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updated: 2/7/2013 8:54 PM

Don't force the creation of special family memories

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Q. I have a favorite song that I sing to my 9-month-old daughter. I would like to discourage other family members from singing this special song to her. Is that a realistic thought? If so, how is the best way to handle it?

Mom

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A. Controlling, yes; realistic, no. The best way to handle it is to resolve not to try so hard to handle things.

A song you sing to your child will become special because it is, not because you've decided it will be.

There will never be a shortage of totems, symbols or special moments between a parent and a well-loved child. As an involved parent you are the principal figure in your child's life or at least tied for it.

So you don't need to force the issue of your special place. In fact, in doing so you risk looking past the meaningful moments and mementos that your lives together will produce organically and, in this case, you also risk interfering with the crucial connections between these other family members and your daughter. Hold those reins too firmly and, in time, your daughter will chafe as well.

This might seem like a big answer to a small question, but I believe the most important gift you can give a child is openness to whatever gifts your child brings to you. A small matter like a "special" song is a chance to practice the subtle art of letting your stories write themselves.

Q. My best friend lives about six hours away, and we get together a couple times a year, either with kids or without. There is one weekend in particular that I visit and we participate in a road race together.

Last year, a mutual friend found out about my upcoming trip and said, "That sounds like fun! I think I'll join you!" The trip was OK, but I missed being able to truly catch up with my friend and the fifth wheel started to get on both our nerves.

The annual trip is now fast approaching, and the mutual friend keeps bringing it up, assuming she is invited. I have been noncommittal about going. My inclination is to tell a white lie and say I'm not going, but I fear she would find out (we work together) and that would be so hurtful.

I have a feeling you are going to advise me to be direct, but how do you tell someone you don't want them to intrude on your weekend getaway?

Running From Fifth Wheel

A. You offer them something you would like to share instead, that's how. You explain to her that, dorky as it sounds, this trip is a special and long-standing tradition and you and the other friend share, "but let's (blank) instead." Think carefully before you fill in that blank, because the whole thing hinges on the sincerity of that offer.

Will it be a blissfully non-awkward conversation? I wish. All you can hope for is a forthright exchange between adults who can handle a little awkwardness. If that sounds more awful than it's worth, then keep in mind that the "white lie" alternative whopper is more like it is not a legitimate one. You either own your preference or make room for three.

• Email Carolyn at tellmewashpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

2013 The Washington Post

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