­tions.

Or just to ex­er­cise, since par­ents are also con­sid­ered re­miss if their chil­dren are vis­i­bly seden­tary or, bless their hearts, soft.

If you have a sense of ad­ven­ture or a knack for tea leaves, then maybe you can get ahead of the trends and an­tic­i­pate the next things par­ents will be con­sid­ered re­miss for do­ing and/or not do­ing. There’s money to be made there for sure.

Un­less we man­age to get to the point, like Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches, where so­ci­ety’s ap­petite for judg­ing par­ents cul­mi­nates in such a frenzy of trend adop­tion and re­jec­tion that it be­comes im­pos­si­ble to tell any­more what’s in or out; should that come to pass, the Star-On and -Off ma­chines will leave town, tak­ing their profit po­ten­tial with them, and leav­ing par­ents no choice but to raise their kids as they see fit.

DEAR CAR­OLYN: I’m in a book dis­cus­sion group, which I gen­er­ally en­joy. One of our newer mem­bers, who started out fairly pleas­ant, has be­come ex­tremely snippy about others’ opin­ions if they dif­fer from his. His voice drips sar­casm and im­plies stu­pid­ity.

This per­son suf­fers from a con­di­tion that I un­der­stand can flare up painfully on oc­ca­sion, which might be be­hind his “at­tack” mode kick­ing in. I sym­pa­thize, but not to the ex­tent of be­ing willing to ac­cept such rude­ness. Others in the group seem ready to over­look his ac­tions be­cause of his con­di­tion. They might roll their eyes, but they say noth­ing.

I’ve just about reached my limit of bit­ing my tongue when he says hurt­ful things to any of us. Is there any kindly way of get­ting him to stop with­out be­ing a bad guy my­self? Or is my only re­course to drop out of this group?

— J. DEAR READER: There’s a lot of de­tail here that doesn’t af­fect the ques­tion.

When a com­pan­ion says some­thing ob­nox­ious, you say, “Am I hear­ing you cor­rectly? That sounded snippy.”

Direct­ness is re­spect­ful even of your ail­ing Cap­tain Sar­cas­tic — cer­tainly more so than eye-rolling is. To as­sume he needs spe­cial han­dling is to treat him as a pity case.

Speak­ing up is more re­spect­ful, too, of the value of your own time. This is as much your book group as any­one’s, so you are as en­ti­tled as any­one to break a peer-pres­sured si­lence and point out some­thing that both­ers you.

If noth­ing changes af­ter you’ve spo­ken up a few times, and if you’d rather not stay un­der the cur­rent con­di­tions, then it makes sense to drop out.

About all that ex­tra de­tail: You may have in­cluded it to be thor­ough, which I ap­pre­ci­ate. If you in­cluded it be­cause you thought it ger­mane, though, then please re­mem­ber that in­tegrity is un­af­fected by the type of group, or the ill­ness of one mem­ber, or the ret­i­cence of others, or what­ever else. And re­mem­ber that in­tegrity is the only com­po­nent of a “bad guy” cal­cu­la­tion. If on prin­ci­ple you be­lieve your si­lence abets ob­nox­ious be­hav­ior, then you need to speak up. Your words or your exit will do.

DEAR CAR­OLYN: When friends or ac­quain­tances tell me they are go­ing through a hard time, or have a health prob­lem they are deal­ing with, I al­ways tell them I will re­mem­ber them in my prayers. I do not pros­e­ly­tize nor do I go into any de­tails about how I pray or where I pray. I don’t rec­om­mend they go to church or light can­dles.

How­ever, a fam­ily mem­ber said this might of­fend those who do not pray or be­lieve in prayer, or those who do not be­lieve in God.

Should I stop say­ing this and just pat them on the shoul­der, say­ing, “I hope you will be feel­ing bet­ter soon”?

— A. DEAR READER: But what if they don’t like to be touched?

What if they don’t want to feel bet­ter?

I nei­ther pray nor be­lieve in God, and when kind peo­ple who wish me well say they will re­mem­ber me in their prayers, I say, “Thank you.” And I mean it.

Be­cause if I start nit­pick­ing the molec­u­lar com­po­si­tion of peo­ple’s kind­nesses, then I have big­ger prob­lems than the one they’re of­fer­ing to pray away.

I might have a dif­fer­ent an­swer if the per­son of­fer­ing to pray for me al­ready knew I wasn’t re­li­gious and made the of­fer as a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to get un­der my skin or reg­is­ter veiled dis­ap­proval of my athe­ism. In that case, though, I’d still just say, “Thank you,” be­cause life is both too long and too short to play my half of that kind of game.

Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group/NICK GALIFIANAKIS

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