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Miss Manners: I want my aunt to stop bringing up my estranged mom

3 min

Dear Miss Manners: My mother has a substance abuse disorder and a severe untreated mental illness. Several years ago, I cut ties with her because of the chaos and hurt she brought to my life. This was a painful decision and not one I made lightly, but I stand by it and have learned to live with it.

Growing up, I was very close with her sister, my aunt. She has always been extremely loving and supportive to me. However, every time we meet lately, my aunt insists on bringing up my mother’s latest whereabouts and scandalous doings (as gleaned from social media, which I am not on) as a point of ridicule or gossip in an otherwise pleasant conversation.

Life is short, and I don’t want to alienate my beloved aunt. I am looking for a polite but firm way to shut down these painful discussions without spoiling a rare visit with my aunt or coming across as rude.

Etiquette prefers an indirect approach when it avoids giving offense, or when it is more likely to succeed than brute force. In consequence, people who are indifferent to harm accuse those with good manners of being insufficiently honest.

Your case shows the injustice of such accusations. Tell your aunt that your break with your mother, though necessary, is still a painful topic, and that you would rather discuss almost anything else. Given your history, there is no reason to think she will not comply.

Dear Miss Manners: What is the proper thing to say when someone tells you they are getting divorced, if you do not know whether they are relieved or devastated by the divorce?

A neutral “I’m sorry to hear that” is the correct response. Even if the speaker desperately wants out of their marriage, the process itself is unlikely to be pleasant, allowing you to be sorry that the person has to go through it.

Miss Manners realizes this will not prevent the person from explaining in detail why the divorce comes as such a relief, but, unless you are prepared to run as far and as fast as you can, you were never going to avoid that.

Dear Miss Manners: We are expecting guests whose house, when we last visited them, was unclean and had cockroaches. I am worried about them occupying our guest room with their dirty suitcases and such.

Is there a gentle, friendly way to let them know we are worried about bugs coming into our home?

There is no delicate way to raise the subject directly. The best Miss Manners can suggest is that, because the guest room is so small (its actual size is immaterial), you move the suitcases to the garage after they have unpacked.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

©2022, by Judith Martin