Miss Conduct

Advice on, well, giving advice

Is it rude to offer your thoughts to your adult children? Plus, deciding how to present a cash gift.

Lucy Trum

> My husband and I have five children in their 40s. Sometimes when I see an article I think might be helpful, I e-mail it to them. My husband says it is wrong for me to give them any kind of advice, since they are adults and I can’t understand what their lives are like. I know they are very busy, and I do admire them. I just feel that I would like to help. Being retired, I have time that they don’t to peruse flyers and surf the Net. My husband complains that I act as if I know more than they do. But naturally, I do.

E.G. / Westford


And your question is . . .? You seem to have left that bit out. So let’s take a stab at what it might be:

Do I know more than my adult children? Quite possibly. What you are likely to have over them, however, isn’t information (your husband is right about that), but wisdom. And wisdom is best shown in action. My father taught me that it takes a strong man to move a thousand-pound rock, yet it only takes a patient man to move a thousand pounds of small rocks. But he didn’t tell me this — he moved a thousand pounds of small rocks. Information gives advice. Wisdom tells stories and asks questions.

Is what I am doing right? It’s not wrong. But if you want to use your spare time to help your children with information and paperwork-related tasks, why not ask them what they need? Maybe they’re comparison shopping for vacuum cleaners or trying to find a dog walker. If you’re truly willing to do some off-site administrative work for your kids, let them know. I bet they’ll take you up on it.

What should I say to my husband? Let him know that he’s expressed his views and that you’ve heard him. If your kids roll their eyes at your e-mails, well, that’s between you and them. If he doesn’t think you should be a yenta to your kids, he shouldn’t be one to you.


> My best friend’s daughter plans to go on a group trip to Israel and Poland for her 18th birthday. I told my friend that I would like to contribute $500 toward the cost, but I don’t think it would be appropriate for the girl to know the exact amount. How can I let her know that I am contributing without divulging too much? 

E.A. / Brookline

There is no shame in a recipient knowing the exact amount of a cash gift, and in most circumstances, it’s inevitable. You’re overgeneralizing the don’t-talk-about-money rule and the notion that money is somehow a crass gift. It can be, or it can convey a lack of intimacy, but when money is directed to a deeply meaningful life goal or experience — oh, no one is going to complain about that.

You can give the money to the parents if you can’t bring yourself to do otherwise and have them tell their daughter that you’ve helped make the trip possible but not disclose the amount. Or you might be able to give the money to the organization that is sponsoring the trip (your friend could give you the details). But I think those options would be insulting. The girl is turning 18? Then she is an adult, and I assume this trip is a religiously motivated one, one that will help her forge her adult identity. It would be more respectful to treat her as the grown-up she is trying to become and give her the gift directly.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, who has a PhD in psychology.

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