Short Answers/Live Chat Today

Submit short questions before noon Chicago time either on Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday).

Between noon and 1pm I’ll answer as many as I can, updating as I go.

Comments get turned on once everything is up. Thank you!

Q1: “I just bought lunch for a homeless man, so why do I feel so bad?”

A1: I can only offer wild guesses here, but it might be just one of those passing things where doing *something* feels good but you still want to do more and feel bad because you can’t do everything.

Keep doing the something. Someone got to eat today. That’s pretty cool, and probably more important than feelings.

Q2: Going on a road trip soon to visit friends with kids ages 5 & 2 1/2! How can we be good houseguests to a family, and what are good gifts for parents and kids of that age? Any ideas on how to be a great (fake) aunt/uncle who kids only see occasionally?

A2: That sounds really fun, I hope it’s a great time!

As someone who used to be nervous/awkward around little kids and who now is fine, I have lessons. If you’re not really a kid person, it can help to think of toddlers as being a little bit like cats. As in, when you visit a house where there are cats, if the cats don’t really want to pay attention to you, they won’t, and if they do, they will, and there’s really nothing you can do to make either thing happen. Cat don’t really give a shit and neither do little kids for the most part, so you don’t have to do anything besides roll with whatever is already happening. If the kid drags all the books off the shelf and brings them to you one by one, you maybe read them a story. If they put hats on you and find it funny, you let them put hats on you and you laugh. If they are absorbed in whatever they are doing, you let them do that. If they are in an “ONLY PARENT WILL DO, PREFERABLY MOMMY” phase, don’t take it personally. If they’re doing something that might be dangerous or destructive, you stop them, but otherwise it’s just improv and you can’t go wrong with “Yes, and?

I don’t interrogate little kids about their hobbies, I don’t give a fuck about what they learned in school that day, I don’t care if they are “making polite conversation” with me as a guest, I generally don’t care if they remember me 30 seconds after I’ve left the room (never mind between visits to their parents). If they want to demonstrate alphabetic or numerical knowledge, I am an appreciative audience for the ABCs and 123s, but I don’t try to get them to count for me or say the alphabet or stuff like that. I say hello and then basically sit somewhere quietly and see if they come to me, and if they do I try to smile and be pleasant and engaged in what they are doing, the same way I would let a friend’s cat headbutt my fist and give it skritches.

Usually after about two hours of this I could use a nap. It takes a lot of energy to say “Cool!” with the requisite amount of enthusiasm when someone has shown you the 100th Transformer-transformation in a row. This is why I tend to bring parents consumable things like BOOZE or FANCY CHEESE when I visit them. 2-5 year old kids might really like blowing bubbles outside, so maybe find an inexpensive kit of wands and bubble stuff? Their parents might appreciate you taking them outside in the back yard for an hour to use said bubble stuff while they take a nap.

My other piece of guesting-with-families-with-small-kids advice is: Follow the routine of the house. The parents are gonna have the kids on a schedule, find out what it is, and help them keep the kids on schedule during your visit. Naptime is sacred, don’t fuck with it. Ask what the family meal-times are and work around that. The parents might be pretty preoccupied with kids and kid talk and kid stuff until after their bedtime, at which time they can emerge as adult-conversation-butterflies. Don’t take it personally if conversations get interrupted or sort of trail off, it’s not the parents being rude, their lives are just Like This for a while and it won’t always be that way.

Q3: A longtime friend (allegedly! still!) supports Trump. I only know from my partners (white cis males talking politics at 3AM). Friend NEVER brings it up, is sweet & kind in person. I pretend not to know, as hostess ignoring awful rumors, but…feel gross.

A3: A lot of my personal “OK, ‘let’s politely agree to disagree’ about politics is for stuff like how to best fund environmental protections, not about who gets to have human rights” stuff from this week is about people who are vocal about what and who they are supporting. And like, I don’t think any of that is easy or there is one solution to everything, but have reached the end of my patience with pretending that there’s a way we get out of this with everyone feeling safe and comfortable and never called to account for what they have enabled. And I am talking about people I LOVE, people who have always been kind to me, openly expressing and supporting shocking bigotry, shocking violence, a shocking abdication of things they claim to stand for (I’m talking about a pastor in the family preaching that the kids in cages aren’t “our” kids and that his Bible, the one that says ‘love strangers and welcome them,’ doesn’t obligate us in any way to their welfare and safety, and it’s like, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW UNCLE LARRY?). Like, I’ve got the same whiplash as every other well-meaning white person who thought some of this shit was getting better. And I have the knowledge we’ve learned in this community that just ’cause an abusive person was always nice to you it doesn’t mean shit to the vulnerable people they target.

I also think that if you’re going to spend precious time and energy trying to convince people or persuade people, you should focus on mobilizing the ones who mostly agree with you to get out and vote (repeatedly contact elected representatives, protest, support protestors, maybe stay home from work in case of a general strike, etc.) and treat the others like maybe they joined a cult and they can’t be reasoned with right now and it’s sad that you won’t see them for a while but you’ve got other shit to do! I think that calls for “civility” right now are utter bullshit. Get every single kid who is in a cage out of that cage and back with their families, let those families come into the country like all the asylum-seekers and migrants before them, allowed to get jobs and find housing and move freely and recover from the trauma of what they’ve been through, get them legal representation so they can navigate the entire process, and then we can talk about civility. Maybe. (And yes I do want completely open borders, thanks for asking!)

So, what do you do about the person who is quiet, especially when we have secret ballots for a reason?

I think your real question here is, “Do I ask?” 

And if you’re gonna risk cutting a longtime friend out of your life because of a rumor, maybe risk the ask? They may not tell you, and they may not be persuadable if they do, but if it’s worth possibly ending a friendship, it’s worth knowing the truth first.

And like, if you’re reading this and want to convince me that your personal Trump-supporting-relative is actually really great or they had their reasons, I would beg you, go talk to THEM about it, I’m not the New York Times, I don’t have time to give out individual absolutions even if I wanted to. Your emails are noted (and deleted).

Q4: This question might be tough: How to best support your friend who is taking care of her dying father? He’ll likely die within the next 2 to 6 months, everyone’s resistant to using outside help. Also they’re in a different country. It’s more a “How can I be a good friend” question because I know logistically, they will do whatever, no matter what I say. Also if you have any pointers for the grieving period because I have NO CLUE.

A4: It is tough. You are obviously kind and you want to help, but “you performing good friend” is not at the center of what’s happening, and you are very limited in what you can do.

I’d say, 1) Be available to listen without interrupting if your friend wants to talk and let her take the lead on whether the conversation is a heavy one or a light one 2) Send a care package if you can – stickers, comic books, gift cards, just little things that say I like you and am thinking about you. That can be done without putting an additional burden on her to tell you what she needs. 3) Think long-term. Lots of people cluster around to offer help or condolences in a crisis. The friend who a year from now understands that grief doesn’t have a definite timeline, the person who can listen then, is a pretty valuable friend.

Otherwise, focus on your own life, your own family, your own circle. Don’t set up a situation where you’re like, annoying or overwhelming your friend with your desire to help.

Q5: Moved out a year ago. For family events (Fathers Day) parents make plans at last minute, won’t tell me plans unless I ask (often night before), & get angry if I made separate travel plans (“faaamily”) or say the time doesn’t work for me. What do I do?

A5: I mean, I hope they like seeing you a lot less?

If you tend to be a planner, and they tend to be more of a “we’ll leave the day open and not communicate the plan, but there probably is sort of a plan (in our minds, that we sure hope you’ll read, and be mad if you don’t!)” people around events that you know they usually celebrate, i.e., Father’s Day, and you want to celebrate that stuff with them, then leave the day as open as you can and bug them in advance, like, “Hey, any Father’s Day plan I should know about? I’ve got that day open right now, let me know.” 

If they don’t tell you, or the time they have in mind when the plan comes together doesn’t work for you, then say “Sorry, that plan doesn’t work for me, I need more lead time if I’m going to change my work schedule/it works better for me if I ride solo so I can leave when I need to/[or whatever else is true for you and the situation]”, suggest the thing that WOULD work better for you, and then let them be upset if they’re gonna be upset.

Then, try again next time and see if it gets better over time if you’re consistent. You can also in that initial contact be the one to suggest plans that will work for you, like, “Do you want to get together on ____ day, let’s meet at [time] at [place]” and see what they do. Just because they’ve always been the one to plan celebrations doesn’t mean that you, an adult, can’t plan them, too.

Q6: “Months ago I texted close friend that something he said on social media hurt me. He said he would respond later when able to devote his full attention to this but never did. Know I should move on but can’t let go of my anger/desire to confront him. Ideas? 

(Tbh I’m not interested in preserving the friendship. just, in a totally childish way, I think I don’t want him to have the last word. Like, he doesn’t get to quit, I want to fire him!)

A6: I almost guarantee he is not still thinking about this, but what’s stopping you from saying “Hey, you promised to follow up with me about ______. Got time to talk about it now?” and seeing what he says?

What’s stopping you from pressing the block button?

(I can’t compose a parting remark for you without knowing what he said.)

Ok, this concludes our shenanigans for today. Thank you for the questions!






148 thoughts on “Short Answers/Live Chat Today

  1. Q6, you’ve actually already had the last word. “I’ll get back to you to talk” is not A Last Word. It’s a blathery punt. Take your Last Word Credit and go in peace.

  2. Q4, the “ring theory of kvetching” is the absolute best thing on the internet for helping people in a crisis, and should be required reading for everybody as far as I’m concerned. The TL;DR is “comfort in, dump out” – meaning, your job is to comfort anyone who is closer to the person needing help than you are, and save your complaints about how worried you are etc for anyone who is farther from the centre.

    1. Thanks for the link. I’ve wanted to share the Ring Theory but couldn’t remember the source.

      The Ring Theory helped save me the last couple of months, reminding me of my duty to SIL, nephews, and mother, and allowing me to erase anyone in an outer circle who was misbehaving. My brother’s funeral was Tuesday.

          1. It absolutely is evil. My mom has it, too, and part of me longs for the day she isn’t lost anymore. If there is any afterlife, I hope your brother has found himself again, and is at peace.

        1. Thank you. The wisdom and compassion of the Captain and the Army have helped me a lot.

  3. Answer 2 is great. Bedtime is a really important one. It always takes longer than I think it will and depending on the kid it can be a really complex thing with visits downstairs for a tv show or glass or water in the middle of it. Be ready to cheerfully entertain yourself/selves. “I’m fine, just reading my book/catching up on vlogs/we just started a game of scrabble! Take your time!”

    1. If the kids are doing bedtime ready, I’ve joined in and helped read books (some kids might find this too much of a change though). Other times, I wash the dishes while bedtime is happening (assuming your friends aren’t picky about how the dishes are done).

      1. Agreed–when I am a guest in a home with kids, I use the bedtime to pitch in with clean up from dinner, etc. That means that when bedtime is done we are all ready to start partying! lol.

    2. Also remember to be quiet if they need you to! When our first two were small, we lived in a tiny house and the rule was hushed voices after they were down. It made us not very good hosts, but our friends were very considerate and didn’t wake the babies, and we sure appreciated it.

  4. Q5 – I solved that problem with my family when I told them I could not attend the gathering at which they planned to celebrate my birthday because I had made other plans. My plan was to stay home and play with the cat because I was done with being the last to ever find out about anything and never being involved in the planning.
    Now they know that if they want me to be there, they must invite me with sufficient notice.

    1. Yeah, what would happen if Q5 just… didn’t ask about the plans? And when faaamily calls up wondering where you are, you can act as puzzled and befuddled as you like, because obviously you didn’t know about any plans and made plans of your own for the day.

      (I know this won’t work for all situations–especially if you do know some form of plans are occurring but don’t know what they are specifically–but still.)

      1. It helps, but be prepared for this behaviour to go on and to maybe lead to weird misunderstandings – in my case refused to go because plans had been made FOR me without bothering to ask if I was even available. Now at least some of my family thinks I just hate that specific place.

        I also suggest talking to all family members with something like “I’d appreciate it if you invite me to things directly, instead of asking mom* to tell me”
        *Substitute whoever is the main planner in your family

      2. LW5 here, and that could be a tactic, but the situation is almost always that I know we’ll be doing x and maybe y, but the details often don’t get ironed out until the last minute. So then it’s “well you knew we were going to do x, so why would you make other plans??” and I’m accused of not caring about faaaaaamily or being disorganized (which leads to wider claims about my character). A friend suggested I say “that time won’t work for me, as I need to finish my dish for the event” (even though I had finished it the day before), and the response was that I should have just finished it sooner and I was just [insult insults here].

        I swear my family isn’t like this most of the time, but there is just something about planning logistics that brings out the worst in them, and it makes it really hard to have reasonable interactions. But then, if this is what “that time doesn’t work for me” looks like, I guess “I can’t make it” can’t be that much worse, right?

        1. okay, if you know that they plan X but the details aren’t clear yet, maybe just tell them early enough “I’m going to be at your house at three o’clock on father’s day” and let them take from there?

        2. Oof, there is definitely a nasty edge to this.
          I would suggest skipping a few events, or possibly showing up when it works for you and leaving again if they pull shit.
          Hopefully a few good demonstrations that you really meant it when you said you needed a solid plan will help resolve this.

          So if something like this happens:

          You: “I will be there at three”
          Them: *leave at noon without telling you*

          the next line is
          You : “Well, I guess I must have missed you.Catch you next time!”

          NOT you frantically struggling to catch up, not twisting yourself into pretzels to be ready at any time they decide to start, not any of that shit.

          Do NOT put yourself in a position of waiting around for them or putting your other plans on hold to maximize their convenience.
          Emphasize to yourself that -they- are getting to spend time with -you-, or not, in accordance with how they treat you.
          You don’t owe them family celebration on demand.

        3. People who are shit at communicating plans are very difficult to work with. With people who just don’t make plans, you can do your own thing and just not be available if you’re already busy; with people who plan and communicate that plan in advance, you can communicate any problems and work around them. But people who make plans and then fail or refuse to communicate them well make it really difficult to work around them.

          One thing I’ve had some success with is proposing my own plans. If I ask “What are we doing for Thanksgiving?”, I get a lot of blah blah nebulous nonsense. If I say something like “We’re doing Thanksgiving at Grandma’s, right? Let’s meet at 3pm,” then a nebulous response doesn’t work–either they have to accept my plan, or they have to propose something else (e.g. “No, we’re planning on meeting at noon at Aunt Sally’s place”). Either way, I have the information I want.

          It’s even better if I can do this over text or email, because then if they try to change it on me later and pull the BUT YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN, I can be like “I made plans around the date/time/place we discussed in this conversation, see? I’m not available at (other date/time/place).”

    2. Oh, the memories! My family member and his clan were “let’s have a party for everything”-ers, call me at the last minute, I was fine with that, but (now-)ex hated it, said I should push back, and when I did, a few times, ex said I shouldn’t punish the kids by my non-presence just because of how the parents were… AAAAUUUUGGGGHHHH!

  5. Re: Q5 I think that LW should be planning events for holidays like Father’s Day! Unless there’s an extended-family get together, I’d put responsibility for that squarely on the offspring. When you’re small, another parent is usually the planner, but an adult who has moved out should be organizing the celebration for a parent-focused day.

    1. I think this is a solution for a different problem than the one the letter writer has!

    2. I’m LW5, and it just doesn’t work that way in my family. This almost always involves extended family, and even if it doesn’t, I’m just not in the position to host or do any major planning. Plus one of my parents *wants* to be in charge when it comes to this stuff.

      They already freak out when I say “that time doesn’t work for me,” and for logistical reasons, telling them I’m going to plan something is going to cause more problems than it solves. I’m just looking for help with boundary-setting right now!

      1. I saw your response above where you said you’ll have a general idea about plans but it’s the specifics they won’t give you. Could you, once you have that general idea, try something like, “I need to know by X date whether Y plan is happening, otherwise I can’t make it?” And on X date (which is a reasonable date, not too far from or close to the event), follow up and if the plans aren’t set, refer back to your conversation? And stay with “I can’t make it” rather than I made other plans. Repeat as necessary and don’t feel the need to explain. You’re trying to train them to be more respectful of your time (and of you generally, jeez, you say they sound lovely, but I’m skeptical).

        Another tactic is maybe bugging them *every day* once you know the sort of plans, for details. And if they complain about how much you’re bugging them, explain that you’ve been informed too many times at the last minute and that’s disrespectful of your time, and you’re trying to solve that problem. Would that work?

        Please don’t engage on the insults. It makes me sad for you and there are virtual hugs from this internet stranger if you want them. Not being informed of plans I’m expected to keep makes me crazy.

      2. Planning and getting to events also brings out the worst in my family. Everyone has unvoiced expectations but no one will make an executive decision. Me making an executive decision that works for everyone is disregarded because I’m the (grown-ass) baby of the family and that is my role forever. And then every Christmas we do the same thing at the same person’s house and bring the same dish. Yet every year the morning spent getting ready is mayhem and tearful panic, culminating with my mom narrating her most negative thoughts about the state of the world and how much her life sucks in the car on the way over to this event. Changing these inexplicable family rituals is massively difficult. I feel you on this.

        If the reasonable approaches suggested in comments don’t work (call before with a set time you’ll show up, tell them in words what behavior you need from them, tell them and don’t show if they fail to communicate their plans how you asked them to), maybe try:
        -purchasing set transportation (plane, bus, car share ride, etc) to the event. Having reservations at a certain place and time might work too. For some reason my family has Respect for tickets purchased and time reserved, but the idea of me zipping around in my own car like some free agent makes them lose all sense of time and logic. Maybe if they say “you know we’re going to [X], but we’re not making concrete plans yet like you asked us to” you could just call the place and make reservations for the time that seems like what they probably want, then call the family back and tell them. “Good news, I got us reservations at —. I’ll see you then.” “Good news, I checked the weather and whatever o’clock is the best. I’ll see you then.”
        -team up, if you’re able. If there are siblings, cousins, etc with whom you can plan things, travel together so there is no one person responsible for being [whatever insult your family is using]. There’s also more power behind saying “WE will be there at three” than “I will be there at three.” Not that it *should* be that way.
        -put it in writing. Text, email, write it in their calendar. “I’ll be free that Friday between X and X. Can’t wait to see you!” And ask them to write back to confirm they got that.
        Also, they have no grounds to insult you, given their own behavior (and really, there’s never a “good reason” to insult your kid’s character). I know you didn’t ask for scripts for this, but defending yourself can be a trap and just reinforces the idea that they have some authority to insult you. It’s super unsatisfying, but some more useful scripts are “it’s a shame you feel that way. [move on immediately and unemotionally to resolving the practical issue at hand. Or hang up].” or “There’s no need for insults. Did you mean to say [x]?”

        1. Ha, Respect for tickets and reservations sounds like my family, and “good news, I checked the weather and whatever o’ clock is best” REALLY sounds like my family. Except also my mom will want to check the weather every hour or so for days leading up to [Event]. And discuss. And re-plan. My spouse calls my extended-family’s natural state of planning “wibbling”, because we must consider all contingencies and leave all options open as long as possible and also all be so agreeable that nothing is ever decided upon… and it can be super frustrating for me, who grew up in it and sometimes shares the commitment-anxiety, and it is even more so for the in-laws.

          Anandatic, I can relate to the struggles with Parents Who Can’t?Won’t?Don’t Make Plans, and I remember that this was all so much more raw and frustrating and weird when I was recently-moved-out and hadn’t figured out the tricks like Respect for Tickets and we hadn’t figured out some of the other compromises in the middle (if I am well-spooned, I will often make Plans A and B with my mom and choose between the two plans on the morning of the event – because I know that her spoon-inventory simply is more unpredictable than my own and because sometimes I like to take advantage of that flexibility, too.)

          Except, even when I had just moved out, if I was like, “I NEED A PLAN, I don’t care if it rains, I don’t care what time it is, but I need to know now!”, that got validated. Sometimes the efforts to actually make a plan in advance still didn’t work, because I hadn’t learned how to put my foot down and make an Arbitrary Decision yet, but no one got angry. They didn’t insult me. (Sometimes my Jerkbrain insulted me for them, but that isn’t the same thing.) YMMV, but for my family, making it straight-up about spoons was the way to go; I did sometimes get pushback about needing more time to finish a dish or whatever (though still not insults). But in the end, that’s the thing that makes me willing to work on the various disfunctions that came with my family of origin; there is room for me to be really honest about where my boundaries are. They wouldn’t know what I meant if I talked about spoon theory, but there are other phrases in the family lingo that mean “This is about spoons”, and even when I was tiny, spoon-management was treated as something valid that applied to junior family members too. I eventually learned that I could say, “Welp, not-knowing is too stressful/I need to plan my energy around this in the rest of my week/fill in explanation-of-choice-here, so now I’m going to make an Arbitrary Decision. If this Arbitrary Plan doesn’t work for someone, they can come up with an alternative now or forever hold their peace.” Part of that was about growing into adult roles blah blah blah, but part of that was about my family being able to pay attention to my needs and boundaries. Sometimes they still couldn’t or wouldn’t make a freakin’ plan already, but they didn’t blame me if I had to bail because of that.

          This is fraught, primal, who-even-are-we-as-a-family stuff, with a side of health-and-safety (even if it is less about spoons for you/your family than it so very much is for mine), and I wish you all the luck and courage figuring it out.

    3. This isn’t how it works in my family. My brother and I both live a long way (like, plane-flight-distance, prohibitively distant to visit for a weekend) from my parents. We call for mother’s day and father’s day, and offer what support we can from cross-country for whatever they’re planning for one another. But for sheer reasons of practicality and possibility, if it were up to us kids to do all the planning, it wouldn’t be much of a day!

      1. I notice this is a cultural difference that varies from family to family and social group to social group. Until I was an adult I never heard of someone doing something for their spouse on Mother’s or Father’s Day, or frankly for anyone who isn’t their Mother or Father (unless they are a parental figure).

        It’s a bit like if I planned something for my parents’ wedding anniversary… I’m not married to either of them, so it would seem totally weird and inappropriate for me to get involved. Even to wish them a happy anniversary would be a bit odd.

        But in some families, and it seems like in the LW’s family, Father’s Day is a more general kind of day more like a birthday or something, and not specifically something between a dad and his kids?

  6. O thank you my Captain! Q3 here. Your perspective & this formulation helps immensely:

    “…focus on mobilizing the ones who mostly agree with you … treat the others like maybe they joined a cult and they can’t be reasoned with right now and it’s sad that you won’t see them for a while but you’ve got other shit to do!”

    I have been giving Quiet Cultist far too much brainweasely mental energy & it has not been productive. There is a rally tomorrow; I should be poking at the ones who might stand up!

    1. Combining Q3 and Q5 can be delicious: “Sorry, can’t be there. It’s the ABC rally.”

  7. Q1 I have something I call the “two cigarette rule”. I was at a bus stop, and there was a lot of litter lying around including cigarette butts. I picked up two cigarette butts and threw them away in the conveniently located trash can and kept reminding myself that I did a reasonable amount of cleaning up for one person. I think this principle is generally applicable, and a huge improvement over the tendency to notice a problem, want to fix it in its entirety, then freeze up and doing nothing at the realization that that’s impossible or wildly impractical. Yeah, sometimes doing something actually hurts more than doing nothing because to do something you have to actually pay attention to the problem, and how much of the problem is left unsolved.

    I’m absolutely terrible about following the rule for anything other than litter, btw.

    1. It’s the story of the guy throwing stranded starfish back into the ocean: “It made a difference to that one.”

      It just struck me: It’s Unfuck Your Habitat for social activism!

    2. The bus stop should probably put up an ashtray. You really shouldn’t throw butts into trash cans right after you put them out in case, you know, they’re not all the way out.

      (My mom takes hers home if there’s not an ashtray, but I don’t have that much faith in people lol.)

      1. i occasionally stomp on strangers’ discarded cigarette butts, if it looks like they might still be burning. (Picking them up is more than I’d be willing to deal with even if bringing tobacco into the home of an ex-smoker would be a bad idea.)

        1. I like compulsively stomp out other people’s cigarette butts if they look smoldery because I grew up in brush fire country and my instinctive reaction is “wtf that could burn down half the county!” I’ve been in the pacific northwest for 12 years and haven’t figured out yet that the entire thing is not in fact a massive tinderbox.

          I’m also allergic to them though, so they stay on the ground after I’ve stomped them.

          An unrelated tale of litter: Once I was standing at the bus stop near the university and there was litter EVERYWHERE, spread all over even though there was a half-empty garbage can right there. As I was standing there mentally grousing about how slovenly people are, food wrappers began to fly out of the garbage can. After a halfdozen or more food packages had come flying out a crow jumped out of the can and began examining them for edibles.

          I later saw a squirrel perform the same trick. Apparently they prefer to check for food outside the garbage can where the light is better.

          1. You’ve been in the PNW for 12 years and you haven’t noticed that the cigarette butt you’re trying to stomp out is floating down the street? 😉

        2. I will stomp on strangers’ smoldering butts and make SILENT, MEANINGFUL EYE CONTACT with them as I do it. It’s very satisfying and also, I hope, a reminder that dropping your cigs on the street is littering.

  8. On Q4, I would send cards and/or small care packages instead of 1 big care package. If you’re sending overseas, it will be better for your budget. But also, going through a huge care package can oddly be a big burden if you are emotionally or physically exhausted from caretaking. Something small every couple weeks would be a lovely pick me up.

    1. Thanks for the confirmation. I already mobilized our close friends circle to do this 🙂 (Cards/letters here and there.)

      1. Sometimes it is more economical if you’re going to send a box overseas, to send a larger one rather than several small ones. I’ve had friends send each other a box with small pick-me-ups that are packaged together in little bundles. Not like tiny wrapped boxes, but just small drawstring bags or tissue paper. One would be, say, bath oil and a scented candle, and one would be a paperback and one little fancy chocolate. The idea is that every evening, or whenever things feel rough or lonely, the person can unwrap one thing.

        You do have to know whether this would be a burden – one more chore! – or if it would feel too frivolous. My own experience in my life is that it depends on where you are in the care taking process. When my loved one was lingeringly ill, and my life was a repetitive blur of care taking, something like that would have been really nice. When he was clearly in the process of dying, it would have been very intrusive and weird.

        One of my relatives put together a care package like this for her best friend who was having chemo, and I think the friend liked it a lot.

      2. If you’re ordering across the Atlantic, you can maybe buy from their local amazon. We do books to France from and .fr.

        1. That’s a great idea! I’ve done this before for several countries, though do be warned that payment can get tricky (.jp has been done to cause problems for non Japanese credit cards for example) and do be sure to look closely at the fine print so you don’t accidentally stick your friend with a customs bill because amazon.theircountry got the thing from a seller in yours.

    2. Dear LW for Q4: Just wanted to add to all these great comments and The Captain’s trustworthy answer that probably even the smallest thing you can do will help. Of course, this is very individual so it is probably best to cautiously test first. When I unexpectedly lost my mother I received lots of flowers and postcards – but the ones I found most helpful were those that kept being in contact for a longer time.

      When one of my dear friends, a long distance friend, just like yours, lost their parent, I suggested them that I could send them postcards since I knew that they loved them. They had told they wanted something lighter to take their mind off of the sad things so I kept the postcards light, telling them about everyday events. I also sent them my e-mail address and info of my social media accounts and tried to set the threshold for them to contact me as low as possible but without stressing them. They did contact me and I was very honoured to be able to be there. I made myself rules: that I only engage the hard topics of losing a loved one if they initiate the conversation. I also created short photo stories of adventures of a stuffed toy.

      Depending on what kind of a person the recipient is showing that you care can be almost anything: crafted bookmarks (if you know that thy love reading and if you enjoy crafting), pictures of their favourite flowers/animals/art, a board in Pinterest with their favourite topic… Even though they might not contact you for a while I am certain that it makes their living easier just knowing that you are there and available.

      Care packages rule, by the way. I usually send somewhat small packages with light items I know the recipient to like, for example tea, postcards, stuffed toys… Of course this depends on how much it costs to send a package in your country and what kind of items you are allowed to send in mail. I have always loved books, tea and cats so I received many bookmarks with cat pictures and many kinds of tea. Still, even though it has been years, every time I use one of those bookmarks I remember my friends who were there for me.

      Thank you for being such a great, loving human being! ❤

      1. Thanks for your words. I’ll definitely keep showing up. She will be back in town after the funeral and we’re in a close friend group.

  9. Q4, I was in your position a few years ago and basically did all of the things in the Captain’s answer, and can confirm (through unsolicited confirmations from friend over the years) that it all landed as really supportive. Letting your friend take the lead is such an important part, because she will probably want to talk about some Heavy Shit one day and silly Twitter feuds the next day, and she might need some validation on the latter. Sometimes people get a message that if they take a conversational break from the grief they are somehow Doing It Wrong.

    YMMV on this but I’m a believer in traveling for the funeral if that’s at all a possibility. You’re in different countries, maybe this is not practical, but if it is consider it.

    1. Yes, and understand that she may make plans because she sincerely wants to see you but when it comes closer to the time you were supposed to get together, she is no longer up to it.

      1. This. If she has to cancel last minute because she’s just not up for it, tell her you understand and you’re there when she’s ready. Maybe send a text of heart emojis the next day, so she knows you love her.

    2. Another thing that can be helpful is being available or sending a card or what have you on important dates related to the person in the years that follow a death. One of my best friends lost her child, and I always send her a card or message that I’m thinking about her on her child’s bday and the anniversary of her child’s death. She’s told me it’s really helpful on rough days to be reminded that people remember her child and her grief, because generally she has no one to talk to about it besides her husband and sometimes she doesn’t want to dump her grief in on him because he’s got his own; everyone but me changes the subject, and I think that’s pretty common. I lost a parent when I was young, so I kind of grew up being used to the idea that people die and grief never goes away, just changes, but most people are super uncomfortable talking about it.

      She no longer lives in the same town where her child is buried, so sometimes I’ll take flowers out there and send her a pic, but I ONLY do that because when she moved she asked me if I could do that for her. I wouldn’t just randomly do something that that for anyone grieving, because that could be really bad if the timing is bad. But it’s a kind thing to offer if you live in the same place where a friend’s loved one is buried and they can’t visit as often as they would like.

      1. It meant a lot to me when a mutual friend recently told me that she was visiting my late ex’s grave. He’s buried halfway across the country, and while we were able to go back for the funeral, I don’t know when/if my daughter and I will be able to visit again.

    3. I fear traveling won’t be possible, due to the distance and me not speaking the language. There’s a good chance I’d be an additional burden.

      1. Good on you for recognizing that. It’s obvious you’re already being a good friend to her.

      2. Oh, you are indeed being a good friend – and perhaps some day along the line you will be able to travel. Grief is not a thing that simply just ceases to exist, it just might be there for the lifetime, fluctuating; at least that is what it is like for me. I have lost my mother and a dear pet and even though years have passed both of these losses are still there with me, not as raw as when the grief was new but still, sometimes I feel sad. According to everything I have read on this matter this seems to be a pretty common experience.

        Your friend knows that you are there and available, that in itself goes a long way. So, be their for your friend in the long run. I am sure they will appreciate that.

  10. OP 4, this might not be everyone’s bag of tea, but when I know friends are going through long-term struggles (or even short-term struggles) I try to talk to them about my life the same way I would any other time, and it’s something I appreciate when I’m the one in the muck.

    Obviously, like, ask how it’s going and empathize and everything, but sometimes it’s really nice, when you’re bogged down in the paperwork of impending death (or other, most dire things) to have someone say, “Wanna help me update my Tinder profile?” or “I eavesdropped on the weirdest conversation the other day, want to speculate wildly?” or “I don’t know how to deal with this goat-related problem, any advice?” or whatever you and your friends’ fun stuff to talk about is.

    When people are going through major life stuff, sometimes there’s a tendency to tiptoe around and assume that they’re so occupied by the Important Life Stuff that they don’t have the brainspace for anything else. Sometimes that’s true, but I think most of us need a break from Important Life Stuff when it’s happening, and sometimes a friend can provide that break, just by being regular.

    1. 100% this. When I’ve been going through rough times, having people talk about the things that are going on in their lives was so nice – it was such a relief to have something else to think about.

      1. Me also! I have also been known to ask people going through a hard time if they would prefer to talk about The Thing That Is Going On or about literally anything but that, because I’m there if they want to talk feels but I’m also there if they want someone to swap stupid pet stories with them stupid pet stories for a few minutes.

      2. This advice applied very well when I had a friend who was dying. Dying can be a long process and frankly, it can be tedious and boring for the person who is in palliative care. My friend got very tired of all the Feelings Conversations Where Everyone Says Goodbye and Tedious Medical Reports of All Bad News and was like, “Please! Tell me about your crazy boss, your bad dates and your furry little whackjob of a cat. I’m still me. I’m still your friend, not just a professional dying person. Also, I am watching a Iot of Law and Order. Help me decide who would win in a cage match: Briscoe and Green or Benson and Stabler” and from then on, or was so much easier to just enjoy my friend. It was such a gift.

        1. Autumn: thank you for sharing what your friend said, that is so well put in words! “I’m still me. I’m still your friend, not just a professional dying person.” What a wonderful way to tell what they needed. You both sound amazing.

          I hope it is ok that I intend to keep that line in mind.

    2. Totally this.

      A few weeks after my mother died my best friend sort of slightly hinted she was going through some relationship stuff but didn’t expand (i’d asked what was new for her). I asked her what was going on, she said she felt bad talking to me about boyfriend stuff when my mum had died but I assured her I was agi me, still her best friend and still wanted to be there for her like she was showing up for me, whatever the topic. So we talked about her boy issues.

      And it was amazing for me. Because it made me feel like me again and not just grieving daughter. Because I got to feel useful. Because I got to pay back a tiny bit of all of the love and care she’d shown me that entire process of my mother dying. Because it showed me she trusted me to be able to see another person’s problems for what they are instead of collapse in a heap of ‘nothing else matters but my dead mum’.

      Obviously YMMV and I definitely wouldn’t recommend just starting to seek advice or support from someone who’s actively going through such an incredibly difficult time, but don’t hesitate to talk to her like you always used to either.

  11. Q3 reminded me of the Captain’s AWESOME response to some comments earlier in the week. Thank you, Captain, for refusing the call to civility when engaging with people who continue to support this president. I am so completely over having to be polite
    to and about people who want to cut off Medicaid to disabled kids, support Nazis, and throw babies into cages. I am done with that. And I think you’re right that trying to argue with or convince these reprehensible people is not where we should be directing our energies.

    1. Yes, thank you for saying all this! The calls for civility seem more to be about appearances than actual concern about ethics/caring about others. I can’t stand to hear any of that anymore. It’s really helpful to hear you reaffirm standing up for what’s right, even if it’s uncomfortable.

      All of “those” kids are our kids!

  12. For Q4, speaking from my experience, CA is right. People have the best of intentions when they do things like call to ask for updates, etc, but because your brain isn’t the working the same way as when you are in the middle of a crisis, you react to things differently.

    Have you ever had that coworker who kind of appoints herself Social Director? She spends more time planning potlucks and happy hours for people she barely knows then doing the job she’s paid for? The one at my office texted me 3 days after my mom died (I have never spoken to her outside of work nor given her my #) while I was out on bereavement leave to inform me that she wanted to send me a fruit basket but she didn’t know where to send it. Most people would think that was a nice gesture; I felt like replying, “I don’t want a f-ing fruit basket, Jill. I want my mom.”

  13. Q1 MY TIME TO SHINE: If you feel like going out with them, you can see if there’s a nearby park you can take the kids to for a couple hours to give the parents some quiet time. It’s summer and they probably want to be outside constantly.

    Bubbles and chalk are much loved and are low-key for you, because they don’t have a lot of stuff for you do besides make sure it doesn’t get all knocked over or whatever. The more wands the better, especially if you get ones that make BIG bubbles. (I make homemade bubble mixture, but I’m extra.)

    I also think it can be nice to get something like a little craft kit for the older kid, something the kids don’t have to share. I like giving presents to kids of things that can be used or even used up, and don’t just cause clutter.

      1. Idk, I’m reading this and picturing you taking the homeless to the park for bubbles and chalk art after buying them sandwiches, and it’s an amazingly wholesome vision after this nightmare of a week.

    1. This! Bring a crafty thing AND be the one to “help” the kid make it. That is, supervise, make sure nobody eats paints, and clean up after.
      Kids get to have fun crafting, parents get to not have to clean it up.
      This also works with things that need assembling, preferably ones that kid can safely do at least partly with you supervising, on the principle that the kid is watched and the parents don’t need to to juggle toy assembly time with “why can’t I play with my new THING yet??!” agitation.

      1. My SIL does this. She always brings play-doh and then DOES THE PLAY-DOH with the kids! So it’s a gift for the kids and for me at the same time.

    2. Chalk, playdough, bubbles… I spent an hour with 3 2yos on a bed, waving a blue blanked over them as they wiggled and giggled and ‘swam’ in the ocean (King sized bed). It helped that I knew several PG ocean songs, like ‘Rainbow fish’. For variety, they pulled big (empty) laundry baskets (those foldable kinds) over their heads, then ‘hatched’.

  14. Q1, I totally feel you. I give money to homeless people whenever I can, and on a couple of occasions I’ve actually got a tenner out at a cashpoint. Both of those times were people who told me in detail about their situations and seemed desperate in a way I just didn’t think was fake. The guy I did it for showed me his hands, which were dry and cracked and leathery from sleeping outside. I don’t see how you could fake that.

    Both times, I felt extremely ambivalent about it. I have this niggling anxiety that maybe I’m just a naive rich kid getting conned. My dad definitely thinks so. Whenever I’ve told him about stuff like this he says ‘But how do you know they’re telling the truth’ or ‘Just give money to a homeless charity instead’. But I would much rather be conned out of £10 I can do without than deny help that I could have given to someone who desperately needed it. And if the homeless charities were giving them what they needed, they wouldn’t be on the street asking me for money.

    What I’m trying to say is, I think it’s normal to feel complicated feelings about giving homeless people money/food. I feel terrible that I can’t do more. I hate thinking about what it must feel like to have nowhere to go. And I really dislike the power dynamic of having people be so desperate for something from me. I think feeling kind of like shit coming out of these interactions is actually the most empathetic way to feel.

    1. I used to think about whether someone was scamming me but then I thought more about it and now I figure it doesn’t matter. Asking people for money is a shitty thing to have to do and even if the money I give them is spent on drugs rather than a hot meal/a train ticket back to Mildura/some other thing people don’t get judgey about, does it really matter? The person asking is usually in a bad way. I’ve stopped really processing the reasons people give and now I just hear, “I’m in pain, I’m scared and I need help.”

      1. Yeah, I worked as a canvasser for a few months, asking passers-by on the street for money. This was with the backing of a national organization, asking people to give “for a good cause” that was approved by the Better Business Bureau; we had t-shirts, brochures, ipads, everything.

        It was still humiliating, and people still treated me horribly (I live in one of those “liberal bubbles” people talk about, too.)

        If somebody wanted to scam you, there are more effective, less humiliating ways to do it. If they’re panhandling, they need the money. If they’re lying about what they need it for, it’s because it’s something that’s stigmatized. Those needs still count.

        I guess this is my way of saying: if you feel bad cause you haven’t done enough, that is a normal feeling and shouldn’t bring you down but rather remind you that your action was a small part of a larger community trying to make things better. If you feel bad because you’re afraid you got scammed… well. You didn’t. You just helped somebody.

      2. Saw a guy standing on the median on Saturday–92 degrees here!–leaning on the crutches he needed because he only had one leg. I gave him ten bucks, because if he’s scamming he’s really committed to the scam, you know? Like, maybe he lost that leg rolling his ATV while drunk, maybe he has a 6-figure job during the week, but he’s still standing there in the boiling sun with a sign. That’s dedication.

      3. In my case I always feel conflicted not because I’m worried about getting scammed or that they’re going to buy drugs or whatever, but because I’m always a little worried I’m going to be robbed after. I’ve had several people actively try and look inside my wallet to see if there’s more in there than the 10 or 20 I’m giving them. One guy followed me for a block after until I ducked inside a starbucks and hung out until he went somewhere else.

        I’ve had people, when I told them I didn’t have cash on me but I’d be happy to buy them a meal instead, try to coerce me to go to a nearby ATM and withdraw money for them. Individual activism is good but comes with a lot of real risks too which is why I prefer to donate time and money to organizations that can act on my behalf.

        1. I just want to say that this is 100% legitimate and your alternate ways of giving are also good.

    2. My attitude is “feeling good doesn’t have to relate to doing good.”

      The reason a lot of us want to do something good is to right, or at least ease, terrible injustice, natural calamity, or medical emergency. Emotions surrounding these circumstances tend to be pretty extreme and harrowing as opposed to lovely and serene. So of course you’re not going to magically feel fabulous even when working to right these wrongs.

      I feel good doing selfish stuff all the time: lying around watching TV or overbuying books or whatever. The trick is not to think that just because sending money to help migrant children doesn’t generate that same version of “happiness” that there’s something wrong with me.

      1. yeah activism-wise we’d me much better off if people didn’t approach it expecting warm fuzzies. this shit is hard, and uncomfortable, and when done right, doesn’t actually center our feelings*.

        *(like, center your feelings when doing grounding work or self care, obviously.)

      2. I completely agree; doing good deeds does not (always) offer satisfaction or good feelings – in fact it often makes us more aware of the problems because we actually face them. My experience on activism is mostly from volunteering in a pet rescue organization and fostering homeless kittens and cats. During my time I have seen some very pitiable and sad things and I know they will never leave me and they will haunt my dreams. Luckily, there are also enough successes which keeps participating feeling rewarding.

        There are many things I love in this particular organization: they offer non-judgemental support and services for both pets and their owners, recognizing that when the life of the humans is allright also the pets are better taken care of. The atmosphere in this organization is very friendly and all the members support and help each other. There is very little hierarchy in there and all the proceeds are used for the benefit of the pets in need.

        For some reason people volunteering in organizations do not realize how hard it can be to volunteer and to face the problems, that there needs to be a support system for the volunteers. Sometimes good organizations become toxic environments for power struggle.

        Here in Scandinavia we do not have as many homeless people as in US, partly because being homeless in winter in here can be lethal so local social services try their best to help settle everyone in a home. Facing the homeless person and giving them a sandwich is indeed a good thing to do and I am sure it helped the person. Of course, it also made the LW think of the problem.

        One of the earlier commenters told about a man throwing stranded starfish back to sea. Even though they could not help all the starfish, they made a difference in the life of the ones they helped. This is a similar thing. One person probably cannot solve all the problems involved with homelessness but providing a meal and being there, even for a moment, for a person who is often invisible to others is a very good thing.

    3. Sometimes I give to the food bank. And sometimes I think “and if I give to one of those ‘respectable’ charities, how do I know my money isn’t going to go to the salary of a management person who will spend it on wine or chocolate?'” Not because people working for the food bank rather than the supermarket or Microsoft shouldn’t be buying wine or chocolate, but because if it’s okay for my donations to buy pleasant things for people who are paid (not always very much) to help the homeless, it’s okay for th money to be buying those pleasant things for homeless people. People don’t generally divide the middle class into the “deserving middle class” who are allowed to spend our money on ice cream,” and the “unworthy” or “[other judgmental term]” middle class who should be living entirely on rice and beans.

      1. Yeah I actually think putting money directly into the hands of the folks you’re trying to help IS the most efficient way to donate. Agencies are using their money for what they THINK the problem is; sometimes, that’s a great way to mobilize funds for a large project. Often, it’s people who haven’t even done on-the-ground or client-facing work making those decisions, even though they are very well-meaning.

        Disclaimer: all of my comments on this blogpost are a result of my own experiences, and I do trust that others have had more positive interactions with local non profits. (:

  15. Question #1:

    So, I do this thing where I make bags that contain a pack of peanut butter crackers, a small box of raisins, a piece of fruit (apples lately, but usually citrus), a small bag of baby carrots, and “Bus Fare x 2” ($2.50 where I live). I make eight bags a week, because that’s how the crackers are packaged, sometimes I include things like soap, and I write quotes on the bags, non-religious, mostly by women, and always including this one (by a man, who was a Rabbi, but still):

    “Most people worry about their own bellies, and other people’s souls, when we all ought to worry about our own souls and other people’s bellies.” – Yisroel Salanter

    When my husband is driving me to work, we hand the bags out to cardboard sign people. Some of them know us now. One Latinx man refers to husband as “Papa” (but one weekend we gave the guy socks and he called husband “Gato”). I can afford the $20 in ones and quarters every week, and the contents of the bags, so I do it.

    And you know what? I still wish I could do more. And sometimes I do more, and wish I could do more than that. The thing is, we have to do what we can, where we are, with what we have.

  16. Q2: As far as gifts for the kids go, I fully recommend asking the parents to approve whatever you’re thinking. “Hey, I was thinking of bringing sidewalk chalk and water shooters for the kids. Does that work?” They may say AWESOME, or they may tell you they have 50 bajillion water shooters already please don’t bring a single other water shooter into their house or toddler child will see it and throw a tantrum when they can’t have it. Or maybe the weather looks like rain the WHOLE TIME PLEASE BRING BOOKS AND CRAYONS TO SAVE ME FROM THESE CABIN FEVER CHILDREN. That takes the mystery out of it for you and saves the parents from having to find a home for a well-meaning but off-the-mark childrens gift.

    1. Yes please! Dear Gods ans Goddesses, please ask!

      My kid is 12. I’m *still* finding packages of sidewalk chalk because she said, once when she was two, she loved it. We have given away eight copies of Wind in the Willows and more than 20 of Goodnight Moon.

      (Seriously, I suggest, never buy a middle class American kid Goodnight Moon. They likely have plenty of copies already.)

      And if the parents say please don’t bring anything, please listen. Stuff can be complicated with kids.

      1. YESSSSSSS. Another parent co-signing this.

        I remember when my two were about the age mentioned in this post I had to keep telling everyone STOP GETTING STUFFED ANIMALS FOR MY KIDS NO REALLY STOP IT because that was what everyone kept thinking my kids needed more of and they really, REALLY didn’t.

        (We’re at a hotel and my now almost-teenager started sleepy babbling Goodnight Moon at me because I mentioned it. Amusing.)

        1. My kid has one of those hammocks for stuffed animals. You can’t touch it, or it will fall and the avalanche is crazy. But he won’t let go of a single one.

      2. Buy the amazing “Goodnight Lab” book instead.

        And if bubbles get a go ahead from the parents, bring lots. The first few times I brought bubbles out for my kids to play with on the front lawn, kids came from EVERYWHERE to join in. I had a ton of small bubble containers (the party section at Target sells them in boxes of 12) in case of spills so it worked well.

  17. Q2, two insights from my little nephews:

    1) Little kids tend to eat dinner really early. You also should not expect them to eat any later than they usually do unless you want to risk tantrums. My family tends to forget that I eat at times when childless adults eat (7pm, 8pm is no big deal) while they eat at times when tiny children who go to bed early must eat (5pm, maaaaybe 5:30). So then I’ll be out and about and miss dinner completely because it just didn’t occur to me to eat that early. Also, if your routine is really off from theirs, stash some snacks for yourself.

    2) Likening child conversations to improv is spot on. My favorite method is to treat everything toddlers tell me with grave seriousness, as if they are people my age telling me a very important fact or story. When they’re being silly or trying to trick me, they think this is hilarious. When they’re being serious, they appreciate that I’m willing to listen to them and convey respect. And when they’re being serious but saying things that are unintentionally hilarious, then that’s just bonus funny. So it’s really a winner all around. But if you get on their level and follow along with them conversationally, then they’ll usually bond with you pretty quickly. A lot of people don’t know how to talk to children, so they tend to glom onto adults they feel listen to them well. Plus they might ask you lots of really interesting questions, like, “Why do you have to know what time it is?” and “Why does [social convention] exist?” and “Do grown-ups cry? Why don’t I ever see them cry?” Or they might just tell you a lot about Minecraft. It’s kind of a toss-up.

    1. And run with their stories. You went to the store and Thor was shopping there? Did Loki show up and cause trouble?

      1. Yes! I had a little cousin who would always start out telling me a normal story and then spin off into some fantastical tale (“I went to the aquarium with Grandma, and the sharks flew out of their tanks and became flying sharks!”). My other aunts would tell him to stop making things up and tell them what really happened, but his version was much better! We got to be pretty good buds just because I was the adult willing to go, “Oh, really? How did you escape?”

      2. This! If kids have a TV or book obsession, and you drop that you’re familiar with their obsession, they will LOVE YOU FOREVER. My oldest still brings up adults he’s met once like “when can we have your friend X over again? She said she plays Minecraft too! We are friends!”

        1. I was in a hospital waiting room once, and a mom and little boy sat next to me. The boy was playing with some Ninja Turtles, and suddenly handed one to me. I said, “Yeah, Leonardo is my favorite, too, but where is Michelangelo?” That boy gaped at me like I was a GOD for a moment, then turned to his mom and whisper-shouted “THIS LADY KNOWS TURTLES!!!!!” My proudest moment.

    2. This even works with kids too young to be fully intelligible by strangers. Two-and-a-half may well have lots of things to say, but you might not be able to make head or tail of it.

      I’ll usually try one round of, “What, sweetie?” (Or more if it seems like they need help with something) and then lapse into some thoughtful “Oh, I see,” and “Is that right?” or “Oh, wow.” Even babies love this.

      1. I mean, this is basically how I talk to my cat, and as established abpve, toddlers are basically cats.

        1. The other thing about toddlers being basically like cats is that you are allowed to say ‘no’ to them and tell them not to do things (or to do things). So if they want to rummage in your handbag, you can say no and put it out of their reach. If you are finding it hilarious to headbutt you, you can say no and physically stop them. If taking them to the park you can require them always to hold your hand on the street. If you find them painting the sofa with a sticky chocolate biscuit, you can stop them. You won’t hurt them, they probably won’t be upset and if they are briefly that’s OK, they will get over it quickly. You shouldn’t punish other people’s children, don’t shout at them or be harsh or unduly rigid, but it is totally OK when they are doing something that you the adult know they shouldn’t do and don’t want them to do, to stop them doing it. Nor it is overriding their parents to not allow a child to do something that directly affects you.

    3. The dinner and nap thing is so real. My 2 year old couldnt eat dinner at 9 pm like my mom and her boyfriend do. When I said we have to eat by 6 I mean food needs to go into the child no later than six pm or she will be too tired to eat and will be a hungry, howling mess of a child. Who will then be unable to sleep. 6:10 is pushing it.

      At 3 we have a bit more leeway, she can stay up until 8:30, we can eat at 6:30 or hand her a cheese stick and eat dinner at 7. But 2? Two was stop watch precise and my mom did. Not. Get it. If there isn’t dinner prep going at 5:30, I don’t care if you said you’d cook and will be sad at me for starting to cook anything I can find. The tiny one does not negotiate. Ditto guests in my house, we’d leave a plate for you, but we cannot wait.

    4. Hell, I need dinner by 6 or else a really substantial snack, and I’m 37!

  18. I had two parents pass away over the last year and what I, a reasonably sociable person, most appreciated was people checking in regularly but not requiring anything of me. Regular text messages which just mentioned people were thinking of me and including perhaps a funny picture of a cat wearing suspenders helped me feel less alone in the Land of Death. Also, keep them up! Feelings are still there after the initial flurry of diagnosis/hospital admission/death/funeral. Even like, a whole year later! Nothing more awkward or glumifying than being asked by a chipper friend who has just raved about their latest holiday/festival/gig/promotion, “so what have you been up to?”, when the answer is “sad, lawyers, and tense negotions with Auntie Mary about Who Ended Up with the Super Precious Pot Plant”.

    1. I’m sorry, Baudelaire — that sounds like a really hard year. I hope that the Super Precious Pot Plant situation was resolved successfully and that you have good friends sending you cute baby goat videos and the like. Jedi hugs if you want them.

    2. I’m very sorry for your loss, that’s a lot to take in within a year.

      Thanks for your perspective, it’s definitely helpful!

  19. Re Q1, I spoke a while back with some homeless charity workers (Ireland is in the midst of the Worst homeless crisis ever, sadly) and because I’m unemployed and for health reasons not in a position to volunteer they suggested that buying a homeless person something to eat/drink will help them in the short term, and if you can pass on the contact info of the local shelter, so much the better. That person might not use it, but they might, or they might pass it on to someone in greater need than they are.
    You might not always be in a position to do much, but you can probably spare bus fare/the cost of a sandwich & coffee, and the ppl in crisis situations get some help. Every little bit helps. The most I’ve been able to do is the odd sandwich, and spreading the word that there’s extra accommodation during the snow. Please don’t feel bad that you’ve only done something small, it was big for the homeless person you helped.

    1. Ditto (hi fellow Irish person!). Triangulating that mix of “what can I do/what will help this person/am I just alleviating my guilt oh god” is messy, and lots of times it’s easier to just ignore the person in need.

      What helped me (and I’m sure it is mostly me) was if I saw a homeless person, to find a shop and ask them if there’s anything they needed inside: a sandwich, a drink, whatever. One guy needed protein drinks because his teeth were hurting him and he couldn’t eat solid food very well; another woman wanted carrot cake. I would 100% have never bought those things for them off my own bat.

      But to anyone read: if you can give to a charity regularly, do. Regular income that they can rely on is SO important and helps them save money elsewhere, even a few €/$/£ a month.

      1. I’m always surprised how many homeless people in North East England want hot chocolate. (It’s not actually surprising but I’m still always surprised)

  20. Q1: It’s possible that you’re also having Feelings about possible paternalism/etc — making the decision for the person as to how the money “should” get spent vs just handing over the money? There’s a bunch of really conflicting and occasionally toxic Received Social Wisdom about how to handle this kind of thing, and you’re never going to be able to satisfy all The Right Things To Do at once.

    1. Absolutely seconding this. There are some who will happily tell you just how goddamn patronising they think it is when people buy food or drink for, give money to or even just talk to homeless people. Those people seem to exist in the conversation only to make anyone who actually does something feel ‘oh no, maybe I was being patronising without realising’. I sometimes tell myself they say these things to make themselves feel better about not doing anything so I can ignore it, though I dont know this for sure of course it can be a helpful thing to think.

      1. Just talking to homeless people as patronizing? WTF? Between my personality and my geographical location, I greet/acknowledge anyone I pass on the street. To not do so because the passerby in question had visual markers of being homeless/poor would feel really rude and othering to me.

      2. Oh, mossyone, I think you nailed the “anything you might give to homeless people would be the wrong thing, so do what I do and don’t bother!” crowd’s motivation well.

  21. Q1: I’ve noticed that when I give money to homeless people, I feel kind of guilty, probably because my mother always said that was a waste of money/they’re probably just going to spend it on drugs/etc, etc. And even though I never really consciously agreed with her, my subconscious apparently absorbed the lesson.

    Haven’t found a solution for this, unfortunately. But if this is part of your issue, I can at least give you Internet Stranger Affirmation that you did a Good Thing. 🙂

    1. I’ve heard that, too – that people who are begging “deserve” their lot somehow.

      But I’m reminded of a story my dad told me about Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who when asked why he would give money to the panhandlers if there was a risk they would use the money for drugs / whatever, would answer – “I can’t take that chance.”

      So that’s what I remember when I see the panhandlers in downtown Chicago (and try to remember to keep $ in my pocket). Thinking that way absolves me of guilt from the possibility of enabling bad habits. And hey – who knows? Maybe I …err .. WE did some good.

    2. they might spend it on drugs, or they might spend it on another not-food thing you/me/your mother didn’t think of (tampons/a coffee in macdonalds they’ll drink Very Slowly/washing and tumble drying their sleeping bag at the laundrette), or they might take that £2 and put it towards the £15 they need to spend the night in a hostel, or they might buy food but appreciate being able to choose what that food is (because homeless people can have dietary restrictions and food preferences too).

      and if they do spend it on drugs, are we really in a position to judge them for it? sleeping rough must suck. if the best way for them to handle the immediate situation is some biochemical escapism, that’s their choice.

      (this probably won’t change your feelings, but if an alternative narrative is helpful here it is)

      1. Personally I rarely give directly to people on the street, as I do think there are some amazing charities in my city, including ones I’ve volunteered at or seen personally, and I like the idea of helping people just as much if they’re too shy, too disabled, too busy taking care of someone else to sit outside asking for help.

        BUT I think regardless of how exactly you choose to help, or even if you don’t feel like you’re in a place right now to help practically, you can almost always be polite and friendly.

        And it’s not nothing, either. A lot of marginalised people get a lot of crap and hostility from others, or get treated like they’re invisible. One thing I am struck by when I’ve volunteered places that serve food, is how many people who come for food linger for the social event. Also how hesitant some people asking for help are, as if they’re anxious about being told off for not being grateful enough.

        It does mean something to people when you’re friendly, or even just curteous and respectful.

    3. This was my thought as well, and I also wondered if the question-asker had let the homeless man pick their lunch or had picked it themselves without input — both ends of the guilt spectrum, I think, could play into it, “do they even appreciate this?” and “should I have given them money but then what if they hadn’t bought food?” (that compulsive need to police where our money goes, but only to this extent when it’s used to help the poor, because the poor have to meet our Goodness Standards) to the other end of, maybe the question asker bought a sandwich or whatever and gave it to someone and doesn’t know if that person liked the kind of sandwich they got and like, if you’re going to help someone, you might as well make sure they enjoy their food? IDK. Random thoughts I had I guess.

      I live below the poverty lie myself so I’ve been under the ‘what are you doing with your money, should you have this or that item, why aren’t you eating the cheapest thing, preferably something that makes you nauseous’ scrutiny and generally only feel guilty because I would be incredibly irresponsible if I did help homeless people, so I don’t. Mostly don’t. But I try to at least treat them like people, look at them, smile at them, acknowledge their presence I guess, which also makes me feel guilty because that doesn’t help at all. But I’d feel worse if I didn’t do it. It’s always better to do something.

  22. Q1: I end up seeing beggars on my way to and from work, and I had a lot of conflicts like this.

    The thing is, you never really know what their story is, and I don’t have the spare time to find out. But I’d like to feel that I’m the kind of person who responds to people in need, and not some Scrooge wannabe. So I try to keep a few $5 bills in my pocket, and when a beggar asks, I give, and I do it with a smile.

    I know there are do-good organizations that say it’s better not to encourage them, but I also know that a lot of these organizations are paternalistic, and give the poor and down-and-out what they think the poor should have and not necessarily what they need. I’d rather presume they have some agency and know what they need. And in NYC, most of the time what both the poor and the not-so-poor need is money.

    1. My opinion is that it is better to give in some way, however you are able, without strings or expectations attached to the giving, than it is NOT to give. The bottom line is that when you give in the way you can, someone is helped, albeit briefly. Finding reasons, good or bad, not to help means someone doesn’t get helped.

      FWIW, I tend to buy food for people rather than hand out cash mostly because I do everything online and thus do not actually typically HAVE cash at hand, but I do carry a debit card around pretty faithfully. If I do have cash, it’s probably an emergency $20 I put away for a specific upcoming event. As I am employed but still poor enough to consider a $20 a huge amount of money, it’s unlikely I’m going to be able to afford to give it away, no matter how much I want to. So, yeah, I offer to buy the person a meal deal.

  23. The advice to think of Trumpists as being part of a cult is a good one; I’ve been trying to reframe my thoughts about Fox News-addicted eliminiationists that way for a while now. I can’t change them but I can contribute to voting registration for people who can fight back.

  24. Q2– There are books on paper crafts for kids with ideas on how to fold paper into birds and hats and planes and stars. Some projects will ask for glue. You bring a pad of colored paper, safety scissors, crayons (just a pack of 8), sticky tape, and glue if the parents say it’s okay. (White glue is safe and messy.) You hide the book in your suitcase. During spare moments, you bring out the paper, the scissors, and ONE idea. This is important. You’re going to show the kids how to fold and color a piece of paper into a pig, and that’s it. For one morning, all you’re making is pigs. No letting them look through the book for the idea they like best. You choose something that doesn’t look too complicated, and show them how to make it. The 2 1/2 year old probably won’t have the dexterity to do the folding but can probably do some of the coloring and will enjoy the transformation of the paper even if he or she doesn’t understand fully what you’re making. Later in the day, you bring out another idea. Maybe paper chains. Continue in this manner. Maximum 2 ideas for something to make with paper per day. Clean up by throwing away the paper, although the kids may keep any they like. Next visit, bring (and hide) the book again. You’ll become the aunt who spends time with the kids making stuff, and the kids will remember this over time.

    1. I can vouch for this. I’m the “artsy” aunt who will do crafts, or sing, or play, or make up poems with my nieces. They certainly did and do remember. I’m one of the fun aunts.

  25. Q4: I lost my mother 2 months ago after a long illness, and over the last year also lost an aunt and uncle, took responsibility for another aunt diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and sold both my childhood home and my grandparent’s home. It was a long year that I’m still recovering from, and one of my most solid rocks through it was a good friend who lives across the country. My advice is similar to the Captain’s and others, but I would advise checking in regularly, especially during times of crisis. Check in to see how they’re doing first to test the waters before sharing silly stories – they can be a good distraction at the right time but can come across as callous during moments of crisis. Most of all, just be there for them, both now and after their father passes away. Whatever you do don’t ghost, even if you don’t know what to say.

    The funeral is such a stressful, overwhelming time that I wouldn’t recommend traveling to be there for it. Send a card, and flowers if that’s possible and your thing. But there will be lots of friends and family around to support your friend that day. Instead, if you can, come later when things are calming down and life is getting back to its regular rhythm. That’s when the friends and family that were there for the funeral get caught up in the day-to-day, and the grieving person could use some cheering up as they figure out the “new normal”.

    Thanks for being such a good friend to your friend!

    1. I’m sorry for your loss, I can’t imagine the strain this much organizing and care-taking puts on you.

      My friend really likes hearing what’s up with our friend group so I keep her updated on that. It will be easier to take care of her after the funeral because she will be back in our city and we’re used to seeing each other at least every 2 weeks.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective with me!

    2. Yeah. But, my personal experience for the check-ins is to think carefully which circle of support you’re in & tailor the check-in accordingly.

      When my mother was in the process of dying, there was all the trying-to-make-things-as-good-as-possible-for-her, and there was a whole lot of keeping-family-and-her-friends-up-to-date – in addition to the support I gave her, being a conduit of necessary information to allow others to support her also — all of which was really necessary and appropriate and I was glad to do for her but emotionally exhausting, and left me with little spare strength. (Giving a “no change but at least not any worse” update for the 5th time that day gets exhausting)

      But when it came to my friends checking in, what I wanted was a general sympathetic “how’s everything going” which I could answer as I chose,.

      What I really didn’t want from my support people was “how’s your mother?” or “why didn’t you tell me [whatever latest complication] earlier” — more than once I was just about reduced to tears by someone meaning to be nice/involved but actually leaving me feel guilty for wanting to be given support rather than being a conduit to them offering support to her. I can still clearly remember the feeling of jealousy sweeping through me when a friend (who had met my mother a few times, but was a nodding acquaintance to her, and a close friend to me) asked how she was but not how I was, and could have just about collapsed on the floor crying, and then I felt really petty and bad and selfish and spoiled for wanting to divert that support to myself.

      However my close friends who REALLY got it asked “how are you doing?” or “can I do anything to help you” – making the question about ME and how I was coping with the awfulness & making it obvious that I was seen as a person also going through a bad time & deserving of thought.

      I now try extra-hard to make sure that I’m addressing my support questions/comments very clearly , because tiny changes in wording made such a huge difference to how I received similar questions.

  26. Kids! Okay, I love the auntie gig, so here are my tips:

    1. Treat them seriously as people, even if you laugh later about it with adults. Kids love to be taken seriously, and it’s important.
    2. Back up the parents. When in doubt, ask the parents. Kids also love to stretch boundaries and see what they can get away with.
    3. Simple stuff really works. Bubbles outside, making “slime” or “gack” (also outside!), reading, coloring, etc.
    4. Some kids, and some kids at some ages, want to interact more with adults than others. Also varies by time of day and activity.
    5. Supervise if you’re up for it while the parents are doing other things. (Sometimes that means actively playing with the kiddos. Sometimes that means just making sure no one gets hurt and nothing gets broken.) Otherwise, if you’re comfortable at the house, do dishes or pick up while the parents are dealing with the kids.
    6. Don’t make idle threats, and don’t yell about every little thing. IME, the kids are more responsive if they know that when you put on that certain tone of voice, you really mean it, and you will follow through on what you say.
    7. Have fun! Bubbles are awesome, and slime is fun, and kids can do and say the sweetest things. I’m not a real touch-oriented person, but there’s something that always melts my heart when one of my niblings (real or honorary) snuggles up with me.

  27. LW5 here, just wanted to say thank you, Cap’n! Your description of my parents’ planning style is so spot-on I couldn’t help but laugh.

    To elaborate a bit: my parents are the ones making plans for big family events since it almost entirely involves coordinating with their siblings and parents. (At this point, it would be weird for me to be the one doing that.) I always mark off those days in my calendar, and will find out a rough idea of the plan for the day far in advance, ex. “Fathers’ Day will be a cemetery visit and then a family meal.” I don’t know at what point the details get nailed down – when I ask at the last minute, either I get chided for not asking sooner, or I’m told they’ll only decide the day of. Recently, when nobody had told me how/when we were getting to an event, I said I’d bus over to meet my family there 30 minutes early, and my parents got incredibly angry that I was refusing to get a lift with them and arrive 60 minutes early (as one family member had to be there that early) because faaaaamily. They said some really awful and uncalled-for things to me, and threatened to make it intentionally difficult for me to go separately. So I went with them.

    I usually mark off days I know will be like this anyway, so I usually don’t have other plans aside from getting a dish ready for the event, but I really hate the anxiety and expectation that I’ll wait around like a child while my family decides what to do. I want to get better at setting boundaries and making it clear “I’m an adult with a separate life, I need advance warning so I can plan accordingly.” I guess the solution is to just not go a few times, but ever since I was young I got the “we’ll just go without you” threat, which they even used for the Fathers’ Day cemetery visit. They’ve never followed through on it because I always capitulated, including this time since I didn’t want to miss it, and depended on them to get there. The fear of emotional fallout from not going is also really paralyzing! There is just so much guilt and being treated like a child wrapped up in this that it makes something benign weirdly fraught.

    It’s so hard to say no for fear of the backlash, but on reflection, I’m getting that backlash already! Cap, I think you’re right that I just have to try saying no one time, and go from there. Thank you!

    1. Also what I do is try to discuss stuff as little as possible, like you don’t need to tell them you are taking the bus unless they really ask. ” I have to be there at this time…ok “. Mildly call out what they are doing too. “Why are you yelling/ getting mad at me just for asking? “. Family roles are hard to rewrite and break. Good luck

    2. Okay, so my family has some pretty strict secret rules about who gets to be competent and who gets to be the recipient of other people’s adulting. And sometimes they are completely unreasonable in the service of getting people back in those roles. That said, oh, wow, your family sounds worse. I don’t honestly think you’re being weird at all, I think that they’re doing the thing where parents are used to their children being smaller so sometimes they kind of kick them in the knee to get them there. If that makes sense.

      I’m sure that there are all kinds of complicated feelings on their side about your growing independence and your inevitable separation from them and the changing power dynamic and their own progression into age, but honestly, that’s a lot to put on a carpool? Like, you’re just trying to attend stuff and now you’re in this complex classical drama about the passage of time?

      Here’s my read. Apologies if any of this is redundant or stuff you’ve already tried. First, if there is more that you can put under your own control, do so. Reach out separately to relatives who are hosting. If you are going to take the bus, don’t rely on your parents for any of the intermediate steps. Imagine that this is a thing they were not going to anyway and set it up the same way. I don’t think there’s a way that you can keep them from emoting at you. I do think that you’ll have to just do it a couple of times while they’re weird about it.

      Second, again, you seem like a totally reasonable person that people are being weird to, but this step is hard for me so maybe it’s hard for you – if the plans evolve such that you can’t get to them without changing your whole day for your parents, then your “oh, sorry, I can’t make it. Next time!” might need to be cheerful and blunt. No “if you guys are going to be like that, I’m not going.” It might fall to you to be the person to break this “attendance is a reward or a punishment for good behavior” thing your family has going on. Establishing that your plans are completely separate from their emotional life as your parents might be time consuming and fraught, so it will help not to link anything back to your conflicts.

      Third, my impulse is to tell you to stop carpooling at all, but if there are events where you do or where you’re going to their house, I think other commentators are right that you’ll just have to ask like you’re talking to someone reasonable, at some pre-planned consistent interval, like one week and then 3 days. Keep it factual. Keep it boring. “I need to know by tomorrow if you want to celebrate Arbor Day at lunch or at dinner so that I can do my work schedule.” Or “I’m blocking out 3-7 pm for celebrating John Phillip Sousa’s birthday with you, does that work with your schedule?”. If they wiffle it, say “okay cool, let me know by Friday?” .

      THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO TO MAKE THEM LIKE THIS. They are going to have to process their own emotions about this in their own time. The only thing you can really do is get them used to it, and establish that the situation is no longer “we can yell until LW does stuff” as a time management tool. Again, this means no fractional plans. If you need their help for any part of the logistics, you’ll probably have to accept their way of doing whatever they’re doing. Like, you’ll have to take your own personal Arbor Day Tree on the bus to the tree planting, not take the bus but ask them to throw an aspen in the car for you.

      Again, you may already have tried any part of this. I am here recommending a degree of firm, cheerful consistency that’s hard for me personally to pull off, but it’s one of the only things that I’ve seen work.

    3. I’ve already responded to you upthread, but with the added details here I can tell you 100% I HAVE BEEN THERE.
      It sucks, it’s mean, and they are definitely treating you badly.

      Skip the event.
      Skip all the events for X interval.

      Maybe replace the ones you really want to do with a private version that’s just you (and maybe chosen family if appropriate).
      Visit the grave on another day. Call/write/send a gift to the extended relative whose visit or event you missed because your immediate family were being shitty. Spend a faaaaaaaamily day watching netflix with the cat instead.

      There have to be consequences for treating you like shit.

      Some examples from my life –

      I bussed over to my mom’s place only to find it empty. Called and was told that Uncle A had shown up and they were elsewhere, and was instructed to wait around! mom’s empty place! until they came back for the original plan.
      I said “No, I don’t have time for that, I’m leaving.”
      Hung up, left, did not see uncle A or participate in whatever the original event was (I don’t even remember and whatever it was it wasn’t worth being treated like a bag waiting at the carousel)

      Another time, around christmas/new years, I was told that “we” were all going to spend the night at Sister’s house. Like, go for dinner (that part, I knew and had agreed to), then sleep over and not go home until the next day.
      Sister’s home is lovely, but 1) it’s just outside the range of public transit, 2) I was told this day-of, did not have an overnight bag, and no amount of “You can just borrow mine!” is acceptable ffs I’m not a 10 year old at a pajama party, 3) I didn’t leave overnight-food for the cat, 4) No.
      So when I had my fill of evening visiting, I took a cab home.

      Got a text from my sister asking me to bring a cheese tray to her party.
      What party? I asked
      “The (insert minor holiday here) party!”
      I had not been told there was a party.
      Turned out she’d told “the group” there was a party and I was apparently in the room, but I neither remember this announcement nor confirmed plans at any stage.
      I did not bring a cheese tray. I did not go at all.

      Also various minor incidents of car-people “halping” by setting up a situation where I would bus to X -and then be picked up by them- to go to Y without telling me about Y. I pushed back on this HARD. Do not kidnap me ffs.

      Anandatic, I wish you ice-cold boundary walls and weekends empty of drama because you will be noping right out of it until they shape up.

      1. My parents are bad about this too.

        After a church lady asked me what days would be good to host a bridal shower for me and I told her and sent her to my mom to coordinate, my mom came and informed me that she’d already scheduled the shower for x date. “Oh,” I said. “Well I sure hope fiance and I are available that day,seeing as nobody checked with us before picking a date for a party we’re supposed to be at.”

        When mom and dad wanted to visit my brother overseas, they called him and cheerfully announced that they’d booked their flights for x dates. “Oh,” he said. “That’s cool. I hope I’m in town that week, seeing as I have several trips scheduled this summer.”

        And very frequently, I am surprised by a plan very close to its date and ask, “What? Why didn’t you tell me? This is the first I’m hearing of this!” My mom will insist she did tell me. It then turns out that she told one of my brothers, or my dad, or somebody, but she forgot to actually tell me.

        Thus far, my brothers and I have managed to mostly make these last minute plans work. But this habit is eventually going to come back to bite them. And I can’t say I’ll feel all that bad when it does. I keep warning them that they’ve got to let me know well in advance if they want to make sure I’m present at something.

        1. Many years ago, my aunts and uncles were all doing this too. We were all in the same county and family party invitatations went thru the grapevine and as a result I often found out about things not far very in advance. Mostly it was okay, I was young and didn’t have a lot to schedule around, but it still bugged me. And then it bugged me a lot. And then I decided that I wasn’t going to any event I didn’t hear about directly, or from my sister whom I lived with. And THEN there was a big event for a distant relative (my father’s brother’s wife’s step-father, okay? Totally not related to me in any way and I hardly knew him) and I got a call about – hey, they called me directly – it ON THE DAY. Oooh, I was pissed. Sadly, I was “busy and couldn’t come”. And I felt a little bit bad but mostly really glad.

    4. Yes, bb, you really need to call their bluff.

      And I think there’s some lingering expectation for you that some things must happen as a collective to be an event, so you feel the options are celebrate the way your parents dictate, or don’t celebrate. If your father’s day type of celebrations involve honoring your deceased, that’s not necessarily something you have to do with family to do it. It’s still honoring if you went to the cemetery by yourself! The best way to not feel like your parents are manipulating you into participation is to develop a way of participation that does not require your parents. This won’t work with everything, but it can help you decide that you don’t have to do something.

      Also, next time your parents say some angry things you can tell them how to avoid that anger, i.e. “I’m sorry you feel that way. Next time, you can avoid feeling this way by asking me. I’ll see you there [if you can go by yourself]/at another time [if the only way to participate is to comply with their threats]” As much as possible reinforce to them that the responsibility of their expectations is on them.

  28. Q1:

    I feel bad whenever I “waste” money (buy delivery food, buy makeup) and giving to homeless people triggers that, like it’s a luxury purchase. It’s not, but I reliably get that reaction and I’ve just learned to accept/ignore it.

    Also, the process of talking to a homeless person can make you feel nervous and adrenaline-y (what if they don’t want it, what if they yell at you, what if you’re being rude, also you’re just overcoming the general social boundary of not talking to strangers) and it’s common for there to be a crash after that.

    It’s a similar physical feeling to after I’ve, say, responded to cat-calling.

    Again, not saying those reactions make sense or are good, just that they’re common and predictable (for me).

  29. Q4 LW, something else I try to do for friends in crisis is Supply A Food. I haven’t lived in the Midwest for a decade, but habits die hard. I’ve send friends who lived halfway around the world: warm cookies and milk from a food delivery start-up, delivery pizza, menulog-etc. or restaurant gift certificates, Chinese food from the corner shop, etc. It is surprisingly easy to get food delivered to someone’s house from another country if they aren’t rural, and gift certificates for prepared food if they are. It is generally well-received. (I almost always give advance notice/coordinate this for full meals, but do occasional surprise cookies.)

    1. Yes! Came here to say the same. When I was on the other side of this, my favorite people were the ones who sent us like.. a freezer full of frozen lasagna. It was nice to know we didn’t have to deal with that part of life for a while.

      Depends on how well you know the family, but stepping in to a coordinator role with friends and neighbors can be helpful too. There are probably a lot of people who are in the same situation as you – wanting to help and wondering what to do. Making sure the family is fed can be a community project of sorts.

    2. It’s a Southern thing, too. I think Bringing A Food is a way to symbolically say “I value you, your overall well-being, and your continued survival, so here’s a food thing to help with that.” Also too, women tend to be saddled with a lot of the family-corraling and organizing when there’s an illness or death in the family, and Providing A Food is still seen by default by some, especially our elders, as A Thing A Woman Does, so if you decide that your way to help is by Bringing A Food, not only are you saying “Be as well as one can reasonably expect you to be at this trying time and remember to nourish yourself, please,” you are also saying “Seriously, do NOT cook or clean pots and pans for the hordes that will descend upon you at this sad time, just serve this thing you didn’t have to make yourself and please take care of your own grief and nurturance needs.”

      That, and really Olde Southern families can be REALLY bad at Feelings Stuff (think stereotypical upper-class / stiff-upper-lip British families, but Olde Southern ones talk a bit slower and have slightly more tolerance to extreme heat and flying roaches). You may have someone rock up indicating they have brought, say, a pie. That typically means here’s a pie so you have a food, duh, but it also says things like, “This pie means I love you, even if I am bad at saying I love you without a pie in hand.”

      Also, Google “funeral potatoes.” These are definitely a thing, and not restricted to Mormons, Mid-Westerners OR Southerners. Funeral potatoes help with some of The Sads.

    3. Since your friend is going to be in a different country for all of this, another thing you could maybe do is make sure that, when they come back, they’re coming back to a home/apartment/whatever that’s been dusted, vacuumed, and/or aired out, that has coffee or tea that isn’t stale, a small stock of essential perishables, and some easy-to-prep meals in the fridge or freezer.

      When someone is dying, it’s easy for that to become the thing that defines them. Sharing favorite stories about my grandfather after he died helped re-center my memory on who he had been for most of my life, rather than who he was those last few months. You might let your friend know that, if they ever want to talk about their dad, you’d be glad to listen.

  30. I agree with Captain Awkward about joining with people who are already believe as you to instigate positive change, in question 3. Also, re: the preacher in your family, Captain Awkward. Besides being appalled at his message— a good thing to keep in mind, if he doesn’t live what he believes, he doesn’t really believe it.

  31. Q2 – HAHAHAHA, toddlers as cats, I LOVE IT! I just wanted to chime in as a parent of kids that age that Dollar Store toys of any kind can be wonderful gifts (crayons, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, ribbons, bouncy balls, balloons to blow up . . . I stock my kids’ “treasure box” by just wandering the aisles and seeing what catches my eye because they end up loving the most random things. LED tea lights were a huge hit around here for a while! But basically, a lot of tiny super duper cheap things will usually keep them occupied longer than a single item of greater value). And the advice about being chill during nap or bedtimes is ON POINT! My kids are actually usually pretty good during those times, but guests can make them distracted and overly excited and suddenly they’re so much harder to get down. The whole bedtime routine is often one of THE MOST stressful and taxing times of my day, so feeling like I have people waiting on me to entertain them makes it so much worse! If there are dishes to do or tidying up to be done, that’s lovely if someone wants to step in while I’m off with the kids, but the biggest thing is just fading into the background and being unobtrusive while I get things taken care of (and then give me a moment to sit down and breathe before hitting me with ALL THE ENTHUSIASM because I am mentally and physically WIPED OUT at the moment! Gentle conversation is a good place to start and we can ramp up to serious things as I return to adult mode instead of parent mode!) 😉

  32. Q2: I am just back from babysitting my 4yo twin nieces for a couple of days, so have

    I used to be really awkward around kids too, but since so many of my friends and family have them now, I’ve realised it’s pretty simple.

    Ask the parents for advice on gifts in case greg have a mountain of one thing, or really don’t want their kids exposed to some type of toy (so many parents of my acquaintance have said if they see one more stuffed animal…).

    My nieces like clothes and books, but don’t view them as Real Presents, so I usually have to bring something else. You could probably bring a cute outfit for the 2.5yo, but if the 5yo is anything like my nieces, they will want to choose their own clothes. Dressing-up costumes are a different matter – despite my best efforts to indoctrinate the nieces with feminist ideas, they adore Disney princess costumes.

    Things they can *do* tend to go further than things like stuffed toys, since they love the novelty of playing with something new. Play Doh, bubbles, sticker books, and colouring books tend to be popular. I love the suggestion of lots of little small things that can be brought out at regular intervals – that is pretty much how I stopped the girls having meltdowns while their mum was away. Wrap them up – unwrapping stuff is part of the fun.

    If you’re genuinely interested in the kids and you listen to them and take them seriously, they know it and it makes you really popular. I spend a lot of time playing with my nieces when I visit, making up silly games out in the garden, drawing with them, or just sitting and watching a film with them. They really like it, and their parents can sneak off for a break. When the girls only want their parents, I do chores like tidying up, feeding the cat, putting out/taking in laundry, setting the table for dinner, cooking dinner etc. If you aren’t familiar enough with the house/routine to be sure you’d be helping, ask what you can do, or just entertain yourself until the parents are free.

    I’m sure it will go great. Kids are genuinely loads of fun – and it’s a great opportunity to play yourself, which we don’t often get as adults!

    1. I promised my brother and sister-in-law that I would not ever buy the nieces any noisy toys. I have held to that promise, but no one else has!

  33. As a parent of similarly aged children (4.5 and 1.5) I heartily endorse the cat advice. As in I’ve literally had to say, “Oh, he’s just sitting on top of the piano because there are too many people. Ignore him and he’ll probably come down.”

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