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Originally published Sunday, June 29, 2014 at 6:18 AM

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Readers’ advice on reacting to bad news, judging others

Readers offer suggestions on reacting to a cancer diagnosis, judging others who struggle where you excel, showing interest without being intrusive, and more.


Syndicated columnist

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Dear Carolyn

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

On reacting to the news of someone’s cancer diagnosis:

When a friend tells you they have cancer, I know you are thinking, “OHMYGOD! HOW DO I MAKE SURE I DON’T GET IT?” It is normal to wonder what caused it and how you can prevent it.

But when you ask, “Do they know what caused it?,” it sounds like, “What did you do wrong?” Instead, ask how it was discovered. That will provide you with useful information if you are worried about yourself, and doesn’t feel so blame-y. And if you or your kid has cancer and someone asks what caused it, the answer is, “bad luck.”

— Anonymous

On judging others who struggle with something you manage easily:

We are all carrying plates. The ideal would be something like this: We have just the right amount of plates we can handle, with just the right things on each plate, they’re all in balance, and we get to put them down often enough, plus we are valued and appreciated for what we are doing, by ourselves and others.

Some people have this rare experience, at least for a moment.

Most people have at least one plate overflowing, though, one that’s full of crap, or too many plates all out of balance, or other people think they’re not carrying enough plates or doing it right. Enjoy balance while it lasts, and give everyone else a break.

— Tight Tiara

I had an easy child and [didn’t understand how others struggled]. Then I had Destructo-Boy and realized I had been lucky, that’s all. It had nothing to do with my personality, my style, my organization. It was pure luck.

My brother said it best when he told me he took back all the mean things he thought about my parenting of Destructo-Boy when he had his own little devil. He had been full of smug inner comments about what Big Sis needed to do. Then he learned the hard way. (I thought it was pretty cool of him to tell me this.) You can’t know a situation until you see it from the inside. Be glad when it’s smooth for you and enjoy your life.

– Anonymous

On dealing with a nitpicker around the house:

My husband used to do this ... a lot. Recently though, he started making the bed on a regular basis (he is always the last one up), something I really appreciate but had long since given up on.

So I told him how much I appreciated it and asked if there was one of his pet peeves that I could really make an effort to address. So, now I clean the lint filter on the dryer after EVERY load.

It all worked so well that the next time something he did bugged me, I offered another trade. This latest deal has been less strictly adhered to on both our parts, but we are trying. A little effort can go a long way and we both feel appreciated and loved by the other person’s efforts — no matter how successful.

— M.

On showing interest without being intrusive:

The line between curiosity (titillation) and interest is here: where the person asking the question offers some information regarding himself that places him in a vulnerable position. This is offered as entree to a more in-depth conversation. If the questioner (I’m tempted to say “inquisitor”) can’t offer something first, then it is pretty evident the question is simply about satisfying his curiosity.

Example: “Years ago, I broke my foot and it was really frustrating. Did you know you can get a waterproof lining for your cast?” vs. “What in the world did you trip over?”

Or: “Wow! Two babies at once! That’s rough. I had twins, anything I can help with?” vs. “Whose children are those? Are they yours?”

There is no excuse for questioning for entertainment value, and the questioner needs to take on a hobby. Preferably one that does not involve other people. I have heard one can learn to knit online now.

— B.

On getting both parents involved when there’s a new baby at home:

My husband was able to work out an arrangement to take his paternity leave by getting to work late and leaving early for about a month, instead of taking off one or two weeks completely. This meant he was able to provide continuity at his job during the entire period, but could let me sleep in and relieve me around 4 in the afternoon. This was great help to me at a time when I was still very tired and trying to establish nursing, and it made him feel necessary. He also was able to attach to our girls without being exhausted after a full day of work. It worked well both times. I appreciated his employers’ ability to give him that flexibility.

— Grateful Mom

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living



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