Miss Conduct

Advice on dealing with grandparents who play favorites

Plus, do you get flowers for someone in hospice?

Lucy Truman

> My mother is huffy and critical with my daughter but goes on and on about my son. He is 16 and easygoing; my daughter is 14 and more temperamental. For her birthday, my mother gave her a small pad of paper. Do I do anything? I have already worked with my daughter to understand that even if Grandma is mean to her, she needs to take the high road. My mother wasn’t like this when I was growing up. 

A.B. / Norwood

I hope your definition of taking “the high road” includes polite verbal self-defense and knowing when to excuse one’s self strategically. You aren’t abandoning your daughter to your mother’s bullying, are you? If your mother is being unkind to her, especially in front of other people, you need to speak up. Being 14 is hard enough as it is.

And speaking of age — older people are entitled to their bad days just like the rest of us. But if your mother’s behavior is out of character, you should have a serious talk with her, and think about getting her to a doctor. You can’t force her to love or like your children equally. However, she ought to be self-controlled enough to treat them with equal courtesy. If she can’t, then she may have difficulties with executive functioning in other areas as well.

>Are flowers appropriate for in-home hospice? If so, what about cards? I am at a loss as to what to say to a person who is dying.


D.R. / Bedford, Texas

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Many people are. A dying friend, however, is still a friend. People who are dying often want to enjoy their most profound and simplest pleasures. For some people, this might be flowers. Cards are also nice. Mr. Improbable and I bought a Netflix membership for a friend of ours who died at home, and I sent him poems occasionally that I thought he would enjoy.

When you visit a friend who is at home with hospice, don’t worry about making sparkling conversation. A person might want to reminisce or to play chess or cards, be read to, or pray. You can also sit in silence together, something Americans don’t tend to be good at, but which we can do as well as anyone else when we have to. There used to be a humane tradition of doing handwork (mending, embroidery) when you visited friends. If you have some modern equivalent — grading papers, say — an afternoon spent catching up on your chores while your friend drowses and enjoys an occasional cup of tea would be a good thing.

I asked Mom Conduct for advice, because she used to be a hospice volunteer, and here is what she said: “Encouragement about how the person looks is always welcome. Even those who are nearing the end of life like to hear compliments. If the person is spiritual, reading appropriate Scriptures is a good thing. Depending on how alert the person is, talk about their family members. Above all, TOUCH them! Caress a hand, or maybe fix their hair. And the person visiting should always appear to be at ease. Smile!”

Those exclamation points, I hasten to explain, are an expression of enthusiasm, not drill sergeant alpha-dogging. Your visit will come from love, and your friend will know that. You can’t do the wrong thing.  

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at And read her blog at