Sunday, May 26, 2024

Ask Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley: ‘My Son’s A Freeloader’

My adult son moved back home to quarantine with our family, but he’s not pitching in for household expenses, even though he makes good money. What can I do?

Etiquette tips on how to interact in today’s world. Have a question for Mister Manners? Send your queries to and look for replies in the coming weeks. 


Q: I have a 26-year-old son who’s moved back home to North Dakota to wait out the pandemic with my husband, our 15-year-old daughter and me. He’s been working remotely here since March and makes good money. Unfortunately, it never dawns on him to chip in for anything. I’m not expecting rent, and to be candid, we’re thrilled to have this bonus time with him. But is there any way I can gently suggest he begin chipping in for household expenses?

A: Though it has been years since your son was a teen, it would seem it didn’t take long for him to revert to the mindset of being your dependent again. Old habits die hard and apparently, now that he’s back in the abode of Mom and Dad—albeit as a salaried young professional—he’s presumed he can have his cake and eat it, too. 

Clearly, the idea of his taking on even a modest part of your monthly spending has yet to occur to him. By extrapolation, I highly doubt he’ll pick up on your feelings through subtle hints. 

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All of which means the time for tiptoeing around this issue has passed. Instead, I would have a loving conversation with him, reassuring him of how much you enjoy having him back on the homestead. From there you can explain that since he is a fully grown, wage-earning, milk-drinking, washer-using, steak-eating, Netflix-watching member of the household, you’d welcome his taking part in ongoing expenses. He’ll still be shelling out far less than if he were living on his own, but the funds he’ll provide should help contain your monthly budget while also easing any concern that your continuing generosity has gone unappreciated. 

Last but not least, he’ll also be setting an example for your daughter should she decide to move back home as an adult in (gulp) 2031.


Q: I work for a small dance school in northern California. We’ve been conducting classes for students on Zoom, but my boss recently sent a group text to my fellow teachers and me letting us know she expects us to be instructing in-person again next week. This thread quickly became awkward, with some people responding how excited they are to return, and others expressing concern. I have an older person in my household, so I’m in the latter camp. What’s the best way for me to have my feelings heard?

A: After so many months away from your place of work, it is easy to see why you might have mixed feelings about returning. With the vast majority of the U.S. population under stay-at-home guidance for the better part of spring, you and millions of others now find themselves on the cusp of summer, emerging from hibernation like tardy daffodils suddenly coming to life — and yet still not sure it’s safe to bloom.

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The decision to head to back work is an individual one, a choice to be undertaken thoughtfully. And while I appreciate your boss’s desire to return to business as usual, given that yours is a small organization, I might have suggested she handle the reopening with more sensitivity. 

Rather than a group text — which always results in a chaotic chorus of voices — she could have started with an informational email to everyone detailing the new precautions and guidelines your school will certainly be implementing. Presuming that her teachers’ physical and emotional well-being are as important to the school as the institution’s financial well-being, she could also have scheduled a call to speak with each of you individually. This would have been her opportunity to hear your thoughts and concerns. 

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Ultimately, it will be your choice whether you are prepared to return to the studio. And though I’m certain your students must miss working with you in-person, I appreciate that you are also being mindful of a potentially at-risk senior citizen back home. All of which equates to a conversation far more nuanced than you could ever hope to achieve by text. Therefore, although your boss chose to begin the conversation with everyone via smartphone blast, in this instance, I think you’ll find a pas de deux works far better than a do-si-do.

Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley, is a nationally regarded expert who appears regularly in the media to discuss modern-day etiquette dilemmas — from how to split a check fairly to how to get a word in edgewise. Follow Thomas on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And for more insights, listen to his brand-new podcast, “What Manners Most,” which will be focused exclusively on Coronavirus-related etiquette for the foreseeable future.


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