Miss Manners: My mom gives me unwearable clothes when all I really need is cash. Is there a kind way to tell her?

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DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother cannot recognize the realities of my life. My husband lost his job four years ago; we eke by with thoughtful spending and renting out our guest room. I work overtime whenever I can, so we can have little luxuries like a streaming service subscription and quality food for our pets.

My mother is fully aware of our situation, and though she has given us cash in the past, she prefers to buy me clothes for “stepping out” as gifts. These clothes are definitely more her taste than mine (plus, she knows we never go out). She includes a gift receipt so the clothes can be returned, but often only for a gift card at a store I would normally never shop at because they don’t carry anything I need.

Returning the clothes involves spending hours of my scarce free time taking a bus (we don’t have a car), hauling awkward boxes and then scouring the store for ways to spend the credit. All the while, I’m thinking, “That could have bought a month’s worth of groceries, or paid the vet bill.”

Gifting these clothes allows my mother to live in a fantasy where her child has a vibrant, cosmopolitan lifestyle instead of the less glamorous reality.

Of all the complaints between child and parent, this seems very minor. But her denial of our situation makes me feel unseen, unheard, and that I embarrass her. Is there a kind way to communicate that her gifts are a burden? And that the most welcome gift from a more well-off and well-meaning mother is to send cash?

GENTLE READER: Is it maybe just possible that rather than shame you, your mother is trying to give you these small luxuries because she knows you would not indulge in them yourself?

That is, after all, what presents usually are -- not taunts and humiliation over a life she deems clearly out of your reach.


What you are suggesting instead is that she give you financial support. If you want to ask for that, Miss Manners would not stand in your way. But she does take objection to ascribing unkind motives to innocently given presents -- no matter how unusable and misguided those presents may be.

• • •

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am invited to a 60th birthday party for twin sisters, but I only know one of them. Should I bring gifts for both or just the one I know?

GENTLE READER: For twins under 12, bringing a present for both of them to share would be a gracious thing to do.

But at 60, unless the two sisters live together, it is no longer practical or age-appropriate. Miss Manners therefore condones bringing only a present for the sister you know, with the presumption that the other sister’s guests will pick up the slack.

• • •

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Why do you keep one hand below the table when you’re eating?

GENTLE READER: So that it can keep watch on your wandering elbow.

Miss Manners | Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Miss Manners, written by Judith Martin and her two perfect children, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Marin, has chronicled the continuous rise and fall of American manners since 1978. Send your questions to