Etiquette advice on going home for the holidays
Illustration: Pierre Le-Tan

Q:
I'm single, and my siblings are married with kids. I've begun to dread going home to my family and their "why aren't you married?" questions. This Christmas, I want to go to a cabin in the woods with friends, where I will be happier. My mother says I am punishing the family. Am I?

A: "Your family tradition may have outlived its purpose. Can you make a deal with your mother? Go to the woods this Christmas, but return home in, say, April." 
Rushworth M. Kidder, founder, the Institute for Global Ethics

"If you will be really, truly (swear to God) happier with your friends—and you're not choosing to be with them to make a petulant statement to your family—then go. Any needlepoint pillow will tell you, "Friends are the family we choose." Well, you're old enough to choose to be with your friends-family in a cabin. Express to your bio-family that you love them, and that there will be more holidays to share." 
Faith Salie, host, public radio's Fair Game from PRI with Faith Salie podcast
 
"I disagree with my fellow panelists—spending holidays with your mother is important because it's important to her. This is part of being in a family. But there's nothing wrong with delivering an ultimatum: 'Ask why I'm not married, even once, and I'm off to the cabin.' You matter too." 
Jack Marshall, president, ProEthics

Politics at the Dinner Table

Q:
Our family is politically divided, and this year, some of us will be winners and some will be losers. How can we set guidelines so that our holidays don't turn into Crossfire?

A: "America is a democracy, and we have a duty to have informed opinions and to challenge the opinions of others while having our own challenged. So go at it, but be fair, respectful, and civil."
Jack Marshall, president, ProEthics

"Politics doesn't have to mean polarization. Agree that (1) we'll talk about ideas but not about politicians, (2) we'll find something constructive to say about every idea, even the ones we're trashing, and (3) we'll put a dollar for charity into a coffee can every time we forget points 1 or 2." 
Rushworth M. Kidder, founder, the Institute for Global Ethics   

"Announce what a joy it is to be together, then add that "for the sake of harmony, I'm requesting that we discuss everything and anything this holiday season but politics." 
Rudy Rasmus, pastor, St. John's United Methodist Church in Houston


Ditching a Holiday Tradition

Q:
On Christmas Eve, our family volunteers at a soup kitchen. My kids complain about it. Do I continue to make them do it?

A: "Why don't you let your kids choose a date once a month when they want to volunteer? You'll teach them that charity isn't a holiday-specific activity. Or ask them how they'd like to extend their generosity during the Christmas season." 
Faith Salie, host, public radio's Fair Game from PRI with Faith Salie podcast



An Unwanted Boyfriend
Illustration: Pierre Le-Tan

Q:
My daughter wants to bring her new boyfriend home for four days. He's an unemployed dud who grunts at us. Can I ask her to come by herself?
 
A: "When your daughter is in a serious relationship, it's unkind to ask her to leave her partner at home simply because he isn't impressive or entertaining." 
Anita L. Allen, professor of law and philosophy, the University of Pennsylvania Law School

"If your objective is to inform your daughter of your disapproval, it may be more effective to simply talk to her about your feelings. On the other hand, this "dud" may be around for a while, so you may want to use your energy to find something you like about him." 
Rudy Rasmus, pastor, St. John's United Methodist Church in Houston


The Dreaded Office Party Q: I dread my office holiday party. I know I should go, but I'm painfully shy. I end up standing alone by the buffet. Can't I just skip it?

A: "It's good to go out of your comfort zone occasionally. Be a good corporate citizen and make an appearance—and make sure your bosses see you. Not going can be construed as an indication you don't like your colleagues or can't be bothered to attend, neither of which is the impression you want to make." 
Lisa Caputo, chairman and CEO, Citi's Women & Co

"Go. Buy yourself something to wear that makes you feel fantastic and not like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. Then remember that 'tis the season for giving. So give your attention to someone else. Ask what her holiday plans are, whether she makes New Year's resolutions, when she found out the truth about Santa—it doesn't matter what you ask; but really listen and connect. That's the joy of giving: forgetting about yourself and making someone else feel special." 
Faith Salie, host, public radio's Fair Game from PRI with Faith Salie podcast

Teachers' Gifts—Give or Not?
Illustration: Pierre Le-Tan

Q:
I give my kids' teacher a nice gift every year—a scarf, some perfume—but my friend says I shouldn't because not everyone can afford to do so. Do you agree?

A: "Giving your child's teacher a token of your appreciation for a job well done is between you and the teacher. (Most teachers I asked about receiving gifts from parents said that scarves are nice but they would prefer the flexibility of a gift card.)" 
Rudy Rasmus, pastor, St. John's United Methodist Church in Houston

"Expensive store-bought gifts might be mistaken for bribes and, indeed, call attention to socioeconomic advantage. You could organize the purchase of "class gifts" with small contributions from families who wish to and can afford to participate." 
Anita L. Allen, professor of law and philosophy, the University of Pennsylvania Law School

Divorce Dilemma
Q:
I just had a baby, and my divorced parents both want to spend Christmas at my house—but they can't stand each other. I'm not up for the job of referee. How do I decide who comes?

A: "This is why New Year's Day was invented. Schedule them into different ends of the holiday week, and hint that if they rise above their rancor for the sake of their new grandchild, maybe they can both spend the whole week next time." 
Rushworth M. Kidder, founder, the Institute for Global Ethics

"When someone throws a porcupine in your direction, it's always your decision whether to catch it or allow it to roll past you. Give your parents verbal visitation guidelines complete with dos, don'ts, and penalties for infractions. Also suggest hotels on opposite sides of town."
Rudy Rasmus, pastor, St. John's United Methodist Church in Houston

Dealing with Rowdy Kids
Q:
What am I supposed to do with rambunctious young nephews who jump on the furniture when they visit—especially if their mother (my sister) doesn't want me to discipline them?

A: "Avoid the situation by channeling all that kid energy into activities: simple arts and crafts projects, board games, baking cookies together. If all else fails, put their favorite holiday movie into the DVD player, pop some popcorn, and declare some official Relax Time."
Lisa Caputo, chairman and CEO, Citi's Women & Co

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