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Miss Conduct

Is it rude to spend lavishly on our son, but not his partner?

Plus, handling those moments when you wish you could un-say it.

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We always are very generous at Christmas with our two grown, unmarried sons. Our elder son is now living with his longtime girlfriend. He has asked for a combined birthday/Christmas gift this year that would total a lot of money. Do we keep giving generously to him and give the girlfriend an average gift? Her family doesn’t do much gifting. As a side note, both our son and his girlfriend have great jobs and financially are in a good place. My husband and I don’t know what to do!


L.W. /Raynham

You sound so ill at ease, L.W.! Take a deep breath and add a shot of Kahlua to your eggnog. I believe you that everyone in your family is “comfortable,” as my grandmother used to put it, and that none are awaiting the holidays like the Cratchits, desperate for a single day of ease and satiety. Whatever you do, people will be grateful and happy.

Let’s leave the girlfriend out of it for a minute. How do you feel about your son’s gift ask on its own? Are you good with that? Or was what he asked for more than you’d planned to spend, even on a birthday/Christmas combo gift? Are you usually a “say what you want” family, or does asking for specific gifts violate your tradition?

If you’re fine with the gift and only concerned about treating his girlfriend equally, ask your son for advice. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about what to give adult children’s romantic partners at each stage of the relationship. (And if there were, such a rule wouldn’t last a day, because everyone in the world is idiosyncratic and neurotic about money and family.) Surely your son doesn’t want his partner to feel like the Little Match Girl on Christmas.


In future years, you might want to think about getting your partnered son a household gift that he and his girlfriend can both enjoy, and then giving each of them a smaller, more token individual gift (the ol’ Xbox-’n’-sox maneuver).

Occasionally in conversation, a frog (figuratively speaking) will jump out of my mouth — one of those statements that is easily misconstrued or that gives a completely wrong impression. If I pause and think before I speak, it usually results in my never getting to speak at all. In fact, the conversation has usually moved on before I can even get to the next sentence, to clarify what I said. What do I do?

Anonymous / Boston

Possibly nothing! It may be that your figurative frogs aren’t as large and menacing as you believe, if the conversational stream flows so swiftly and easily over them.

If your misstatement is truly bothersome, e-mail or message the group later to clarify your intent, or make the “time out” sign and grind that conversation to a halt and explain yourself. Did you say something potentially hurtful or substantially misleading? Or did you simply imply you were fond of cilantro when, in fact, you despise it? If the frog is rabid, kill it. If it’s just a little wet and embarrassing, let it hop off in peace.

It seems, though, as if you have a lot of friends who don’t give you the necessary space and time in conversation! That’s a problem in itself. Want to write back, and give me some more details about that?


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

Afraid you’re accidentally sticking your foot in your mouth? Ask Miss Conduct for help! Write missconduct@globe.com.Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.