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    Miss Conduct

    How to discuss limited finances with your adult children

    Having a difficult conversation about changes to come. Plus, dealing with very odd phone habits.

    Illustration by Lucy Truman

    >My husband and I are in our 60s.  While we are financially secure, we can no longer work (he is on disability and can’t be left alone). We have always been generous gift givers, but now can offer only modest gifts to grandchildren. For our grown children, a nice card or get-together will have to be enough. How do I tell them? Should I even need to? I don’t expect gifts from them and don’t want any hurt feelings.

    T.Y. / Plymouth

    Do talk to them. Not because you owe them an explanation of why the goodie train stopped, but because if you go from extravagant giving to cards — even fancy cards by local artists made with recycled paper and bits of sea glass — your children will worry about you.

    Let me repeat those six words, for emphasis: Your children. Will worry. About you.


    T.Y., the great shift is upon you. We Adult Children of Parents (a support group my friend says the whole world should belong to) worry about you. Your children are worried about your emotional well-being and whether you get out enough and have enough fun. They’re worried about what happens when your husband needs more in-home help than you can give. They’re worried about your 401(k) and Social Security. They’re worried about asking you to surrender your driver’s license too soon — or too late.

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    You can do a lot for their peace of mind right now. Talk to your kids honestly and, if possible, together. Discuss your financial plans and whatever other plans you’ve made. You are secure as long as you scale back expenses — that’s good! They will be very happy to hear that. (We worry when you get extravagant with money, anyway.) And the fact that you’ve come to your children now, to let them know that there are changes afoot in the way you live, will reassure them that you’ll be open and willing to ask for the help you need in the future.

    This is what your children want, far more than lavish gift cards and mail-order booty. The Year Without a Santa Claus might just turn out to be the Best Christmas Ever.

     >I have a relative who for years would call at 8 a.m. every Saturday. I finally said something. She also insists on having her husband join in. I asked them not to use the speakerphone, so now he picks up an extension and awkward pauses abound. I feel like a noodge, as I’m considering making a third request to bring their telephone habits to this side of normal.

    M.K. / Hingham


    Noodge, darling, noodge. Let Miss Conduct deconstruct your fears.

    Asking them to change their ways will be awkward. What, more awkward than the Samuel Beckett Radio Theatre every conversation already turns into? Probably not.

    They will think I am a weird obsessive about phone etiquette. So let them! You already think they’re weird, and you still care about them enough to talk every week. This is what family is all about. Why not extend the olive branch — and rubber chicken — of your own “eccentricity”? Ask for their indulgence, and let them be amused by their fussy family member with her phone foibles. You can all have a delightful time tolerating one another.

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

    NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams on December 5 from noon to 1 p.m.