Family Planning … for Your Phones

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Social Q’s

My husband and I (a recent second marriage for both of us) have six grown children between us, ages 19 to 29. We are still paying all of their cellphone bills, including the recently married eldest’s. How do you recommend that we get gainfully employed young adults to start paying their own bills? I know that family mobile plans are often cheaper than individual plans, but shouldn’t the kids offer to reimburse us? My husband is not worried about this, but I am.


For the sake of your new marriage, I am throwing this one back to you. (If you and your husband can’t agree on cellphone bills, how will you ever tackle the dire questions — like whether to drop a reference to Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” or Madonna’s “Hung Up” in discussions of them?)

I get your concern: You want to encourage your children to be responsible and self-sufficient. And asking young adults to set up their own cellphone plans (or contribute to the family plan) seems like a no-brainer. Presumably, you may insist on this with however many of the six children are yours.

But first, go back to your husband. Is he “not worried about this” because he wants to make a generous gift to your children that encourages them to be in closer touch with you? Or does he simply relish the prospect of middle-age kids without credit history and an awesome sense of entitlement? His reasoning will be a window onto his parenting style and useful to know in your new marriage. Consider it as you decide how to move forward with your children. (You probably don’t have standing to create policies for his. But again, that’s a matter for you newlyweds to work out.)

Sleepless Over a Sleepover

I am 13 years old and in seventh grade. During school break, I invited my friend to my house a few times. She came, and we had fun. She kept mentioning that we should have a sleepover, and since her house isn’t big enough, we should have it at mine. (I have never been to her house, so I don’t know.) Lately, when I’ve invited her over, she asks if she can spend the night. When I tell her it’s just for the day, she says she can’t come. This has happened four times. It seems rude to me. Am I overreacting?


One of the (million) things that took me longer than 13 years to learn is that sometimes our friends will do things that hurt us; but on inspection, the issue is all theirs, and not about us at all. Knowing this doesn’t erase the hurt, but it can help us see the bigger picture. Here, your friend’s behavior strikes me as more confusing than rude. Why is she so committed to sleeping over?

We can spin theories: Maybe there’s a transportation issue? Maybe nighttime at your house is more peaceful than at hers? Or maybe (like me) she’s fond of the quiet confidences we make just before nodding off? But the only way to know, for sure, is to ask her — preferably not in a noisy school hallway. She may have something personal to confide.

Ask her (gently), “Janie, why do you say yes to sleepovers, but no if it’s only hanging out for the afternoon?” Then listen. I bet this has nothing to do with you. You’re her friend; she likes you. It’s probably more about her circumstances at home. And if her response seems weird, share it with your mother or father, O.K.?

Strangers on a Train

I was standing on the train, and a woman in the seat beneath me was working on a Sudoku puzzle. It was clear she had no idea what she was doing. I am an avid Sudoku player. Should I have given her some friendly pointers to get her started and help her enjoy the game more, or would that have been intruding on her personal space?


Strangers should be a little strange — especially on crowded trains. I applaud your impulse to help (and to smile and nod). But that woman may be enjoying her game just fine the way she’s playing it. Does Roger Federer love tennis more than I do just because he’s a million times better than I am? We’ll never know, especially if I run into him on the subway. Because in shared public spaces, leave folks alone.

Clearing the Air

My wife and I hosted a terrific Fresh Air Fund kid from the Bronx this summer. We’ve stayed in touch with him ever since. We respect his mother, and we thought she liked us, until we received an angry email from her, accusing us of trying to turn her son against her. How should we respond?


Read Mary Gaitskill’s stunning novel on this very subject, “The Mare.” And get in touch with your contacts at the Fresh Air Fund — not the boy’s mother. They can help iron out the misunderstanding here. Among people who love the boy, that should not be hard to accomplish.