Is My Adult Son Too Old for House Rules?

By | February 28, 2020

We will be hosting our son, daughter-in-law and 3-year-old grandchild at our winter home for 10 days. My daughter-in-law is extremely lazy: She takes frequent naps and spends hours scrolling on her phone. My son is better, but he lays around in bed a lot, too. At their home, dishes go unwashed; clothes lie on the floor, etc. What can I say to them, when they are in our home, about napping and phone use, particularly when our granddaughter is awake? They try to get her to nap with them, often to no avail. (I have to say something to prevent myself from going crazy!)


I have heard this tale many times, occasionally from the perspective of the adult children. Their version often goes like this: “We were fried from work and taking care of our toddler, so we visited my parents for a week. Hello, catch-up sleep and free child care! But they hounded us from the minute we walked in the door.”

Here’s the disconnect: You are thinking of your son and his wife as houseguests, while they may see you as the source of a free vacation (with maid service and a nanny included). Clear up any confusion by setting reasonable limits. No good will come from antagonizing them, especially if you want to keep seeing your son and grandchild.

Don’t try to boss them around over naps and phones as if they were kids. But if their clothes or dirty dishes litter public areas, ask them nicely to tidy up. Also, decide how much you are willing to watch your granddaughter (whether her parents are busy napping or solving national crises) and convey your wishes clearly.

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A final thought: If you can afford it (and your “winter home” suggests that’s possible), consider putting them up, perhaps for a shorter stay, at a nearby hotel. You may enjoy your family time more by seeing them less: for dinners and afternoons by the pool, instead of living on top of each other for 10 solid days.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

At work, we have an office assistant who helps with errands. Since I joined the company, I have watched my colleagues order him around rudely. They rarely say “please” or “thank you.” Unfortunately, the office environment is not one where colleagues can offer each other suggestions without offense being taken. But this really bothers me. Help!


You can dislike the mistreatment of the assistant all you want, but if you aren’t willing to put anything on the line to stop it, you are complicit in the unkindness. It’s hard to imagine anyone taking offense if you stood up at the next staff meeting and said: “I think we should treat the assistant more respectfully.”

Or talk to the boss or someone in human resources. But perhaps the most generous thing to do here is to spend some time with the assistant himself. Let him know you appreciate his help. Tell him you wish your co-workers treated him more professionally. And issue a standing invitation to your office when he needs to vent.

Fifty years ago, while my uncle and aunt (and their five children) were on vacation, my father (now deceased) had their home painted and plastered without discussing it with them first. My father even built them sorely needed bookshelves. My uncle and aunt, busy with work and children, didn’t prioritize their home. But they were quite put out when they returned. My uncle (now 96) told me he had been “furious,” and my aunt found my father’s behavior “presumptuous.” I am ambivalent. My father clearly meddled. But the improvements were badly needed. Shouldn’t he have been thanked?


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No. (But congratulations on your memory!) For your ambivalence, you have earned the designation of “loyal daughter.” But almost anyone who respects our system of private property would find your father’s behavior appalling. Who was he to decide unilaterally to alter their home?

Still, I also get that it frequently falls to loving children to find the positive in complicated stories about their parents, especially after they have died. Undoubtedly, there were seeds of brotherly love in your father’s domineering behavior. So, your ambivalence is hereby sanctioned. Just don’t pull the same stunt yourself, OK?

I told a friend that I didn’t want to go out two nights in a row because when there’s too much excitement, I don’t sleep well. Her response: “Don’t be an old lady.” I’m 70; she’s 60. I didn’t say anything, but her remark put me off. Thoughts?


Your friend tried to bully you by using an ageist epithet. I totally get why that upset you. And I can’t imagine this tactic is very effective for her. If the incident is still bothering you when you next see her, refresh her memory.

Say: “I’d be careful generalizing about a demographic that many would say you are speedily approaching.” And by the way: Well done on knowing what works for you and taking care of yourself!

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.