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Q. My friend's 16-year-old daughter treats her appallingly: She calls her names, talks back to her, and refuses to cooperate. I can't count the times I've almost said, "Tracy, stop speaking to your mother like that!" So far I've held my tongue, but it kills me to see my friend abused this way. Should I say something?
A. There's a slight chance you might get through to the little brat, but it's just as likely that she -- and her mom -- will be furious at you. Conceivably this could be a bonding experience for them, but I guarantee it will be no fun at all for you. Before you put in your two cents, have a talk with your friend. How does she feel about her daughter's behavior? Does she agree that it's "appalling"? Has she tried to establish some rules of civil communication? How? When? Realize that you will have to proceed with extreme caution even to broach this conversation. We parents have a way of getting defensive when others point out our kids' flaws even when we're hyperaware of those flaws ourselves. In any case, your friend is the one who has to decide that she won't tolerate any more disrespect. Unless and until she makes that decision, I'm afraid that saying anything to her daughter would be a waste of breath.
Q. I never know what to do when I have a dinner party and a friend shows up with a bottle of wine. Am I expected to serve it that night, even if I've already chosen a different wine?
A. Bringing a bottle of wine (or, alternatively, flowers) to a dinner party is not only an accepted practice but an excellent and courteous one. It's a gesture of appreciation, and you can simply add the bottle to the household supply. Should it come in handy that night, great. If not, save it for your next dinner together.
Q. I am all but certain that a coworker I'm friendly with will be laid off in the next few months. She and her husband are about to buy a new home with a hefty mortgage. Should I let her know what I know?
A. Well, the first thing I want to know is, how did you get this information? Would you be in trouble if it were discovered that you'd leaked it? I ask because as much as you might like your coworker and wish to protect her, you don't want to do anything that could land you on the unemployment line alongside her. Probably the best option for you is to frame the news in a general way. Tell her you get the idea that layoffs are in the works and that many people are vulnerable. For all you know, she and her husband have already considered this possibility in thinking through their mortgage payments. But if they haven't, you might be doing them a favor by stimulating the conversation. Just make sure you don't put your own job at risk in the process.
Q. A year ago, my 23-year-old nephew told me he's gay and pleaded with me not to tell his mother, my sister. I'm positive she would be fine with her son's sexuality, but I've stayed mum. Now my sister is upset because her son is acting aloof. I'm sure it's because of the secret he's hiding. Should I tell my sister what's going on?
A. No, you should talk to your nephew! Tell him that his mom is perplexed and sad because she feels a distance has developed between them. Reassure him that your sister can handle the news and will take it in stride. You might ask what exactly has made him so afraid to come out; perhaps you know his mom better than he does and can alleviate his fears. And realistically, is he planning to hide his sexuality from his mother forever? Hey, that's no way to live.
Q. My 77-year-old mother's doctor wrote her a "just in case" prescription for a year's worth of a medication that I take regularly. So far, my mom hasn't needed it and probably won't. Meanwhile, I'm paying $175 a month for pills that would cost her $10 under her insurance. Is there really anything wrong with filling her prescription and using it myself?
A. Why yes, there is, I'm sorry to report. Actually, it's a little faux pas called insurance fraud. I agree with you that the system is unfair, and many of us in the same situation would be sorely tempted to do exactly what you propose. But it's illegal -- not to mention possibly dangerous. If you use the medication and then want a refill, either for yourself or because your mother ends up needing it after all, you'll have to either lie to your mom's doctor about her use of the drug or fess up that you took it. A better idea would be to speak to your own physician about whether there's a way to adjust your prescription so you can economize. (Have I talked you out of it? If not, I don't want to know.)
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2009.
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