Short Questions for August 2019: Part 2 of 2

Hello, monthly feature with short questions from patrons continues from the previous chapter.

Q7: I am single in my 40s and have never had a serious long-term partner. I used to think I hadn’t met the right person yet but have recently come to understand that I’m aromantic (and probably demisexual – not ace but I don’t really feel like chasing after sex, either). I don’t know how much of this to share with the world, specifically my late-70s parents who would need the aromantic crash course. Thoughts? (he/him/his)

A7: You know your parents best, so you know how much energy you want to invest and how likely they are to be receptive. You don’t owe them (or the world) the details, on the other hand, they’ve surely noticed by now that you don’t seek long-term romantic attachments. If you do decide to speak with them, maybe that’s the context to use, like, “Parents, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve never been that interested in romantic relationships, I just found out that a lot of people feel this way and there’s a word for us – aromantic – pretty cool, right?” 

You’ve been reading a lot about the topic, so possibly pull together some of the resources that made it easier for you to describe your identity so that if your parents say, “How interesting, I always noticed that about you but didn’t want to pry, tell me more,” you’re prepared and if they say, “What’s that? Kids these days!” you’re also prepared.

As for the world, probably the best thing I can do is ask our readers: Got a favorite community or other resource for aromantic info and peer support? This place seems pretty active and detailed, from what I can tell, but I’m not a member.

Q8: I am coming to terms with the fact that my boundaries are… not great. Being a Ravenclaw, my first instinct is to seek out books. I found the seminal BOUNDARIES by Cloud & Townsend, and while it confirmed that yep, boundary problems abound, this book is a terrible fit for me because I have a lot of trauma around religion and every other sentence is a Bible quote. Can anyone recommend other great boundary books? (She/Her)

A8: Who wants to recommend some non-religious books about boundaries?

Q9: I love my wonderful boyfriend so much and find most of his quirks delightful. But his breathing irritates me a lot. When we’re resting on the couch or in bed, he holds his breath for long periods of time and then lets it out really loudly. When we’re cuddling, he breathes in my face and I have no air to breathe. We’ve talked about it but he often doesn’t realize he’s doing it. Any ideas? (She/her/hers)

A9: There’s no good way to tell someone, “You breathe wrong,” but I do have some ideas.

First, if your boyfriend isn’t already seeing a doctor about this, it’s time. Habitually holding the breath can be a stress reaction, it can also be a sign of a medical condition (apnea, sleep and other kinds, for one example). We can’t & won’t diagnose strangers via blogging (fortunately you have a working search engine and can look up specific possibilities and symptoms in detail) so I’ll just say as someone who was diagnosed with asthma as an adult specifically because a partner said, “You’re breathing weird, I’m worried about you (& annoyed), please get it looked at.” He was right, I had developed odd, subconscious, habitual workarounds to try to control coughing and get enough air and it took someone else being around all the time to notice. Your script can be some version of “Hey, this breathing thing might not just be a quirk, so can you please make a doctor appointment and at least rule out the prospect of something serious?” 

In the meantime, look for cuddle positions where he’s not breathing in your face (big spoon, little spoon?). If he can’t control whatever this is or he always forgets, you can remember and take steps to make sure you can always breathe. It won’t be a mystery as to why, he knows why, flip over when you need to so that you can still be close and minimize face-to-face time while he gets checked out. Hopefully he can get some answers and both of you can get some relief.

Q10: Last year, my sister was killed in a very public accident. I’ve been struggling with how to tell friends and acquaintances that I speak to intermittently what happened. I don’t know how to bring it up, and get emotional when I do. Can you give me some scripts to follow so I can explain the situation and (maybe) not fall apart while doing so? Thank you so much. (she/her/hers)

A10: Oh, how awful, I’m so sorry! The loss of your sister + the newsworthiness (constant reminders + people’s need to speculate) must have been a special kind of hell.

I always fall back on two strategies for communicating bad news that I’m nervous or stressed about sharing.

First, it’s okay to use email, text, social media, etc. and share the news before any planned hangouts, and tell people exactly what you told us:

“Friend, you may not have heard this, but since we saw each other last, my sister was killed in [incident]. I get very emotional when I talk about it and I never know how to bring it up, so I thought I’d send you a note before we [have drinks][go birdwatching][resume our opera subscription] this week so you’ll understand if the ‘So, what’s new with you?’ part of our conversation gets a little messy.  I’m really looking forward to seeing you and catching up.”

You could do this one-on-one, you could do this in batches, or all at once, whatever works for you. Ideally, you’ll feel better not dreading having to deliver the news in person, and your friends and acquaintances will appreciate knowing that this huge thing happened to you and having a minute to [privately react][privately Google what happened and refresh their memories/satisfy curiosities][privately react again] before you see each other.

Second, enlist the connectors/planners/hosts/organizers in your social and professional groups to spread the word for you. The kind of people who take it upon themselves to organize a book club or a college reunion or networking event often see keeping up with everyone’s news as part of the role, you can absolutely message them or call them up and ask for their help spreading the word. Maybe something like:

“Hi [Nice Person], I hope you’re well. Can I ask for your help with an awkward task?

You may or may not have heard the news, but I  lost my sister in an accident last year. As I emerge from just being with my family, I’m realizing that a lot of people don’t know, and I have this recurring problem of having to break the news again and again. I’m looking forward to catching up with all of you at [upcoming event], so would you be willing to quietly spread the news of what happened for me before we all get together?

Then tell people what you want them to do/not do about your news. For example:

“I’m looking forward to [discussing the book][rehearsing the play][building the marketing plan for the North East region][registering new voters] and hearing what everyone’s been up to, and it would really ease my mind if I know every “so what’s new with you” conversation won’t be a rehash of events and that people won’t be surprised if I’m a little down or easily flustered. Thank you.”

You’re going to get some “I’m so sorry,” and shoulder pats and hugs when you do see people, but this way hopefully every time you run into people it won’t be a Run, Lola Run! or Groundhog Day-style montage of surprise and grief.

Q11: Hi Captain, here’s my question: I am Childfree by Choice, and I used to think kids just stressed me the fuck out. Turns out I was mistaken – I’m quite comfortable in situations with babies/kids, where their adults are supervising them well, and I know the boundaries about how and when I should intervene if I’ve noticed something unsafe before the other adults have. It’s the more ambiguous situations that stress me out. So like, if a crawling baby is making a beeline for something dangerous and I’m the first one to notice, I am a-OK with going over and picking the baby up, distracting them, and pointing them another direction. That’s my duty as a friend or auntie.

But with bigger kids, especially if it’s clear that their caregivers are aware of the situation but not responding they way I think they should be, that really stresses me out. Like when there’s roughhousing that is getting mean and the smaller kid isn’t enjoying it anymore, or some kind of play that’s pretty much guaranteed to end up with somebody getting hurt, and the caregivers are just giving half-assed verbal warnings and not following up when they’re ignored. But they’re not my kids and I’m just a friend or relative of the parents, so my impulse to physically wade in, tuck a child under my arm like a bad kitty, and remove them from the situation, is probably unwelcome. What is the correct course of action in a situation like that?

A11: I would say, mostly, if the parents/caregivers are nearby/available and the kids aren’t coming to them for adjudication or comfort and it’s not a “you are seriously going to injure yourselves/each other or break something expensive” situation, grabbing & tucking the child like a football is going to be overkill. From my Not-A-Parent observation deck, when there’s an adults-and-kids-who-aren’t-toddlers-anymore gathering going on, there are some skills being learned and practiced on both sides:

  1. Kids are learning to play together and have some autonomy without coming to adults every five minutes, and to self-soothe and self-regulate if they don’t enjoy something.
  2. Parents are learning to find balance. What’s the right mix of socializing with fellow adults, keeping an eye on kids, but also letting everybody have a little space?The “correct” amount of supervision is always in flux. If something bad does happen, there will always, always, always be a subtext of “why wasn’t somebody watching them more closely” but like, sometimes you can be RIGHT THERE and the kid can still shove a nickel up her nose or decide that she can fly.

As a Not-Their Parents observer, there is no “the” correct course of action but there are a few strategies, which I’m adapting from “bystander intervention” training, where the emphasis is on de-escalating difficult situations while still respecting everyone’s autonomy, often expressed as “D’s” (3 Ds, 4 Ds, depends on who you ask):

  1. Direct: Your scoop-up-a-kid instinct would be classified as direct intervention, as would telling the aggressors to knock it off. A matter-of-fact reminder of what you want them to do (“Hey, Buddy, let’s use our inside voices and keep our feet off the furniture, thanks”) (All kids and pets are addressed as Buddy) can work better than lots of non-specific “Quiet down!” reminders.
  2. Distract: If you do intervene, don’t necessarily do it by “rescuing” the smaller kid or admonishing the bigger kids, jump in with a distraction instead. Ask a question, show them something cool on your phone, get them to help you with a task. It’s part of bystander intervention generally, where ‘confronting’ people is risky (and can escalate a bad situation), but engaging the target in friendly conversation communicates ‘you aren’t alone, there’s someone here to catch you if you fall.’
  3. Delegate: Get a parent. “Are they allowed to jump on that?” “Hey, I think that the fun screaming might have turned into the not-fun kind.” “If we’re every hanging out and I see some roughhousing that crosses a line, or some of the kids being mean, would you like me to come get you or jump in there myself?” It’s okay to be selective about who you ask and how you ask, if you know that certain friends are easily riled or take questions like this as implied criticisms, you’re the best judge of how likely someone is to hear you. Also, turf matters: In your house, or where you are the host, it’s okay to be more active (“Please don’t touch that/jump on that/eat that/open that/Please use inside voices so the neighbors can’t hear us/Don’t pick up the cat she doesn’t like it,” etc.) Think of it as communicating “Party Rules” vs. “Correcting People’s Parenting.”
  4. Delay: Kids (like kittens) can get pretty rough in short bursts and be totally chaotic and then snap back to being best buds in an instant. Sometimes you can’t prevent whatever it is, but it’s okay to hang back, let it resolve itself and check in with the kid who was on the bottom of the pile, “How are you doing, Buddy? Wanna come sit by me?” If the kid was really upset by something, give them the opportunity to tell you about it.

This stuff can be so fraught so again, there’s no one approach. If you get really stressed out by certain friends’ parenting dynamic, maybe take breaks and schedule some adult-only time to give everybody a chance to grow out of whatever “difficult stage” is happening now. It’s okay to enjoy being around children sometimes and also to be stressed out by them sometimes, it’s okay to find some people’s parenting style kinda stressful and wish they’d supervise their kids more closely at gatherings without having any particular obligation to Do Something about it.

Q12: So, how can I (F) respond to the “just relax” I get from guys when they’re being disruptive, and I raise an objection. My two most recent examples: 1) coworkers in the back of the room at a staff meeting, cutting up and being so noisy I couldn’t hear what our boss (the department head!?) was saying up front. “Guys, can you quiet down, please?” “Oh, just relax.” 2) Thumping and banging and screaming and yelling coming from upstairs neighbors. (Sounds like, when I was a kid, would occasionally accompany black eyes and broken bones.) Saw them out in the parking lot, asked, “Everything okay?” Dad got incredibly defensive and, after a shouting argument, muttered, “Just relax.” I thought this was common enough to be a Thing, but I don’t find any discussion of the phenomenon online.

A12: Things I know about the command “Just relax!”

  1. It is often used by people who want to manipulate you into doing something you don’t want to do and people who want to punish you for being right when they know they are in the wrong.
  2. It has never, in the history of the world, made anyone actually relax.
  3. One possible response is a flat “I am relaxed” and then continuing to expect what you expect and need what you need (Workbros to shush already, “I am relaxed, I’m just making sure everyone’s okay, it sounded pretty rowdy last night. Have a great day.”)
  4. When men say it to women, they want us to be quiet and afraid of appearing “shrill,” so another possible response when circumstances warrant is to selectively and strategically show them what EXTREMELY UNRELAXED looks like and then snap back to “Ok, so, what were we talking about? Right, I’m gonna need you to _____.” Neither examples you shared warrant this strategy yet (you don’t want to escalate with scary neighbor), but for habitual offenders who you don’t work with? Sometimes reminding people that they have choices and that you also have choices can snap people into coming correct.
  5. As for the neighbor situation, his defensive reaction is right out of the textbook, so read the bystander intervention stuff up thread and think about de-escalation, especially distraction. This has a nice short summary (probably don’t call the police unless it’s an immediate life-or-death situation, check in with the other parent subtly). You could also talk to a DV resource like LoveIsRespect.org for more guidance.

Thanks for the interesting and challenging questions! We’ll be back with more in about a month.

139 comments
  1. TiffanyAching said:

    Just coming here to commiserate with #9. My husband is also a loud/weird/annoying breather at times. It sucks when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep, alternating between “Can you STOP with the BREATHING” and “Wait, why aren’t you breathing? Breathe, dammit!”

    If Boyfriend won’t go to the doctor (like my husband) or goes and there’s nothing wrong/nothing actionable, here are some tactics I use to help minimize the annoyance:
    –Shorter cuddle sessions
    –Earplugs, if you’re trying to sleep and the breathing is making that hard
    –As CA suggested, different cuddle positions where he’s not breathing in your face/on you (our fave is Husband on his back, me squidged up against his side with my head on his chest)
    –If he is breathing in your face/on you: “Dude, can you not?” + position change

    I hope you find relief soon.

    • goddessoftransitory said:

      I haaaaate being breathed on–I don’t know if it’s my genetic memory of “tiger panting on your neck!” or what but it’s a huge pet peeve of mine. I’m expert at arranging my pillow Just So to block the air gushes or of course snuggling into the Little Spoon position.

    • Forsworn Memorialist said:

      My husband does very audible ujjayi breathing unawarely during stress, concentration, or sometimes at random times. I sometimes catch his eye and make a brief subtle gesture of stroking my throat downward (if with other people) or if it’s just us say “would you please not ujjayi?” During stressful driving in traffic or snow, he’ll sometimes proactively say “you may hear some ujjayi” and then I say “I dispense you” (ujjayi is then doing the function for which it was invented in Sanskrit-antiquity, aiding focus). Asthma isn’t an issue although ambient allergic rhinitis is.

    • TootsNYC said:

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one who hates having her breath-intake area breathed on. I feel like, I don’t want to be breathing in your carbon dioxide!

      • Inahc said:

        Yeah, I.. guess I’ve been assuming I was The Unreasonable One for this, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone. 🙂

    • I also sympathize; I can’t tolerate even feeling my own breath on my skin and have to arrange my sleeping position so that I don’t feel it. (So things like curled on my side with pillows or blankets strategically placed).

    • Inahc said:

      My favourite earplugs are the purple xmas-tree-shaped ones I can buy at London Drugs. They’re soft enough to not hurt when squished into a pillow, although I usually wear just one anyways since the pillow protects my other ear enough. 🙂 My husband doesn’t mind being rolled over, but he has a tendency to just roll right back without waking up. 😛

  2. Quill said:

    LW 1: Drive by aromantic high fives!

    These days, most of the aromantic community is on twitter or tumblr (at least, in my experience) but I caution you to not wade too fast into ‘the discourse’, since that can be demoralizing in many ways, what with the current political climate and some unfortunate debate going on in some feminist and queer circles. That said, hanging out with the community’s older members (both in years since realization and actual age) is pretty rewarding.

    • Lily Bart said:

      Fellow aro-ace spectrum person here. I’ve also had good luck on the subreddits /r/asexuality and /r/aromantic (although I’ve not been online much in the past six months or so, so things might’ve changed a bit). Supportive community, and in my experience the mods do a pretty good job of filtering out the ace discourse posts so you don’t run into people constantly questioning if your identity is real or not.

      • Quill said:

        That would be pretty refreshing, these days – I escaped Aven at top speed some years ago and have been a little wary of other forums since. :/

  3. I had good luck with “Boundaries and Relationships” by Charles Whitfield. I’m also sensitive to religious talk, and there is a little in this book, but I didn’t have trouble ignoring it / didn’t find it overbearing.

    • Inahc said:

      My book was… Something like “where you end and I begin”. It’s gendered as fuck, but if you can ignore that it’s not bad. I might not have noticed less-than-blatant religious content, though; it’s been quite a while since I read it.

    • Epi said:

      While it is not just about boundaries, I have found “Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski super helpful. The focus of the book is sex, but a lot of the content is actually about dealing with stress and difficult feelings, identifying your needs and talking to your partner about them, and knowing and accepting yourself as you are. She includes some great, easy strategies for managing difficult feelings and trauma that, while they didn’t fix my issue all on my own of course, have helped me a lot and made me better at therapy. I got my husband to read it (for the stress advice actually, not the sex parts although that was fun). Not only did he find it helpful too, when he mentioned it to his therapist, she was already reading it because several other patients in her anxiety-focused practice had brought it up as a helpful book too. If it’s not going to be helpful or fun to read this stuff in the context of sex, the author has a newer book, “Breakdown”, that is just about stress and emotions. I haven’t read it but it was motivated by the popularity of those sections of CAYA.

      Also, I’ll put in a general plug for reading self-improvement books that are *not* about your primary problem. I have PTSD due to being stalked, and books on trauma felt really threatening and invalidating to me. A lot of the examples were about other sexual or gender-related traumas that I have already heard compared to mine and accepted as more real. And if a strategy didn’t resonate with me, it felt like it was because I was wrong or avoiding self work that I needed to do. So I read sex books and books on creativity instead.

      Pick a part of your life that is supposed to be fun and optional, and that you feel neutral or positive about. I think it helped me to build on a part of my life that was going well, rather than continually engage with something that made me feel afraid and inadequate. It also makes it a lot less threatening when, inevitably, some parts of the book are irrelevant. And it made it easier to tell if something from the book was working for me, since it was supposed to feel good and optional. As a bonus, even if all the book does is improve the part of your life that it is actually about, that’s not exactly a loss! It will help you anyway to have that part of your life going strong.

      • JenniferP said:

        I second “Come As You Are” and I never thought about the “reading books that are not about your primary thing = sometimes more helpful than reading about the actual thing” thing before but it’s breaking my brain in a good way because…isn’t that what the best advice columns do? We read about other people’s problems and learn things about our own.

      • I just started the new book today and I’m loving it already. It’s called Burnout though, not Breakdown. It actually uses words like “misogyny” and “patriarchy” but somehow with a light upbeat casual vibe and not with a We Are Talking About Oppression, An Extremely Serious And/Or Enraging Subject vibe.

        I’m pretty sure there will be zero Bible quotes too.

  4. valentine said:

    Q8: Susan Forward has several relevant books, including Emotional Blackmail and Toxic Parents. CW: She’s obsessed with a gender binary and has no racial analysis.

    Q12: I think Dad is one of the neighbors in the incident, not OP’s dad.

    • JenniferP said:

      Oh, good catch, I read that wrong. Correction.

    • Kitty said:

      I found Emotional Blackmail really disappointing after finding Toxic Parents helpful. Emotional Blackmail had a bunch of victim blaming, and after one case study where the husband was emotionally manipulative and she made out like both of them were responsible and both had to work to fix it, I noped right on out of there. Here’s the review I wrote on Goodreads:

      “Encourages people to “barter” with their emotional blackmailers, as if being treated with basic respect and dignity is negotiable. Also advised one particular woman whose boyfriend was ignoring her because she had put on some weight, that to get her boyfriend to agree to be more attentive, she would need to “start a diet tomorrow”. That is so messed up I don’t know where to begin.”

      I’ve heard good things about “When I say no, I feel guilty” by Manuel J Smith, but honestly the most helpful resource on boundaries for me has been the Captain’s posts. She literally changed my life. ❤️ I’d encourage the LW to read back through the “boundaries” tag in the archives, if they haven’t already. Best of luck. Xxx

      • Clarry said:

        I like to recommend When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. It’s done me a world of good and worth the read. It’s available online here:
        http://www.leithon.net/huahao/upload/file/20140502/20140502232035_1093.pdf
        Two caveats, however.
        1. It is dated. It’s not hideously anti-feminist, but it does carry a lot of assumptions about men/women relationships that you’d expect from a book that came out in 1975. I’m able to find it humorously anti-feminist. I’d understand if someone else saw it differently.
        2. It’s better on how to enforce boundaries than on how to decide what fair boundaries might look like.

  5. Sarah said:

    LW 11: As a fellow CFBC-er and former Sunday School teacher for kids at the age where roughhousing seems to become A Thing (woot woot, 3rd-5th grade), when things got too intense I’d remind them of my One Rule to Rule Them All: “Hey, y’all – we don’t break things: Ourselves, each other, or the furniture.” Now, I was *the adult in charge*, which changes the dynamic, but I’ve decided that I subscribe to the “It takes a village” mentality, so if I see something that risks breaking my ORtRTA, I step in as needed. Otherwise – and this is the hard part – I leave it be.

    So when it looks like it could cross the line into breaking something (and I count “spirits” in the list of breakable things), I repeat the rule and leave the kids to figure out what not breaking the rule looks like and move on. They’re still learning to regulate their own behaviour, but if you interrupt them before things get too bad and let them redirect themselves, it usually works pretty well and over time/repetition they approach that line less and less.

    • Quill said:

      When it comes to relatives gathering I’m usually the adult in charge (yay for being the youngest girl of the oldest group of cousins and over a decade older than the second batch,) and I’ll be taking this advice, thank you.

    • I really like this way of phrasing it. As a parent of a kid who loves roughhousing, I think we’ll probably be using it…

  6. gooseasaurusrex said:

    A friend used similar verbiage to #10 in an email to our friend group after his mom died last year. He said something like “It’s very hard for me to receive condolences at this time. However, I love talking about my mom’s life and remembering her, so please do share any stories and memories you may have about her!” He knew that we wouldn’t know what to say, so he gave us *instructions*, and it was SO HELPFUL. It felt weird at first! It’s not how we’re usually taught to do thing! But it was awesome.

    Also, his mom was heavily involved in a particular hobby and was well-known in the world of that hobby. In his email, he included some links to information about her participation in that hobby, so that we could learn a bit more about it. I suspect this was also a subtle redirection for any compulsion people may have had to ask about his mom’s death, by giving them another topic about which to be interested. If LW10 is up for talking about a particular aspect of her sister’s life, perhaps something like this might be an option? It’s fairly specific, I know. Just figured I’d throw it out there.

  7. Violette said:

    Q11: I’m a parent of a five year old, and if it’s any consolation – this stresses me the heck out, too.

    I also found it way easier to parent a tiny baby/toddler! Yes, their needs are unceasing, but those needs are also much less ambiguous. The line between “let them work it out themselves” vs “time to intervene” gets steadily more and more confusing. I figure it will get clearer by the time she’s, say, 23.

    Some advice:

    Your distinction between “if I’ve noticed something unsafe before the other adults have” and “their caregivers are aware of the situation but not responding they way I think they should be” is a really, really good one, and you should lean on that more heavily. It applies equally well to all ages and stages.

    The reason that this works for you with babies and not older kids is, I’m guessing, that you have fewer opinions/more consensus with your friends about what good infant care looks like. So when the kids are babies, there’s never any time when the parents are aware of what’s happening but you don’t like their responses. (This isn’t true for everyone; see any number of grandparents/strangers who insist all babies need hats at all times/only formula feeding/never formula feeding/whatever.)

    It sounds like the stressful kind of stuff you’re describing falls within the bounds of acceptable variations in child-raising, not abuse. And when you hear “half-assed verbal warnings” you don’t know the internal count-down that’s going on – maybe the seemingly casual warning does have consequences – whether the kid who seems unhappy will meltdown harder if removed from the situation, etc. The verbal warnings are an indication that the parent knows what’s happening and thinks the learning is worth the risk.

    I whole-heartedly agree with the Captain that you get to set house rules in your space, and that you get to like adults but not like their kids or how they are around their kids. It’s okay to have friends who are parents who you never see in parent mode; I have plenty of friends like that. You seem like a kind and thoughtful person and I hope you have the kind of social spaces you like that don’t stress you out often enough in your life.

    • Anonyish said:

      +1 Kids can also be capable of surprising amounts of self policing. If e.g. siblings enjoy a bit of rough housing and intend it as fun and don’t want to hurt one another, then that “half-assed verbal warning” may well be all that is needed or desirable, just a reminder to kids having fun to keep it fun. In general, decent parents will have a better sense of what is going to end in tears for their particular children than you will, and if they are present are the best guide. If they’re not then of course you do what you’re comfortable with and that’s fine if you put an end to things sooner than parents would because of course you are less knowledgeable about the exact moment intervention is needed with those kids (no picking up and carrying, though that’s highly likely not to end well). And when it comes to you you do what you need. You get to set the physical play children are allowed with you at zero if that is what you are comfortable with.

    • Quinalla said:

      Yes, definitely set house rules in your space. Those aren’t parenting rules, just house rules. For folks that come by often or for unusual rules, share in advance or when people walk in the door. Like this: “I’m really weird about the floors, if you don’t mind taking off your shoes, I appreciate it!” or “No guest allowed upstairs or in that closed room in the basement, thanks!” or “No drinks on the carpet.” or “No pets allowed.” and so on. With new guests, sometimes I’ll give a quick tour and go over house rules as they become evident. Make it about your (maybe quirky) preferences and/or be matter of fact.

      Also, if these are people you hang out with a lot or are very close with, have a conversation about how much “parenting” it is ok to do. My siblings and I have a pact that we are all allowed to jump in when parents aren’t there or heavily distracted at the moment and of course in dangerous situations. Sometimes my brother does something differently than I would with my kids, but if I’m not there or distracted by another kid or food or whatever, I’m glad he handled it best he could and vice versa. If it isn’t something immediate, they might do the “Go ask your Dad/Mom” if they want something they aren’t sure about. We also have a casual hand off procedure of “Hey, going upstairs to shower, can you watch my kids?” and the like so that there is a clear responsibility transfer. It doesn’t sound like that applies for you, but still.

      And I have kids and struggle with this too. I think fellow parents cut each other a bit more slack here, but there are still plenty of awkward moments and the need for lots of communication. Don’t be afraid to have the conversations you need to have.

  8. Re : LW 11

    I’m adding one thing to the Captain’s suggestions. If it’s your house, I think you can intervene pretty much any time. Your house, your rules.

    Re : LW 12

    “I need you to [whatever]” language doesn’t work well for me. Instead I say “Please [do whatever]” in a cold tone.

    Everyone I’ve tried this on heard an order, not a request. I think that if anything “please” makes the command more clear.

    • JenniferP said:

      Solid call!

      • Thanks!

    • TootsNYC said:

      Another point similar to “if it’s your house”…

      If it affect YOU, you can absolutely say something to the child **just as you’d say it to an adult.**

      “Please don’t do that; I’m afraid it will break.”
      “I don’t like to hear people use words like that–it’s very unpleasant to me.”

      And you can stand up for other people (“when you run through the house, it creates a lot of chaos for people to cope with”)
      And you can ask (“Could I ask you to use inside voices? It’s really hard on people’s ears when you shout.”)

      Kids are people, just like you, and you can speak to them as such.

      And this hints at another tactic, one that works with grownups too (like the people who don’t put in enough money for the restaurant bill): Assume goodness, ad assume that they didn’t notice. (with the restaurant people, “assume” that they intended to pay the right amount, and the reason they didn’t is that they just must not have full info, so you say, “Oh, you didn’t pay for your drinks–that was four glasses of wine” instead of “are you trying to stiff us by making us pay for your wine?”)

      If the kids are “good kids,” they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, right? Maybe they just didn’t notice; they’re inexperienced in the world, and extra self-focused, so approach it as you providing information.

      So to the picking-on kid, you say, “Joey doesn’t seem to be enjoying this anymore.”
      Or, “I don’t think you realize how mean that sounded.”
      or “ooh, that’s very breakable!”

      And let them figure out what that means.

      Think of yourself as the possessor of information and observations they need and don’t have.

      • Spicy Onion said:

        I think your top comments are OK to make in YOUR own environment. Those are great ways to express boundaries IN YOUR OWN SPACE to other people, particularly little ones. If it is not your space, then I would recommend against saying anything at all. Like, you don’t want to be the non-parent policing kids’s behaviors at birthday parties. I’m not trying to be harsh, but I would assume, as a parent, that this meant you just didn’t enjoy loud kid things and wouldn’t invite you to kid-centric things in the future.

        And honestly, if those things do annoy you, then maybe it is best to not join in on kid-centric things? I mean there is a difference between dinner guesting and kid-centric anything else. Sure, kids shouldn’t run and yell. Birthday parties, BBQs, Swimming parties, lots and lots of other things most parents will be taking their kids to involve a lot of what you described as bothersome.

        Like there are a ton of grey areas here, and I think what the captain says is bang on. Refrain. Refrain. Refrain.

        • Guava said:

          I agree. If I have clear, compelling evidence that certain parents aren’t paying attention to their kids in a gathering – like if they’re falling-down drunk and the kids are starting fights in other room – I’ll keep an eye on those kids myself and intervene as a last resort. Otherwise I try to assume good faith and let kids sort out situations for themselves. There are many different parenting styles, and often “advice” or “heads up” is delivered (or received) with a heaping dose of judgment.

        • descoladin said:

          So here’s the kind of thing that I wonder about. I was just at a family gathering where my husband’s brother’s older sons were poking the youngest son. He kept saying “Stoooop! Stooop!” and they wouldn’t stop.

          Now with my kids there is a rule that people can decide what to do about their own bodies. If my kid was poking the other kid and the other kid said stop, I’d come down like a ton of bricks and tell my kid to stop, because people get to decide about their own bodies.

          Husband’s brother was clearly aware this was going on and didn’t care (he even made a joke about it). I said nothing because not my kids. But are these boys going to grow up thinking it’s OK to harass women, say, because no one ever told them that people should have the right to decide what to do about their own bodies?

          At what point do I have a responsibility to speak up?

          (To be fair, both my husband nor his brother, who saw nothing wrong with his boys because *they* grew up that way, are very good with respect, consent, etc. So maybe I’m worrying for no reason?)

          • Guava said:

            I would not have interfered in that situation. I’ve noticed a pattern of play with a lot of kids where they’ll wrestle around and one will squeal “Stop! Stooop!” only to go back to the kids who were poking them three seconds later and antagonize them into poking them again. I wasn’t there, so I can’t gauge the level of distress the youngest was displaying, but if his dad was there and he and your husband are good with respect and consent, I’d trust your BIL to know the dynamic between his kids and handle it his way.

            On the other hand, if it’s choking, poking at eyes, slapping across the face, fist-fighting, hitting someone with a stick, etc. then I’d intervene right away. Especially if the parents aren’t paying attention, or if they’re “boys will be boys” types.

          • Baru Cormorant said:

            I think it’s a little extreme to draw a straight line between poking a sibling even though they said “stop” all the way through serial harassment and sexual assault. The latter is formed by years of reinforcement from family, from society, from all kinds of experiences about what power and relationships look like. It doesn’t spring fully formed to one’s brain because they poked someone and got away with it, any more than having to hug your grandparents does. And it would be a pretty dismal view of your husband and his brother!

            This kind of physical play among siblings is a common way for people to experiment with physical boundaries. What kind of touch is OK and when, what to do when someone crosses a boundary, what to do when someone SERIOUSLY crosses a boundary, when our preferences should give way to safety/other concerns (greeting relatives in socially appropriate ways, wanting to play when parents are busy, putting up with your brother poking you because it’s not worth getting up and moving).

          • Nopetopus Cowgirl said:

            I think there’s a lot of good ways to handle that situation including coming down like a ton of bricks AND not intervening. Sometimes the “right” answer is all in the context. I think it’s a mistake (and one I make too at times) to look at a child’s difficult behaviour and extrapolate it to it’s most extreme adult form. Reasoning that the eight year old who won’t hear no and stop poking his sister will likely grow into a rapist or the five year old who screams until she gets her way will be emotionally abusive… is unnecessarily grim and unsubstantiated. We teach our children so much, over the course of thousands and thousands of interactions, we can’t draw conclusions from one episode.

          • johann7 said:

            I’d intervene in that situation – a clear request about bodily integrity is being ignored, and I consider bodily integrity a moral absolute that I will intervene to enforce. The parents not caring or the kids saying that violating bodily integrity is okay in their house would make me reconsider my association with the parents. Your line from that kind of behavior to rape culture isn’t a stretch at all – this is EXACTLY the way that young people learn that it’s fine to ignore people’s boundaries concerning their own bodies or that they don’t have a right to such boundaries.

            Also: “To be fair, both my husband nor his brother, who saw nothing wrong with his boys because *they* grew up that way, are very good with respect, consent, etc.” Are they, though? They apparently think that violating consent about touching is perfectly fine, so I question that assertion. I think they internalized toxic views and behaviors from the exact childhood behavior about which you’re concerned, which validates your concern rather than mitigating it. I think a talk with your husband, at least, and perhaps his brother, is in order.

            Baru Cormorant, you’re simply wrong. The forced hugging thing, for example, is directly and specifically cited by many victims of sexual abuse/assault as a factor in not reporting, feeling required to tolerate the abuse, thinking THEY were wrong for feeling bad, etc. These kinds of situations are EXACTLY how people learn about boundaries and consent; please stop apologizing for active reinforcement of rape culture.

          • JenniferP said:

            Sometimes when we read about situations here or observe them in our lives there is pressure to fix it – fix it forever, have The Teachable Moment, change the dynamic, make sure that if we stop it it will stay stopped, but that’s so often beyond what we can control or not without our power. “But what happens if Aggressor Kid doesn’t get it?” “What happens if Aggressor Kid does it again when I’m not around?” “But what happens if Aggressor Kid doesn’t UNDERSTAND?”

            Bystander intervention intervening can mean, “Hey Non-Aggressor Kid, can you come show me how to play Minecraft? I’m stuck on this project!” + quiet private conversation “Hey Buddy, you ok?”

            “[All Kids], what kind of popsicle do you want? I don’t know what kind we have, wanna come with me and look?”

            “Whoa, your Parent said stop bugging your sister THREE TIMES do you know what that means? It means you have to come help me take the recycling out. Come on! I’ll bag, you carry, race you. [Parent Friend], I got it, have some more wine.”

            We don’t have to fix it forever (which is good ’cause we can’t) and we don’t have to look at every little kid dynamic as a meeting of the Future Editorial Board of Sexual Predator Quarterly. There is a way to practice saying & doing something that doesn’t carry that kind of pressure or burden, that interrupts the dynamic and the action, that doesn’t put anyone on the spot to Be In Trouble or Explain Themselves or Learn An Important Lesson Today or Show The Parents How It’s Done. Interrupt the action and distract the people.

            That is doing something. It can be enough to lower everyone’s stress level. And I think it’s good practice for us to not be silent, to say something vs. living in our heads forever trying to find the One Perfect Sentence That Fixes Everything. ❤ ❤

            We're all figuring it out together, right?

    • Delta Delta said:

      Re: 11 – I tend to agree. Sadly, I lost some friends over this exact thing. They came for dinner and brought their son who was about 3 years old. He was climbing all over the furniture and I said gently, “hey, fella, it’s ok to sit on the couch, but please don’t climb on the arms.” Reasonable? I thought so. Not to Mom. Mom decided that they were leaving Right Then because at their house they don’t have rules about climbing on the furniture and I shouldn’t make rules for her kid. I said, “my couch, my rules.” They left. In a huff. Eyeroll.

      • TinLizi said:

        I had an argument with a friend about that too. Her husband tried to close the door to the bathroom, where the cat’s litter box was. I asked him to open it, since the cat needed access. He said no, because the toddler might get into it. I live in a small studio with a narrow hallway to the bathroom. There was barely enough room for the adults and kid to sit on the floor (I don’t own a couch). I told him, we could watch the kid, but the cat needed her bathroom and it was her house too. He refused to open it and tried to block me from doing it myself.

        • JenniferP said:

          Guess Who’s (Not) Coming To Dinner (Ever Again)

  9. GrumpyZena said:

    For Q11, as the parent of a 3YO, it’s a balancing act.

    If my kid is doing something that I think is “red alert” then I would want an adult to intervene if I haven’t yet. Basically, if my kid is doing something that will send him or someone else to the hospital, or that will damage someone else’s property, I want it stopped.

    If it’s more like “that game is too rough”, or “someone is being mean”, then just give me a heads up. I tend to want to watch carefully to see what happens in those situations. I want my kid to learn how to navigate conflict but also to know that I have his back (and that he’s not allowed to be a bully), so judging when to jump in is tough!

    We have lots of talks about paying attention to whether or not somebody is having fun (you can see how that might relevant to other situations as he grows up, so it’s a skill I really want him to learn), and that things are only fun when EVERYONE is having a good time, and I want him to be able to practice those skills. I also want him to know that it’s ok to say “NO” or “THAT’S MEAN” and that he doesn’t need my approval to do it. And for more minor things, I want him to practice negotiation, and normal social give and take.

    At the same time, he’s only 3, and I don’t want him to get in over his head, or to learn those skills at the expense of other kids, so I step in if I think it’s neccessary. The thing is, only I have the context to know what he can handle by himself. So if you see my kid in a situation like that, just come tell me!

    • Sarah said:

      So I have a few questions as an aunt/person who is around kids of all ages a lot, if you don’t mind answering? Because this is bringing up a few things I struggle with as a person who wants to be responsible/a good friend/a good adult influence.

      How much do you prep your friends about how to address this stuff with the kids? Because I can definitely see how there would be times when I’d step in earlier, not having the context surrounding what you’ve been working on with him. Or do you tend to just be around people with kids who parent the same way, so it’s not something you worry about too much?

      Also (and again, feel free not to answer! Hopefully this is all coming across in the curious spirit in which it is intended), do you find the balance of intervening yourself/other adults intervening tends to work well? As I said above, I tend to only intervene when it looks like a kid is going to damage something/somebody, but when it’s people I don’t know REALLY well (like, say, the kid in line pulling on a rope that would make something fall right into me) while I will say something (gentle, a “Hey bud, if you keep doing that this is going to fall and hurt me/you/that kitten”) I find it hard to figure out the balance of addressing it with the adult/letting kids see that sometimes we all correct each other. (This goes hand in hand with accepting “no” and generally showing them in all our interactions that they can ask me not to do things, too, but of course that doesn’t happen with the one-offs, you know?)

      Anyways, you’ve given me a lot to think about in terms of how to be a good human around kids while letting them learn and I really appreciate it!

      • I think in the circles I move in, most people tend not to chastise a child unless they are going to hurt another child/animal, or unless damage is going to result to their own property. The only person I ever see stepping in to discipline my son is my SIL, who is very close with my son and very much in the same page as I am. My friends tend to stick more with “should A be doing that?”, as a heads up to me or my partner.

        Yay for repressed British people and their hatred of getting involved 🙂

        • Sarah said:

          Ahhh, that makes sense – it’s a similar line that I try to tread, but I’m much more used to older kids so how to handle it when the children are younger. Thanks!

  10. redacted said:

    Aromantic: I can’t tell from your question whether this is something you *want* to share with your parents, or whether you just think you “should” or are getting pressure from them. Do they ask you when you’re going to meet that special someone / get married / etc.? If not, and you’re content with that situation, it might be an opportunity to leave well enough alone.

    • ASJ said:

      This was my thought. I’m aromantic and asexual, and it’s not something I choose to actively tell people in my life just because it prompts SO MANY questions (turns out it can be surprisingly challenging trying to explain a lack attraction, be it romantic or sexual). If someone asks me directly, like my sister did, I will share the information with them; I’m thirty now, so I’ll cautiously say most people have caught on that I’m not interested in dating and I don’t get a lot of questions about potential partners even without a direct talk about my orientations.

      All this to say: LW, you don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. If you want to tell people, by all means do so! But also remember that casual answers like “I’m just not up for dating right now” or “I’m happy with my life as it is” can go a long way towards silencing nosy people.

      • Quill said:

        Oh, same. My parents are… well meaning but very far off. I went from coming out to them to being the willing babysitter at all family events rather than face people’s questions about why I don’t have a relationship, kids, etc.

    • human said:

      If things are going fine as is, you can also wait until it comes up. I don’t have a partner or children, and one time the subject of making those decisions in general came up naturallly in a conversation with my dad, so I explained my thought process on making those decisions for myself, and he said “Oh, that makes sense” in a tone that told me he had wondered but been polite enough not to ask. It was a good conversation.

    • CMart said:

      This was my take as well. Absent a lot of probing questions or pressure I’m not sure it’s the kind of thing that needs to be spelled out unless it’s important to you.

      In general, if I have a family member who doesn’t seem to be dating and seems generally content with that then my assumption is… that they don’t want to date people and are happy with that. No big mystery, no specific names or labels needed.

    • wordswords said:

      Yes, I was thinking this too.

      If you want your parents to know the label, or you want to discuss your realizations about yourself with them, then by all means! The Captain’s script is a good one for that. But I can’t tell if you do want that, or if you just feel vaguely that now you *ought* to want to tell them because mumble closeting mumble labels mumble Being Queer The Right Way social pressure. Your letter sounded to me rather as if you were asking if you SHOULD tell them, rather than HOW to tell them. Maybe I’m misreading, but if that’s the case, then I think the answer is a solid “yes if you want to, no if you don’t.”

      For what it’s worth, I’m asexual, not aromantic, so a related but somewhat different situation. I have no idea if my late 70s/early 80s parents know the word “asexual.” But I do know that I said to my mom some years back, when the subject came up organically, “I’m not especially interested in having sex with anyone, but I do like the other stuff about being in a relationship.” Earlier, during my loooong spell of not dating anyone, my mom explained my dating status to any friends who asked as “Maybe someday, but right now, she’s enjoying her independence.” Both of these were fine with me! They love and support me, and they understand the gist, and that matters to me a whole lot more than them being able to say “actually, she’s asexual, which means XYZ.”

      If that rings a chord, then I think there’s absolutely no shame in telling your parents about your life, to whatever extent you want to, in terms that make sense to them and feel true to you. Maybe that extent is zero! Maybe that extent is “you know, I’m not really interested in dating anybody, and never have been. I like my solo life and my friends, and I’m happy this way.” Maybe that extent is a long discussion of what relationships and sexuality mean to you. Maybe it’s the full aromanticism crash course and links to further reading. It’s your life, and your relationship with your parents, and what matters is what feels right to you.

  11. Kate said:

    Boundaries & Protection by Pixie Lighthorse is a fantastic book about boundaries; really gentle, and she also includes a section of language and phrases in the back. I recommend it to folks all the time!

    • I haven’t read the book and I’m not familiar with the author, but Pixie Lighthorse is an amazing name and I hope it’s real.

  12. Jen said:

    Carolyn Hax often recommends “Life Skills for Adult Children”, and it has some good info on boundaries, I think.

  13. g2-64743335ea1b0afb834132f214c0b9c4 said:

    re Q8: ymmv on this given it’s not quite a book, but a manual, but I love Marsha Linehan’s DBT, I think it does an excellent job of not only teaching the tools needed for establishing healthy boundaries but also the sort of emotional thought process required to convince oneself to follow through with establishing the healthy boundaries. The DBT therapy manual is what I read, there are certainly non-manuals that cover DBT material, but I haven’t read those and therefore cannot vouch for them. If relevant, I’m not diagnosed with BPD (what DBT was designed to treat), but still found it extremely useful.

  14. Mimi Me said:

    Q11 – Honestly CA’s advice is pretty spot on here. I have kids who are older and now they’re in the age where there’s less visible signs of distress. I like to employ the check-in technique. I have been using it since before I had kids. If you think the kids are not having fun any longer, they’re too quiet in the other room, they look like they’re faking the fun, or just because you’re curious you call the kid over to where you are. I watch for body language here – my son will come over to me while keeping his eyes on his friends. If it’s clear he’s only half listening to me while he’s focused on whatever game his friends are still playing then I’m pretty confident that he’s having fun, despite the rough play and I’ll send him back with a warning to watch out for the little ones and to be careful. If the kid sits down next to you or seems eager to talk to you, that’s a usual sign that they are not having a good time and you just gave them an out.

  15. GreenDoor said:

    For Q11, I often am an adult around kids aged 5-14. Trust me, when things are really out of hand, younger kids will run up to their parents and start tattling. Older kids (especially boys) will start puffing their chests up and subconsciously deepening their voices to establish a pecking order. Girls I find, will actually start breaking up into sides. These are classic signs that the fun has turned to not-so-much-fun-anymore. With the younger ones, you can let the parents determin how to handle the tattling. (for me, it’s a question of whether it’s a kid-problem or an adult-needs-to step-in problem). With older kids, if the chest puffing and army building is about to turn into a war, I walk right in the middle and do the Football “time out” sign. A calm hand on the shoulder of the kid/s who appears to be the ringleaders and a reminder of the right thing to do often works. Once the others see the leader stop, they usually fall in line. You could also do the Time Out sign and generally ask the grouip, “Is this the right way to behave when we’re guests?” or some other group reminder. Unless you’re really dealing with a bunch of brats, this is usually all it takes. And yes – if it’s YOUR house, you get to call all the shots! In my house it’s, “If you’re going to kill each other, go do it outside!”

    • Pam said:

      Loving this!

    • Your last line brought back a memory — I think my mother literally said exactly those words to my sister and I at some point.

  16. TootsNYC said:

    for Q7: I don’t know why you need to tell your parents anything, especially not a label.

    It’s not about what group you belong to or whether there’s “a word for people like us.”
    I knew there were people who just weren’t that interested in a romantic relationship for a long time–long, long before anyone invented “aromantic” or “asexual.”

    Just be you. If it comes up, just say, “I’ve realized I’m just not that interested, actually; I’m happy with my life the way it is.”

    If you need to, say “Please don’t pressure me about this–it makes me think I’m not good enough for you the way I am.”

    If people say, “Why haven’t you married?” the way assholes do at weddings, then just say, “Oh, I don’t know. It’s never worked out.”

    Or, “That’s just the way I am.” (listen, if that works for jerks, it should work for the rest of us too) And shrug and walk away.

    • Nanani said:

      This comment rubs me the wrong way.

      While it’s true that we aces have always been here, having a label is useful and comforting for a lot of people.
      If LW is considering coming out, then they probably find the word that describes themselves to be a good one.

      “I’m not a unicorn, I’m a horse that doesn’t like labels” is a joke about bi representation but the spirit behind it, that labels are -useful-, still applies.
      If “Just be yourself” was enough we wouldn’t need to come out, would we?

      • But the point (I think, correct me if I’m wrong, Toots) is that we *can* name the behavior without labels, and sometimes that’s easier for other people to take in. When I was in college, I made a point of telling potential housemates “I date women” rather than “I am a lesbian” because I didn’t really want to interact with whatever they thought “lesbian” meant or implied, I just wanted them to know that I dated women.

        I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever use labels, because you’re right: naming the Thing helps people understand ourselves. I am saying that we don’t *need* to use the label to help other people understand us, we just need them to understand us. And Q7 is talking about a very specific situation: explaining themselves to their late-70’s parents. I thought the Cap’s approach was good: “I feel x way, and it turns out there’s a word for that.”

        • TootsNYC said:

          Look, if you like the label, if it’s useful to you, great. It’s sort of like a diagnosis–it’s a guide to help you navigate.

          But I think you can state the truth about yourself to your parents without using it, and the label itself actually can become a rigid thing. And it can become “the thing they see” instead of them seeing YOU.

          You can also just LIVE your truth and let people figure it out.

          Sure, if it’s helpful, do whatever. But I just want to raise the idea that you can just…be someone who doesn’t really care about ending up in romantic relationships. (then again, maybe I just am connected to a whole bunch of well-mannered people, because we have lots of relatives who apparently have never dated anyone at all, and nobody asks them about their sexuality. It would be weird in the extreme if any of them announced to us that they are ace. If someone DID say, “aren’t you ever going to get married/do you ever date?” it would be weird to have them give us a big lecture about how their label is now “ace” or “asexual,” but NOT weird if they said, “I’m just not that interested in it, to be honest.”)

          Sort of…if you tell someone you’re a vegan, now all the stuff that’s attached itself to that word is also in the room–including the misinformation, the negative stereotypes, etc.. If you say you never eat food that came from animals, not even honey or cheese, you’ve revealed the true you, without the external baggage.

          Again–if you think it’s useful, go ahead. (and I sure see the power of identifying yourself with others like you through using a term)

          But the OP’s letter just had a vibe that felt like “I’ve found the term for me, and now I must tell other people that this is my label.”

          • Violet said:

            Yeah, I almost always say “I don’t eat meat” rather than “I’m a vegetarian” because it causes a much less intense reaction. I don’t want to go into details or run through the Vegetarian FAQ, I just want to explain why I’m not having the pepperoni pizza. I’m also bisexual, but it never really comes up in conversation (I’m a single parent, and I think people just assume I’m straight and divorced) so I’m not sure how I’d answer that one if someone asked.

          • Nihil said:

            “But the OP’s letter just had a vibe that felt like “I’ve found the term for me, and now I must tell other people that this is my label.” ”
            Where?

            Your assumption that anyone labeling their their lack of romantic attraction would “give a big lecture” is insulting and invalidating.

            You would call your relatives weird for even mentioning a label lack of any romantic attraction, like that would matter at all. That just shows that your relatives shouldn’t trust you.

            If you said you are a vegan, and someone else assumes the “external baggage” applies to you, it is them who are being rude and making it awkward. Not you for using the word.

            Stop.

          • Vicki said:

            You are definitely connected to well-mannered and unintrusive people, if none of them would respond to “I’m just not that interested in dating” with “why not?” or “you just haven’t met the right guy, let me introduce you to my neighbor,” or conclude that it meant the person didn’t want to do the work of actively looking for someone, so it would be a kindness to introduce them to their gym buddy, this girl from the office, my niece from Ohio… Not everyone will interpret “just not that interested” won’t always be read as “definitely not interested, now or in the future.”

            Also, if someone described their diet as “never eat food that came from animals, not even honey or cheese, ” I’d probably say ‘that means you’re vegan, right?” because “vegan” is convenient shorthand. If I ask someone about their diet, it’s going to be in the context of eating together–and “vegan” is a useful search term for both menus and recipes. (I could make a perfectly good vegan dinner with what I have in the house–but not everyone likes black beans.)

          • Yeah, but the fact that negative stereotypes are attached to a specific label is one of the reasons people are sometimes moved to come out: to be part of helping break down the stereotypes.

            And also to reduce the stigma for people who feel broken, isolated, or ashamed because they can’t connect to people in a romantic or sexual way, when romantic love is lauded and affirmed in law, uplifted by corporations (why can you include your spouse on your health insurance, but not your sibling or best friend?), and elevated in over a century of popular culture as superior to any other kind of love or committed relationship. With the exception of parenting a child (which many asexual people also won’t do) romantic love is so widely considered better than any other kind of love that people who can’t experience it fear their life is doomed to be meaningless, or hollow.

            So, yes, obviously nobody has to come out. Coming out means you might get into conflict you don’t want, or people might treat you differently. But coming out and specifically using the term “asexual” and “aromantic” to do it can be powerful. Knowing someone who is ace but doesn’t conform to the stereotypes, or hearing someone use a word to describe how you’ve felt for so long but couldn’t articulate, can change someone’s understanding for the better.

            Again, nobody has to factor that into their decisions, but if someone does factor that in, that’s totally valid.

      • Thkya said:

        I keep coming back to that unicorn/horse joke and I don’t get it. I don’t mean “it’s not funny”, I mean I completely don’t understand what it’s trying to say. It’s rubbing my brain the wrong way. Would you mind awfully doing the unfunny “the implication is X, it’s funny because Y” for me so I can stop thinking about it? I’d really appreciate it.

        • Forsworn Memorialist said:

          +1 to Thkya’s inquiry. I too am mystified.

        • Renita said:

          So, I’m bi, and have never heard that particular joke, but in some circles, a unicorn is a rare (often single) bi woman who is interested in hooking up with a couple. My guess is the idea behind the joke is saying that you don’t want to label yourself as bi, you just want to be a person who dates/is attracted to both men and women.

          • Kay said:

            Someone was talking about a fictional bi woman on television. She had sex with men, she had sex with women, and when someone asked “Are you gay? Straight?” She replied that she “didn’t like labels”. Viewers of the show saw it as a cop out, a lie. Maybe the network wouldn’t let them use the term “bi”, or the writers were conflating “bisexual” with “slut”, but the end result was that no one had heard of the term “bi” in the context of the series. You can look up “bi erasure” if you want to know why this bothers some folks.

            So the joke is about a unicorn, who when asked about the horn in their forehead, says “I’m a horse that doesn’t like labels”.

            I agree with the general sentiment here that LW should come out exactly the amount that is helpful to them. I hope you find peace about this, friend.

        • Spade (who likes being called a spade) said:

          As I’ve understood it, the joke is that, due to generalized anti-bisexual prejudice, non-bisexual people (and until very recently, almost all mainstream media) avoid using the word “bisexual” to describe bisexual people. Rather than saying “My roommate is bisexual,” they’ll say things like “She’s got this vibe, she’s a very intimate person, she likes lots of people regardless of gender…but why do we have to label it, you know?” Or, rather than having a character come out as bisexual, TV writers would have him in relationships with both men and women and then in interviews say things like “He’s so brave, he’s just being himself, but we don’t want to label it.”

          Bisexual people encounter a lot of weird side-stepping and avoidance like that in our lives and we’re like “OH MY GOD, THERE’S A WORD FOR IT, PLEASE JUST USE THE WORD.” Just like, if you see a horse with a horn, you can call it a unicorn instead of saying it’s a “horse with an unusual lifestyle” or “a brave horse just being itself” or “a horse that defies norms.”

        • IM said:

          I can help!

          In a lot of TV shows they’ll have a bisexual character (usually a straight character who unexpectedly dates a woman because it’s season 5 and they’ve run out of male ones). But instead of actually having the character be bisexual and take on that label and validate that they understand that bisexuals exist the writers will just say she “doesn’t like labels” and continue to treat her like a straight character with an exception, or a suddenly-lesbian character, and sidestep the entire concept that bisexual people are real.

  17. TootsNYC said:

    Q12: a response to “just relax”

    I love the one word “Nevertheless.”

    Because it ends things. You say it firmly, like a third-grade teacher (or, I love the phrase “channel your inner daycare worker,” because good daycare workers have authority but they don’t take anything personally)

    And then you turn back around; you’ve made your point, you don’t need for them to acquiesce immediately to your face.

    • You know who uses “nevertheless”?
      The Patrician of Ankh Morpork on the fictional Discworld, by Terry Pratchett.

      Great series of books.
      Is the end of summer too late to recommend summer reading?
      #gnuterrypratchett

      • TootsNYC said:

        I’d forgotten that he did!

        I know that I loved it as a tactic well before I read any Pratchett, but maybe that boosted it for me.

  18. TO_Ont said:

    Q7, the terminology and ‘identity’ might be new, but presumably aromantic people have been around as long as anyone else, and you might find that even if your parents don’t know the modern language, they might still recognize the idea on some level. There have always been men and women who were single by preference, as well as people for whom it wasn’t their first choice but who were able to adapt and be happy. But I’m sure that, e.g., in a time and place when Catholicism had a larger role, not every one of those nuns and monks were making a huge personal sacrifice.

  19. nnn said:

    Q11: As another childfree auntie, one thing I find useful in situations like observing roughhousing is to simply say aloud what I’m observing, to the kids or their parents or the room in general. For example, “I’m not sure Little Kid consents any more…” Historically, this has led to the kids and/or their parents stopping / checking in, but also I’m not telling anyone what to do.

    Also, if we aren’t in my space but the kids are doing something that could be bad, I’ve found it surprisingly effective to simply tell them what the consequences could be. For example, “If you press random buttons on the phone, you might accidentally make a long distance call to some distant country on the other side of the world, and then Aunt and Uncle will have to pay a big expensive phone bill.” Again, you aren’t telling anyone what to do or not do, but you’re giving the kids the information they need to make good choices. (Obvs not all children will use the information to make good choices, but I’ve found the success rate is far higher than I would ever have expected.)

    • Quill said:

      As the designated supervision for my cousins’ kids when we all get together, my method of keeping them from being a noisy cyclone has been to get them involved in a board game or building toys, which provide more room for arguments but less for breaking things. I try to model social consequences.

      “Would you like someone to kick down YOUR block tower?” occasionally gets met with “YES!” so it’s helpful to elaborate with “Then build up one and ask people if they’d like to smash it,” or “ask your sister if you can smash it when she’s done.”

  20. nnn said:

    Q12: If you can anticipate them telling you to relax, it could be entertaining to phrase your initial request with the word “relax” in it. “Can you guys relax and stop making so much noise?”

    (I don’t know what would happen, but it would be interesting to see)

    • Rae said:

      *snort laugh*

    • Desperately seeking cute kitty said:

      This reminds me of my friend who’s a non-native speaker of English. A native-English-speaking dude was pulling the “Can you relax?” thing on her and she didn’t understand what he meant by it, so she said “Yes, I can. What does that have to do with anything?” When she showed me the text conversation, I applauded because it was EXACTLY the response he deserved.

  21. anna0099 said:

    Q10: To echo what Captain said, ask others to help. I lost my brother 3 years ago in July. There were a couple of times where I asked my best friend some version of, “Can you let them know about Stephen for me [while I am elsewhere]?” because it was this huge, huge thing that had happened that is now a critical part of my story that I needed certain people to know, but at the time I couldn’t tell any part of the story without losing it.

    It gets easier. Not better, really, but easier.

    Sending you a Jedi hug. I’m sorry for your loss, and you will be in my thoughts.

  22. virago said:

    Q12: I was thrilled with the Captain’s answer, especially in regards to neighbors. I live in a neighborhood that can be boisterous and I’m happy to have some guidance on how to defuse touchy situations involving people who live nearby.

    However, under “Things I know about the command ‘Just relax!’ “, one of the links in the second sentence in No. 5 is not working. “This has a nice short summary …” brings up this:
    http://this%20has%20a%20nice%20short%20summary/

    • JenniferP said:

      Hi, I fixed the link, thanks!

  23. Pam said:

    Loving this!

  24. Pam said:

    Ah, yes, the classic “go bleed outside ” directive.

  25. Part-Time Jedi said:

    Q10: Are you connected with these people on social media? Because I’ve had a lot of success with putting out a general message on facebook of “This is what’s happened, and this is how I would like everyone to behave in response.”

    I was flying in from out of state to visit my grandmother, and by complete happenstance, arrived at her house about 30 minutes before the very beginning of what ended up being her slow and protracted death by sepsis after a slow and protracted decline in overall quality of life due to general old age. I was completely unprepared emotionally to be so involved in her final days, and when I came home, I just desperately wanted to not have to engage with it for a while. So I made a general facebook announcement that my grandmother had died, and I was not up for talking about it or accepting condolences, and that the best way my friends could support me was by being aggressively normal around me.

    And it worked; every single one of my friends was indeed aggressively normal and I got to have some awesome, distracting hang outs with my friends where I didn’t have to think about my dead grandmother.

    • Turquoise Dragon said:

      When I miscarried a planned pregnancy some years ago, I posted something like “Please do not send us messages of sympathy or concern, and please do not offer hugs. If you’d like to help, participation in the Distract TurquoiseDragon and PurpleDragon Movement might include such activities as invitations for dinner, game nights, or hanging out while talking firmly about Other Things. Doing so without very small children present for a few weeks would be appreciated.”
      And I had a few nice dinners with friends, and game nights, and didn’t talk to small children for a while. Nothing made that time better, but at least my friends went out of their way not to make it worse.

  26. A Silver Spork said:

    *waves* Hi Q7! Complicated demi aro/ace personthing here! I just want to reassure you that it’s totally cool if you decide that you don’t want to come out! In person, I’m only out to my partner. Attempts to explain my attraction to people who aren’t already on board with the idea of complicated queer identities often go poorly, so I don’t bother. You don’t owe anyone the truth about your orientation! Not even the ace/aro community!

    Someone said it above, and I want to caution you: there’s a huge… *thing* going on in some (mostly online) queer spaces, especially on Tumblr, where people say all sorts of horrible crap about aces and aros in the name of making themselves feel powerful. Block these people and run away! They’re jerks and deserve nothing from you.

    • Tiny Flight said:

      Seconded with that second paragraph! I actually cringed when you mentioned coming out to anyone with this, OP, worrying for your safety. Because there is some NASTY anti-aro and anti-ace/demi stuff going on online recently. Tumblr is the worst culprit, but Twitter can be pretty bad too. People who identify as aromatic or asexual/demisexual, or even just people who support these communities, are getting hit left and right with smear campaigns accusing them of being ped*philes by anti-ace and anti-aro groups. I just watched this go down last week with a popular Tumblr blogger I follow who posted that she supports the ace and aro communities (and who’s now going to the police because the harassment has gotten so bad it’s bleeding into the “real” world), and that’s not the first time I’ve seen this happen even this year.

      Be who you are and be proud of who you are, but also protect yourself! I’m aro and ace, and a few other labels that make bigots mad, and I simply don’t tell anyone anything about my personal life unless it’s both relevant AND I feel safe talking about it. I used to feel like I was “supposed” to tell my parents, extended family, and friends everything about me as soon as I realized it myself. And all that did was bring me misery and people who wouldn’t stop nosing into my personal life and asking inappropriate questions. It’s not only okay to have secrets, it’s actually healthy and vital for your well-being to not be an open book all the time! My therapist taught me that.

      • Quill said:

        Yeah, that’s the worst these days: people outside the wider queer community don’t think we exist / think we’re a medical condition, people inside have heard that we’re some sort of monsters.

      • Whoa. I haven’t used social media since 2016, aside from my art Instagram; I had no idea this was going on. How awful.

  27. Q11: If you are unsure if the kids are still having fun, check in with the kid that you are concerned about. Ask them to come chat with you for a minute and say something like “You guys are playing really rough/I heard you yelling at your brother. Are you still having fun or is it not fun anymore?” They will tell you if it’s not fun for them, and you can redirect the other kids with a “Hey guys! It sounds like everyone isn’t enjoying this game anymore. Let’s find a new game to play”. If you don’t feel comfortable redirecting the other kids, you can send the picked-on kid to their parents and tell them that kiddo said play was getting out of hand.

  28. DropTable~DropsMic said:

    just a heads up, the hyperlink on the text “This has a nice short summary” seems to be broken.

  29. Lily said:

    Re: relaxing. Try to take the “relax” (rhetorically) as “friendly concern” and react with (smiling face) “Thanks! I will relax when you start keeping it down.” and (concerned face) “I would very much like to, but the sounds coming from your appartment were really concerning”

    Also, confused face plus “this is not about relaxation. Anyway, …” works well in my experience. Confused looks at people who say manipulative non-sequiturs work well.

  30. darthtrina said:

    Q8 How to Be An Adult by David Richo. A few chapters are a little woo, but most of it is super practical stuff on how to figure out your own needs and express them clearly with assertive communication (neither aggressive nor passive-aggressive). I think he might have tried for gender balance by alternating pronouns but the content itself never struck me as particularly gendered.

  31. Thkya said:

    Oh wow, Q7, are you me? I’m about the same age as you and coming to the same kind of realisations lately. I don’t have any advice at all, was just a little startled to see a letter that so closely mirrors where I’m at. (She/her, though, so I’m probably not actually you 😀 )
    For myself, I don’t think I’m really planning to “come out” to anyone, at least not in the way of explaining “I am aro/something thereabouts” and what that all means – but at the same time I’m pretty open about just not being all that interested in dating and happy in my single life. For now, putting a particular label on it doesn’t seem necessary or helpful to me (and I’m not entirely sure which one it’d be, anyway), so I’m giving that a miss in most cases.

  32. Dana Lynne said:

    Another book about boundaries, one that changed my life….

    Codependent No More by Beattie.

    It too is a bit dated regarding relationship roles, but it helped me SO MUCH.

  33. JenniferAndLightning said:

    Q11: Unless you are extremely close to a child or there is an immediate and serious safety concern do not directly intervene by putting your hands on a child! Being picked up by someone larger than you without consent is a huge breach of autonomy and many children would be hugely upset by it.

    You seem like a lovely person who genuinely cares about the safety and well-being of others and who shares my desire to prevent/stop bullying. Like most people who don’t spend a lot of time with children you also seem to think about interacting with children in terms of managing their behavior. Certainly that is an element of parenting (the one society tends to focus on), but it isn’t always the top priority.

    It sounds like it makes you nervous when parents reprimand children and then don’t follow up by forcing compliance. But forcing immediate compliance is not always the goal and parent/child communications are often subtle and filled with subtext. Maybe the “hey, stop playing with that stick/settle down now/no more rough-housing” was actually intended more as a yellow light than a red light for the child. Or maybe the child has been put on notice that there will be consequences later. Frankly, even parents should think carefully before using physical (or even verbal) force to halt an activity because doing so puts the child in the center of a public scene and tends to foster a lot of embarrassment and resentment. The lesson a child learns from a public display of force (even a verbal one) is often not that the activity was unacceptable, but rather than the person intervening was “mean or angry.” Even the smaller child who is no longer happy with the rough play might really resent an adult intervention.

    The use of force (physical or verbal) has consequences and ideally there is a trust that parents establish with children regarding that authority. For instance, my kids (both the ones I parent and the ones I care for) know that I only use force if I think there is a serious safety issue or if they are seriously impeding the rights of others. I don’t use it as a short cut to end mildly annoying behavior or to prevent a few bruises.

    Non-parents tend to be more conservative and fearful regarding some safety issues (lile playing with sticks) while totally unaware of others. While I generally think you should trust parental risk assessments, it is ok to manage your own anxiety by indirect intervention. I loved the suggestion of distracting the children or otherwise engaging them. If the stick makes you nervous or the rough play seems a bit mean go ahead you can often intervene just by engaging and redirecting. Even if the children are not interested in your proposed distraction they will likely have paused their activity at least briefy.

    • Here to second that sentence about non-parents being more fearful. I don’t have kids and, until my friends started having them, didn’t spend a lot of time around them. Now I have an adorable nephew and several adorable friendkids who like me enough that I occasionally keep an eye on them at, say, parties or parks while their parents go grab food or whatever, and holy shit was I nervous about it in a way that I might not have been with my own.

      My parents were very much “eh, walk it off,” free-range types–responsible and caring, but generally inclined to let us work things out ourselves, only wanted to hear about fights if someone was bleeding a lot, not overly concerned about us running with scissors or whatever. I suspect I’d be the same way as a parent, possibly too much so, but with other people’s kids the possibility of Something Bad Happening carries with it the possibility of my friend/sister/whoever being pissed at me.

  34. Straight as an aro (LW7) said:

    Thanks to everyone who offered advice and especially support. I love you guys (in a totally platonic, not looking for a relationship way).

    Some of the pressure to apply a label was definitely seeing so many other people come out about their various identities and feeling guilty for not being as brave. I appreciate the reminder that coming out as aro is not a requirement to live an authentic aro life. I think my parents seem to think that if I’m not settled down with a wife at my age, I must be gay, which is defintiely not the truth, that’s part of why I felt an impulse to clarify.

    Scary about the tumblr harassment. I did not know any of that and I appreciate the warnings.

    • Watch out for radfem spaces (also known as “terfs” — Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists) and you’ll be mostly fine, IME.

      Coming out is entirely up to you: sometimes coming out isn’t brave. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s more effort than it’s worth. (I have tried to come out to my mother and father exactly once: mom didn’t get it and dad didn’t understand and I doubt either of them remember because it’s nothing they wanted to hear. But I am basically out to my friends.)

      • I’ve seen people starting to refer to “TERFs” as “FARTs” instead – Feminism-Appopriating Radical Transphobes. Because the crap they spout isn’t feminism, it’s just straight-up transphobia and transmisogyny dressed up to look like feminism.

    • Jenny Islander said:

      If you think they might try to matchmake, then that’s a definite reason to come out to them…>.<

      For the future: If you and a friend for whom you have pantsfeelings mutually decide that marriage would provide a net benefit to your lives, it would be absolutely okay to get married. You don't have to be twitterpated about somebody in order to get married. Your marriage would be just as authentic as anybody else's.

      • Jenny Islander said:

        Also, if you don’t have pantsfeelings for anybody, but you and a friend etc., etc., your marriage would still be entirely valid. People talk about getting married as the final act of a thrilling love drama that starts across a crowwwwwded roooooommmmm, then fly to her siiiiide, and soon you will booooooone, but it’s actually the start of a particular legally and socially recognized (hopefully) long-term relationship of (hopefully) mutual support.

        The song, for reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6H3hVAfFcZY

  35. Just a Moment in Time said:

    Q10, you have my deepest sympathies. When my oldest friend was murdered and it was picked up by national news outlets, it was terrible. Everyone seemed to want to know about the case and how I was doing. When her murder was sentenced a year later, everything started all over again. I ended up coming up with a standard script, “It’s been a difficult time and I don’t want to talk about it. I am happy to hear about what’s going on in your life though. How’s X thing going?”

    It is totally okay if you change your mind with what you want with different friend groups and on different days. Sometimes I talk about my friend and need to pause for a bit to compose myself years later. Anyone who is a half-decent person will be understanding of whatever your wishes are at the moment and in the future. Personally, I was pleasantly surprised at the love and understanding my friends showed me at the time and in the present. I hope you have the same experience.

    • Delta Delta said:

      This kind of head’s up is perfect. I generally want to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I assume that someone offering condolences is doing so from a place of kindness. I also think it’s perfectly normal for the person grieving to want to cut it off or change the topic, and for the other person in the conversation to follow that lead. Suppose you and I are friends; I would want to know from you what your boundary is on the topic. I think I would feel terribly if I didn’t acknowledge your loss, but I also wouldn’t push if it was clear the conversation was done.

      • This is just a moment in time said:

        Exactly. Often we feel that we need to provide long winded responses when we wouldn’t expect the same from a friend. Terrible people push boundaries. Good friends say, “Of course!” then pivot to something new. There might be a slight pause as the friend re-calibrates what they are going to say then the two of you move forward on a different topic together. If anything, I have found being more honest about what I want to talk about has brought me closer to my friends. It has also allowed me to be more mindful of listening to my friends and figuring out what they want to talk about to.

  36. Re. The bereavement question – a health professional I see went through something similar, and they went on leave for a while, and before coming back to work they emailed all their current clients, using a script much like the good Captain’s, letting them know what had happened and what the boundaries were for talking about it or asking questions and so forth. Obviously it would be a privacy violation if I knew how other clients took it, but to me it felt both proactive and kind.

  37. Kait Robinson said:

    RE: The Boundaries thing: Unfuck your Boundaries by Faith Harper (Microcosm Publishing). Dr. Faith has a whole slew of books that she’s done on various topics, no religion, some cursing, light-hearted but very impactful.

  38. "Yes and"ing my way through life said:

    Q7: There is a prevailing sense that everyone who is not 100% straight and not 100% sexual needs to TELL people what label describes them. If you want to tell your parents, that’s great, do it – I am not advocating remaining closeted. But also, consider this – if it feels uncomfortable to talk about now, and there was no sense before that your parents wanted you to be different or were disappointed in you, or that you were hiding your true self when you’re around them and you hated that feeling – if none of that exists, then are you considering telling them because you want them to know, or because you feel obligated?

    We only need to be as out to the level that makes US comfortable. Sometimes it’s enough just to know for yourself. Sometimes it’s enough to share with close friends. Sometimes it’s enough to let your queer flag fly on the daily. As the Captain said, “You don’t owe them (or the world) the details”, and you can share what you want. I say this because I didn’t get the sense in your letter that you were eager to share this information with your parents, so – why do it.

    (disclosure: I am a gay girl who is out pretty much everywhere but my family, with one exception. This is what works for me, and while the gay world at large seems to push 100% out all the time, this is what works for me, this is what makes me happy and content. My family wouldn’t disown me, it wouldn’t be a thing at all, but also, they don’t need to know everything about my life, nor I theirs.)

  39. Some Guy said:

    One good perspective on boundaries is “Who’s Pulling Your Strings” by Harriet Braiker.

  40. probably actually a hobbit said:

    Q10: I am so sorry this happened to you.

    I lost my beloved younger sibling in a very public natural disaster in another country several years ago. Because we are from the US, his case was very, very newsworthy. Despite this, it still is very common to run into people who either are unaware that he has died, or who are aware but have an odd response.

    I don’t have any strategies for making this go better. You have all my love and support for what you are going through.

    My one suggestion: Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for the times that you take a duck on explaining because you are exhausted/numb. Forgive yourself for the times that it got awkward because you told the truth (you have a sibling, and that sibling is dead, and it’s awful – no you are not “fine”).

    It always hurts, and it’s okay for it to hurt. There is no excuse for what happened to your sibling, and there is nothing that can fix it or make it “better”. I promise, though, that, as time goes on, you learn to live with the pain and the joy comes back and you remember the meaning that your sibling brought to your life when they were here and not just the horrible way it ended.

    Love and virtual hugs, if you want them

  41. For the “relax” thing, I like to briefly acknowledge that something was said without giving any indication that it has succeeded in derailing the conversation from the person’s actions to my emotions (as the speaker intended it to). Like, I’ll say “sure, whatever” or “perhaps” and then reiterate what I said.

  42. enplaned said:

    Not sure that there’s a requirement to share any of exactly what is your identity with the world. The only people for whom there’s an obligation is those for whom it is directly relevant – e.g. romantic partners. In an ideal world, exactly what you are shoudn’t matter – in an ideal world, we treat everyone based on the content of their character, not who/why/how they love, or the color of their skin, etc. Are they good people? Then what else matters, exactly? And if you would treat them differently because they’re one thing but not a different thing, then isn’t that discrimination? (which is one reason why I’ve never really understood the urge that some people clearly have to very very carefully define what they are – it’s far less important to me than whether you’re just a basic good person – if you check that box, you’re good with me).

    So unless your parents are actively bugging you about romantic partners, and you feel that one way to get them off your back is to disclose your identity, it’s not clear to me there’s any real requirement to share your discoveries with them – unless, by doing so, you feel it would improve your relationship with them, and the way I read your letter, it seems perhaps you don’t think so.

    If your relationship with them is fine, and if you don’t think that your relationship with them is going to change all that much if you do disclose your personal discoveries with them, then for sure it’s fine just to leave sleeping dogs lie. I don’t talk a lot about my personal life with my parents – they’re very open-minded people, but I’ve always liked to keep different spheres of my life fairly separate. That works for me (and them) – not saying it’s a model for you, just saying that it’s one possible model. At the end of the day, I’ve got things to talk with my parents that I think are far more important.

  43. Q11 said:

    Hi, Q11 here – I super-appreciate everybody’s contributions to answering my question! It helps me feel like most of the time I’m getting things right by letting the parents/designated caregivers take the lead, and where I can improve is by learning to adjust my tolerances around kids being messy/loud/rough.

    There’s still a thing that’s bothering me, though, and I wonder if y’all could weigh in? This is next-level escalation stuff, and the part where I really get stressed. Consider the following, which I have seen pretty regularly:
    Bobby (he/him), 7 years old, is wrassling with his sister Alice (she/her), 5 years old. Alice appears to be getting upset.

    Caregiver: Bobby, Alice isn’t having fun anymore
    Bobby: (Continues the behaviour that is upsetting Alice)
    Caregiver: Bobby, leave Alice alone. She doesn’t like it when you do that.
    Bobby: (Continues the behaviour that is upsetting Alice)
    Alice: (Near tears, struggling to escape)
    Caregiver: (intermittent verbal admonishment)
    Bobby: (behaviour unchanged)
    Alice: (crying)
    Me: (as I type this, I’m realizing that the situation is kindof triggering, because of my own experiences with bullying, no wonder I get so upset)

    • SaraFox said:

      I would offer to read a book or do a craft with Alice and remind her it’s ok, and healthy, to set boundaries with people she feels are bullying her. And/or I would distract Bobby with a different activity if it looked like he just wants attention.

      And then later I would ask the caregiver why they won’t step in directly themselves.

    • That’s the point at which you invite Alice away from Bobby.
      Don’t tell off directly perhaps, but simply (as SaraFox says): “Hey Alice, I have this thing over here you might be interested in, are you keen?”
      Remove the upset child from the situation for a few minutes to allow things to reset.
      If there are more girls around Alice’s age who might also be interested in some thing (even if its a video on your phone!), gather them around too, to see if they can then redirect their play as a team.
      (also, these sibling battles are one of the reasons we stopped at one!)

      • Pete said:

        The note about Alice “struggling to escape” suggests to me that Alice may not be able, physically, to take up Q11 on the invitation?
        Or maybe I’m misinterpreting the word wrassling?

        • JenniferP said:

          If Q11 summons Alice, that’s a big “AN ADULT IS WATCHING” indicator and the other kids will be more likely to “let” her escape. If not, that’s a “get in closer and say, HEY, I NEED ALICE FOR A SEC” situation.

          Reminder: We don’t have to manage all these things perfectly for every eventuality in order to try strategies. 🙂

          • Pete said:

            Hi. Totally agree that not all things have to managed perfectly.

            But as the story was told, it seems to me that there had been several “adult watching” indicators already by the Caregiver(s) that seemed to have gone pretty much unnoticed by “Bobby”.
            Anyway, this is just my own experience/triggers talking, so other than saying that I didn’t find the 2 answers to Q11 very helpful, I won’t dive any deeper into this. I love your work and I’m sorry to have bothered you.

          • JenniferP said:

            You didn’t bother me at all! It was a valid point, I think my goal is to get people out of their heads in moments like those, DO SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING, even if it’s not perfect. ❤

  44. Q8- a therapist once recommended, “Don’t Shoot The Dog,” a book about animal training, as a way of dealing with interpersonal stuff. I realize now it’s about listening to others (since the “others” are animals, it is radically pragmatic), meeting them where they’re at and not where you wish they were or fear they are, and learning the difference between what you think you’re saying, and what you’re really communicating through unintentionally rewarding or punishing certain behaviors. It never explicitly mentions boundaries. But also never mentions religion that I recall.

  45. I also sometimes hear men say “relax!” to women when there is no bad behavior to defend at all. The woman is simply excited about something or deeply involved in a subject of conversation and the man interrupts with, “relax!” I think the problem is usually that the dude is annoyed that he has not been the center of attention for more than five consecutive seconds, or he is confused and threatened somehow by a woman being passionate or excited, or both.
    “I’ll relax when I’m dead” seems like a reasonable response, paired with continuing to speak and NOT piping down.
    “That’s patronizing,” or “what’s your problem” also an option.
    For the loud colleagues at work scenario perhaps, “that won’t help me hear So&So.”
    I can’t imagine any “just say this handy dandy thing” phrase for the screamy volatile dad, but it’s illuminating how there’s such a clear link from a casual sexist put-down to a threatening high-stakes situation.

    • Czarnoskrzydła said:

      ” The woman is simply excited about something or deeply involved in a subject of conversation and the man interrupts with, “relax!””

      Ohh, this is a good observation! I have seen it too. I agree that its 100% casual sexism.
      I personally think its a guy’s way to show the woman what her “place” is – as in, she is supposed to be demure, quieter and take less space. When she gets too passionate about something, she takes to much space. Saying ‘relax’ creates plausible deniability for the dude, as it’s not openly hostile, but it absolutely puts the other person in “their place” and cuts them down.
      “What’s your problem” – I like that answer because it cuts through the bullshit and pinpoints that obviously, the guy has some a problem with the woman being exited, and being exited is generally a good thing, sooo… what’s up with that, dude?

    • Forsworn Memorialist said:

      “Slow down” and “calm down” can be some of the least soothing sentences to hear, especially from a Man Who Owns The Logic to a Woman Who Has Feelings.

      • I hate that as well! It’s such a cliche in movies and TV. When a male character says “slow down” to a woman (or adult to child, interchangeable in this context ugh), they’re managing the out-of-control person, and when a female character says it to a man it means they can’t keep up and are serving as the convenient excuse for the male character to give an audience-friendly explanation.
        A guy IRL once interrupted me and another woman sharing ideas with, “slow down now *chuckle*,” and without thinking she said, “keep up,” and kept going. I admired that.

  46. Rachel said:

    Carolyn Hax always recommends “Life Skills for Adult Children.” I haven’t read it but I trust her implicitly.

  47. wmm said:

    Q11, and anyone else who spends time around groups of kids: I highly recommend the short, easy read, “Siblings Without Rivalry”. Nearly all of the things mentioned in that wonderful book are perfectly boundary appropriate for an adult in q11’s position. If you see roughhousing that is nearing a line, describe what you see: “I see three kids wrestling, but only one kid laughing.” That is a clue to the kids wrestling to check in with each other, and an opening/pause for the underdog to speak up. If they are so caught up in their wrestling that they can’t hear an adult speaking to them, that’s a sign that it is a great time for a louder, more thorough interrupting.

  48. Annneee said:

    Hummm, I am bummed out by how much my SO’s breathing habits bother me… When he reads in bed he kind of squishes his neck and breathes through his mouth/ nose, occasionally forgetting to swallow his saliva, leading to fits of coughing. He generally also has issues with keeping his mouth clear of saliva when talking or concentrating on stuff, so often he chockes on it or gets a weird burbly voice. He has also often drooled on me when making out which I called him out on, that crossed a line for me- I mean doesn’t anyone notice that they need to swallow???! He also has a habit of talking through stuff he’s reading or mumbling/ rasping/ warbling to himself, while breathing through his mouth and not swallowing, that I just leave the room sometimes. It drives me up the walls and I don’t know what to do without sounding like a controlling, hectoring c***, it makes me sad that this irritation really spills over into generally not wanting to be around him at times or disliking him as a whole, not just his habits… I even looked up if the forgetting to swallow saliva thing is a sign for dementia or whatever… :-//

    • JenniferP said:

      SEND HIM TO THE DOCTORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

      • Forsworn Memorialist said:

        Especially since there are adult onset neuromuscular diseases that can impair swallowing and start subtly. It is not necessarily forgetting to swallow or a sign of dementia.

  49. Annneee said:

    Yeah, but how do I phrase it without him feeling controlled, critisised, belittled?

    • Kacienna said:

      This past post might help; it’s a different issue but maybe similarly psychologically loaded: https://captainawkward.com/2012/09/17/353-354-bathrooms-butts-and-boundaries/. (Also, when the search terms show up with “captain awkward poop” that was me).

      One of the things I’ve learned here is that you can’t totally control how he will feel; all you can do is say what needs to be said as kindly and truthfully as you can. In this case, the fact that his breathing issues are also bothering you is relevant to your relationship; how long do you think it would be that you would be able to have a good relationship if this isn’t addressed? (If it turns out that it can’t be changed, that’s another set of questions for you to answer, but I think it makes sense to start with the idea that it might be changeable).

      Maybe something like “[SO], I’ve noticed you seem to have trouble swallowing or something, and it causes your breathing to make a lot of noises that are distracting to me. I’m concerned that it might be a sign of a medical problem, and it also really bothers me, so I’d like you to make an appointment to find out if it’s a health concern and if it can be treated or managed.”

    • Vicki said:

      Why are you expecting to be called a “controlling, hectoring, [expletive deleted]” for asking your SO to stop making disturbing-to-you noises while talking to himself when you’re in the room. and telling him to see a doctor because he was drooling on you while making out? Is that something he’s said in the past when you spoke up for yourself? Or is it from past relationships, or background cultural crap that says “even if what your SO is doing is a real problem, saying anything about it is Wrong”? If your [current] SO has treated you this way before when you told him what you wanted, maybe you should talk to a therapist along with worrying about his health.

      You’re worried about asking him to get a medical issue checked out “without him feeling controlled, criticised, and belittled”–and your worry about his feelings is controlling your actions–and you’re either criticizing and belittling yourself, or expecting him to criticize and belittle you. “You need to see a doctor, because your medical issue has gotten bad enough that it’s interfering with our relationship” isn’t something that it would be easy to say, or hear. But I at least would much rather hear that than have my SO leave me because they couldn’t deal with my behavior and were afraid to tell me that it was a problem for them.

      Even if the underlying problem (a) is neurological and (b) can’t be helped medically, he almost certainly has choices in how he deals with it that aren’t “pretend it’s not there and expect my SO and friends to do the same.”

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