Miss Conduct

Etiquette for weddings: Parents and adult children sharing gifts

Plus, helping a neighbor in trouble, while still setting boundaries.

Lucy Truman

My husband and I have two children — the younger is finishing college, and the older is 25 and has lived on his own in another state for three years. We recently received an invitation addressed to all four of us for the wedding of my cousin’s son. (I assume it was simply deemed easier to send the invitation to all four of us at our house than to ask for my son’s address.) Should I send a substantial gift from all four of us? Or should I send a gift from three of us and inform my son that, being 25 and on his own, he should send an individual gift as well?

S.S. / Boston

Wedding gifts should be based on your budget, the nature of your relationship with the wedding couple, and their level of need. C’est tout. The relative fanciness of the wedding does not enter into the equation (if I have one goal in life, it is to abolish the loathsome myth of the “cover your plate rule”), nor do any idiosyncrasies of how the wedding invitation was addressed. Now that I think of it, it would be wonderful if invitations addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Hisname” obligated the husband to go out and buy the presents, but unfortunately, such is not the tradition.

So what makes sense for your family, for this wedding? It sounds as though your older son isn’t especially close to his second cousin, so he would probably rather chip in to whatever gift the rest of you give. Why not offer him that option? If he’d rather give his own gift, then he can let you know. If he would rather not give any gift at all, however, don’t get into a fight with him about it. Wedding gifts are never required, and an adult has the prerogative of choosing whether or not to give one.

My next-door neighbor in my condo building came over and spilled her guts about her husband — cheating on her, being controlling and unkind. She talked for three hours straight. She has a therapist. I don’t have a lot of time to adopt her problem. I listened and gave her open and honest feedback. I helped her frame a couple of limits she could use with him. What should my role be without getting too involved? They have a young child.


Anonymous / Boston

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Your role can be whatever you want it to be, and one good thing that role could be is “someone who models what setting limits looks like.”

You helped your neighbor, as sometimes only a near-stranger can help. Occasionally you want to vent to someone who’s outside your normal social circle, so that gossip doesn’t start or people don’t ask “How are you?” with searching, compassionate eyes every time they see you for the rest of your life. You want a fresh perspective. You want someone who isn’t involved.

So don’t feel that one evening’s intense conversation has automatically catapulted you into inescapable intimacy. It hasn’t. If your neighbor starts showing up every night with wine box in hand or asking for practical help you can’t give, assert yourself kindly but firmly. (I’ve heard this technique called “hug and release,” which I like very much.) The rottenest thing you could do to a person in her situation is to allow yourself to be unwillingly dragged into her problems and then grow a spine and start setting boundaries six months from now, after you’ve become an indispensable part of her support network.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

PROBLEMS WITH YOUR NEIGHBORS? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at