It allows you to see this saga for what it is: the kind of family angst you hear from your readers every day. When you take away the titles and the fame and the extreme wealth, the crux of all this drama is very ordinary. Tension between in-laws. Power dynamics between longstanding siblings. The unbearable weight of family expectations. Who can’t relate?
Our daily Post Reports podcast brought on Carolyn, and host Martine Powers posed some questions (written by producers Jordan-Marie Smith and Sabby Robinson) that were based on some painfully real situations, which real-world watchers are sure to recognise. And for each, Carolyn offered advice that everyone — not just Harry, Meghan, Charles, and William — might find useful.
Here are the best parts of the conversation, edited for length and clarity:
Martine’s powers: Carolyn, here’s the first question: “My brother recently published a memoir in which he talks at length about our very personal family issues. And on top of this, he and his wife released a Netflix documentary about our life and our family. I feel like there’s already been a lot of toxic communication between us. That I have to do? Should I speak out publicly or should I try to talk to him to see if we can finally stop this horrible cycle of public shaming?
Carolyn Hax: The first thing that comes to mind is that you have to go to the person. Because if the relationship wasn’t broken, none of this would be happening. And I think the way to mend something like that is to acknowledge your own part in the break. Why was this broken? What did you personally do to contribute to this problem?
Powers: It sounds like you’re saying that you have to call this person and say, “Look, I did this wrong. I will admit to you that some of these things were hurtful or that I shouldn’t have done them.”
Powers: That is a difficult conversation to have.
Hax: Of course. What I see a lot with these relationships that fracture to this degree and for so long and so badly is that there’s usually a difficult conversation that didn’t happen when it should have., because people avoided it or dug in and defended themselves. And instead of just saying, “Okay, you’re right, I’m mad at you. You’ve done a lot of wrong things yourself, but I’m not going to get anywhere with it until I take care of the bad things I did”, people don’t want to do that.
It gets even harder when someone responds to your bug with an even bigger bug. And I think a lot of people are tempted to say, “It’s on now. What you did was so much worse that it absolved me of everything I did. And that is not true. You are still responsible for your part, even if it is much smaller.
The relationship may be beyond saving. It’s still better that you own up, acknowledge and apologize for what you did wrong, even just for you, just because it’s the right thing to do.
Powers: It sounds like you’re saying that and then, as a hurt person, going out and posting a memoir of your whole fight with this person that you know has hurt you, that’s also wrong. Posting a memory may not be something everyone does, but I think there are a lot of people who, when they’re angry, post something on Facebook about how bad they felt for a family member.
Hax: If you have an objection to something someone is doing, you handle it with the person. If you’re just talking about normal people having something in their family, I think telling the world about it is vanity. Why? Why did you need to tell the whole world about this? There has to be some reason to bring something public.
If there is an alleged wrongdoing, [such as accusations of racism], which affects other people or compromises an institution, I think it is important to speak. I don’t think other people will go so far as to say: if you feel you were harmed by racist behavior, you have a obligation to talk about it. I think the injured party is the one who can make that calculation. But I do think that if someone decides to take that on, it’s absolutely defensible. It is important.
Powers: We have another question: “My husband and I have two young children and we really want them to have a close relationship with their cousins. But in recent years, my husband and his brother have had a massive fight, so our families never see each other anymore. It doesn’t help that they live in another country either. How should I explain to my children why they haven’t been able to see their cousins and what should I do to make sure they can have some kind of relationship with them in the future?
Hax: I’ve gotten a version of this question a lot, and I think it’s one of the hardest to answer, and here’s why. If you’re cutting a relative, you need to look to the future and recognize that this child of yours could cut you off when he does something wrong if you don’t offer some kind of nuanced understanding of when it’s important to work on things. and when it is important to protect yourself and cut your tie.
Trying to explain it to a child in childish terms is almost asking too much. So I think you end up with, “This is an unfortunate situation, and we can’t see you right now. And I know we love your cousins, and I know they love you,” and you treat it as an unfortunate fluke of circumstances. If you don’t burden them with your own prejudices, then you can look for each other when you’re out in the world.
Powers: What a lot of people struggle with is: Should I tell my son why I think his aunt did really bad things that I don’t agree with and that’s why we don’t talk? Should they keep it a secret and then let it be a mystery to that kid’s entire childhood?
Hax: I don’t think secrecy and mystery prepare your kids to handle things, because the minute you deny people information, they go looking for it. And they’re going to do it, anyway. There is a point of inevitability in all of this. But I think if you stick to the truth and then what you did with the truth, then overall I think you’re fine. So the truth is that the brothers don’t get along, the two families don’t get along, and that’s very unfortunate, and I wish it were otherwise, but we’re not going to see them like before. And it is a basic fact. He does not throw anyone under any bus.
Powers: Okay, now we have a final question: “So, over two decades ago, I was widowed. When I wanted to remarry the new love of my life, or perhaps the love of my life for a long time, my children asked me not to. I did it anyway. But recently I found out how unhappy one of my sons was with my decision to go through with this marriage. I love my wife. She has been a rock by my side and it hurts me that my son doesn’t see how important she is to me and our family. What do I do now?”
Hax: Live with it. You can’t push people to change their minds about how they feel, and the more you do, the more ingrained they become. The father in this situation has to admit that he misread and it cost him his relationship. And he goes back to the original answer we were talking about, where you only own your part in it by yourself, by your own conscience. He said: “You know what? I misread it and I’m so sorry.”
You can go on for days about how “this was my life to live. I have to make my own choice. I am not going to decide who my life partner will be based on my traumatized son.” You can say all those things, and they’re all going to be true, but there’s also an emotional truth, and the emotional truth is that this is going to be a sore spot for this kid.
Powers: Do you hear that people go through situations like this?
Hax: I can’t think of one that’s directly analogous, but definitely the general idea of someone setting a condition that’s so heavy and complicated. And here’s the thing: if the children wrote to me, saying that they want to establish this condition, I would say no, don’t do that. Don’t prepare for that kind of disappointment. Don’t depend on your emotional health on your dad’s choices. Your emotional health depends on you, and the moment you put it in someone else’s hands like that, you are asking for a lifetime of complications.
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