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Miss Conduct

Advice: When mom and grandma disagree about parenting

Plus, can you leave a wedding because the music is too loud?

My granddaughter, age 9, is bright, active, kind, athletic, and friendly. She also never sits upright, wriggles and squirms, spills things constantly, and generally is a mess, especially at the table. My daughter continually reprimands her, which doesn’t do much good. I think she will outgrow this. Her mother thinks this needs to be corrected and was wondering if there might be a class in table manners for her to attend. Any advice would be welcome.

G.M. / Bedford, New Hampshire

Thank you for saying “any” advice, because I sure as heck don’t have any concrete answers to this one. What a sad situation.


Etiquette classes for children do exist, and such a class could be useful if it somehow reduced the tension of actual family meals and brought a neutral third party in to buffer what is clearly becoming a horrible parent-child dynamic — in other words, as a therapeutic intervention, not an educational one. The latter isn’t necessary. Your granddaughter — can I call her Ramona? I’m going to call her Ramona — surely knows the rules of dining at table and could pass a pencil-and-paper etiquette test with no problem. What Ramona can’t do is get that semantic knowledge out of her brain and into her hands and mouth. Her mother’s constant criticism is undoubtedly making it worse, as being harangued by an authority figure doesn’t tend to improve people’s fine-motor coordination.

However, your daughter isn’t the one writing for advice. The best thing you can do is to bolster Ramona’s self-esteem and do what you can to de-escalate any conflict when you’re around. You may be tempted to intervene further, but don’t. When mothers criticize their daughters for criticizing their daughters, said mothers are opening up a large and unresealable can of worms.

I find weddings to be more of a production than the quiet celebration I would prefer. At two recent weddings I left after eating because I could not tolerate the extremely loud music. I simply don’t understand why DJs play music so loudly that quiet conversation is not possible. Should I accept the next invitations, attend the receptions, eat, and then leave promptly if the music is too loud? How far can I go before I appear rude?


J.W. / Norwood

It’s rude to leave before the cake, which marks the end of the wedding celebration and the beginning of the plain old celebration. (Older etiquette books say that this is when “elderly guests” may choose to leave, though nowadays it’s more likely to be working parents with early flights begging off while retired boomers dance the night away.) Make sure you say goodbye to the wedding couple before you leave. Ghosting at a wedding is extremely bad form.

If you haven’t the fortitude to make it to the cake, skip the wedding entirely and send a nice gift and heartfelt card. I’m sure your relatives would prefer you to be happy at home rather than miserable at the wedding, silently judging their lack of decorum. Otherwise, you might do what I often have to — remind yourself that social obligations are, indeed, obligations. They don’t have to be fun or please our taste. Our loved ones’ ceremonies and celebrations aren’t simply another entertainment option, as though life were Netflix and once your preference for Dignified Celebrations With a Demure Female Lead is registered, that’s what you’re offered. You go because you love the people, not because you love the party.


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

WHAT ABOUT YOUR KIDS OR GRANDKIDS HAS YOU WORRIED? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at missconduct@globe.com.