While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On a widowed parent's decision to date again — or not to:
I was 7 when my dad died. It was devastating to both Mom and me. When I was older, my mom talked to me about the possibility of her dating one day. I'll never forget what she said: "A person's heart has different drawers. The drawer for Daddy is full. The drawer for you is full. No one can take anything out of either one."
That got me through a lot.
My mom died in 1986 and my dad in 1998. Twelve years of being on his own was a very long time for my dad. He felt he could "never replace my mother." He kept looking for her in any woman he saw, when he should have just accepted that she was irreplaceable and simply chosen someone different. Twelve years (even living with family) is a long and unhealthy amount of time to mourn without moving on and it isn't pretty to watch — a slow decline of grief and neediness.
On responding to partners who spring dinner guests on you at the last minute:
"That's great, honey! What are you going to make?"
On expecting stepsiblings to go out of their way to blend:
Adults are great at playing switch-a-mate and getting on with their lives, but kids just don't. It's that simple ... and it's wrong for parents to expect their kids to help them make a "new" family when the "old" family was working just fine for them. It's beyond me that stepparents don't get it.
On expecting a newly retired or out-of-work spouse to carry the domestic load:
My wife and I had long since shared housework, shopping, etc., sometimes with her doing more, less often with me doing more. It was as close to an even split as we could make it.
But along came retirement. I retired a couple of years before she did, so I tried to undertake all of the household stuff myself. It was an education. There was/is nowhere near enough time to do it all. I wondered how, even splitting it all between two of us, we'd ever done it all when we both had full-time-or-more "jobs outside the home."
The short answer is, we didn't. There was a collection of tasks that we simply never got to, unless and until one of them reached some kind of crisis point, at which time we'd attend to that at the expense of the "daily stuff." So it has remained.
On the perfect answer to intrusive questions about kids:
My children looked wildly different and I was constantly asked, in so many words, why (as if!). I just started to say, "recessive genes" in a deadpan that invited no more conversation. The funny thing is that as soon as my children were verbal, they started saying it. Imagine a 2-year-old answering your REALLY STUPID question with "recessive genes." It put people in their place so fast, I didn't have time to get in a dither about it.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.