Miss Manners: Adults must stop answering questions for their kids


Dear Miss Manners: Is there a nice way to ask people to butt out of a conversation?

I just met with a friend whose 4-year-old grandson is visiting. I like to ask young children questions, such as: What’s your favorite dinosaur? What did you eat for lunch? What did you see on the plane coming here?

I don’t care about the actual answers; I just want to engage the child and get to know him.

Inevitably, the mom, dad or grandparent answers the questions instead of letting the child speak. I would have loved to ask the grown-ups to go away and let the kid speak, but every way I can think of sounds rude. Even when I have said that I am really interested in the kid’s opinion, the parent will continue to respond. They cannot STAND for their child to answer slowly, incompletely or (heaven forbid) incorrectly.

I cannot be the only FOK (friend of kids) who actually wants to know what they have to say for themselves.

Treating a child as someone worthy of an opinion is a good deed. Miss Manners will therefore allow you one wink at the child, accompanied by a humorous “Mommy knows the answer, doesn’t she?” But you must then pivot to Mommy with “He’s so charming! I love hearing what little ones think!” fast enough to take away any sting.

But ultimately you will have to defer to the parent, even if you think they are being overprotective or too literal-minded. If you are right, Mommy will still be answering for Liam when he is old enough to set Mommy straight himself.

Dear Miss Manners: After my uncle recently died, a cousin sent me some cremated remains that had been in his custody, saying they were the ashes of my beloved surrogate grandmother, Paula, who died about 20 years ago.

The remains are in an ornate, beautiful Chinese urn that has been passed lovingly around that branch of the family for years. I was honored to receive it.

The problem? This is not Paula. I attended the scattering of Paula’s ashes at sea.

I worked in a mortuary for years and have had much experience with cremated remains, so I can also say that this was not done by an American funeral home in the last 30 years. It is unlike anything I have ever seen.

No one in my family has ever had any idea that this urn contains anyone other than Paula. Of course, I intend to treat my unexpected guest with all respect and reverence, but I’m not sure how best to accomplish that.

Your predicament reminds Miss Manners of the Gilbert and Sullivan general who brags about his ancestral tombs, only to be reminded that he purchased the estate quite recently.

“I don’t know whose ancestors they were,” the general answers haughtily, “but I know whose ancestors they are.”

If you can break the news gently to the remaining members of the family, perhaps you can all agree that, like the tomb of the unknown soldier, the urn can stand in as a way to honor both Paula and the unnamed surrogate who was tardily adopted into the family.

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.

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