IT IS NOT quite nice to notice the fact that people close to you have no money, and use the fact that you do mess in their lives, order them about, get them to perform menial services for you, and generally make them feel that the financial advantage puts you in charge.
And yet that is what most people do to their children all the time.
Mind you, Miss Manners does not dispute the right of parents to mess in their children's lives, order them about, make them perform menial services and establish that the parents are thoroughly in charge. She just doesn't like their citing the money advantage to do so.
Children tend to be born penniless, but lacking in the desire to remain so to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. It is therefore customary, when they reach the age of indiscretion (financial indiscretion begins with an awareness of money as the basis for trade, and it seldom ends), to give them a pittance, also known as an allowance.
It is customary to make the following speech on the occasion of the first allowance, in the hope of calming the eager squealing of the recipient:
"We are not rich people, but as a member of the family, you are entitled to share in the assets we do have, as well as in the responsibilities. This is yours to use as you see fit, with the exception that you may not use it to go against the rules of the house -- buying candy for times when you know you're not allowed to have candy, for instance. We will not ask, otherwise, how you have spent this money -- it's yours, and you don't have to account for it. On the other hand, don't ask for advances if you've squandered it. This is it, and it's up to you to budget it so that you can buy what you want."
(Rich people use the same opening, as nobody feels really rich these days. Super-rich people may open with "We have been more fortunate than most, but that doesn't mean we don't have an awareness of the difficult economics of our time . . .")
You may notice that this is an extremely tiresome speech, full of concepts that 6-year-olds with their chubby little hands out cannot possibly understand. That is to get them used to the ideas that 1) solemn, ceremonial occasions are properly marked by pompous speeches, and 2) money is not only fun.
They will find this out for themselves by spending everything immediately on things that don't work, pleading in vain for loans, and perhaps, ultimately, facing the dreary prospect of deferring present pleasures in order to save up for bigger ones. The size of the allowance should be geared to this -- just enough to buy small treats, but not enough for middle-sized ones unless two or three weeks' allowance is saved.
Miss Manners does not believe in paying children for chores in their own households -- hence that clever association between assets and responsibilities. In her mind, it is an ugly idea that a child should contribute his part to his own household for wages, while the parents do the greater work for free.
Children who want extra money may be able to do chores or appropriate small jobs for others, but should be required to contribute their efforts at home simply because it is their home, and because they naturally share also in its myriad benefits.
The alert child will therefore make a speech of his or her own, at appropriately spaced intervals, in which he cites not only the rising cost of living, but also his own increasing shape in the responsibilities of the concern from which his money comes. That, my dear little ones, is what Mamma and Papa do when they find themselves running short. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. My bride of eight months and I are planning a Caribbean cruise for next February. We invited our parents, and have looked forward to a delightful time. Until now.
Last week, my father took it upon himself to invite his brother and female friend to accompany us. (Each couple is paying for themselves.) Neither I nor my wife wish to spend two weeks and several thousand dollars tolerating these people, particularly my uncle's friend. My mother privately feels the same, as I suspect my in-laws would if they knew, which they don't yet.
My father has apologized to me, and I have refrained from making it an issue. But he thinks it "won't be as bad as you think." He's probably right. It'll be worse. Avoiding them on the ship will be impossible; they stick like barnacles. If we cancel, they will also have ruined our trip. If we tell them they're not invited -- or convince my father to do so -- they will be very hurt. Is there another alternative?
A. This sounds awful. Miss Manners likes to be bright and cheerful, merrily pointing out the unsuspected delights of difficult situations, but the prospect of being stuck on a ship with people you don't like is a hard one to be sanguine about.
Let us see what we can do without being rude. If you cancel -- you cannot ask them to -- it should be a mysterious excuse involving your wife's family so that they, and perhaps your parents, because they want to be supportive, can cancel too, and set the thing up again.
If is is too late, then you must enlist your guilty father's help in alleviating the burden. Immediately on boarding the ship, secure two tables for four, preferably at different sittings. Your parents will sit with your uncle and his friend. Get yourselves deck chairs on opposite sides of the ship. And make it a habit to feel like swimming, seeing films or promenading at times that are unannounced or when they have made other plans.
Remember that it is a characteristic of cruises that one always ends up avoiding someone on board. It is just not the custom to get a head start by bringing them with you.