Dear Margo: Accidentally Liberated

My stepdaughter and her boyfriend moved out after I asked for a more substantial rent contribution. Did I do wrong? Margo Howard’s advice

Accidentally Liberated

Dear Margo: For the past two and a half years, we have allowed my 24-year-old stepdaughter and her 25-year-old boyfriend to live with us. During this time, we have charged them very minimal rent ($50 a paycheck from each when they were working). He had two part-time jobs, and she had a couple of short-term jobs that always ended in disaster. Any extra money they got was spent on dinners, expensive clothes and DVDs, rather than saving.

Recently, my wife found employment, and we were going to have my stepdaughter watch our 5-year-old. That was a debacle that would have ended badly, so my wife quit to watch her. At this point, I’d had enough and told them we would be raising the rent. They were required to pay $400 a month for both of them. I gave them six weeks to get things in order and for my stepdaughter to look for a job. Instead, after a couple of weeks, they snuck out in the middle of the night and left town to go live in a cramped apartment with his family. Now I am being portrayed as the bad guy. Was there something I could have done differently? –Bad-Guy Dad

Dear Bad: I think you did things just right. These kids sound like hot messes, and irresponsible in the bargain. Sneaking out in the middle of the night was a nice touch — especially considering you are family. I’m sure you wish them luck in the boyfriend’s parents’ apartment. One can only hope somewhere along the line they grow up. Do allow yourselves to feel relieved that their maturing process is taking place somewhere else. (As the wonderful jazz drummer Bobby Rosengarden used to say: “You got a fluckey.” You may have to say this out loud to get it.) –Margo, thankfully

“This Is Certainly Less Traditional.” I’ll Say

Dear Margo: My husband and I are in the phase of our lives where friends’ children are starting to get married. More and more, we are seeing gift registries where they don’t request toasters, blenders, china, etc, but are asking for “contributions” to their honeymoon, a down payment on a house, etc. In other words: money! Am I an old crank who is just out of it? I always thought “envelopes” were for mafia weddings. What do you think of this? –Fuddy Duddy

Dear Fud: First, let me say that there are many cultures that favor “envelopes” as the gifts of choice — which does make a certain amount of sense. You are not alone in your reluctance, however, to make a gift of cash. One woman told a reporter writing about this trend, “It sounds cheesy to me,” and said she’d rather give something they can have forever to remember her by. A young woman who was using this new kind of registry (to pay for a European honeymoon) responded, “The only difference is that friends are helping us buy experiences, rather than things.”

Because couples are marrying later and living together first, one can assume they most likely already have household things. It is heresy, I know, but I have no objection to this. We are not living in the days of Emily Post … although her grandson, Peter Post, also thinks this relatively new practice is OK. Console yourself with the idea that it’s easy on the gift-giver (no shopping) and it’s what they want. If you can’t get with this program, by all means send whatever you would like. No one will call you names, but neither will they toast you in Paris! –Margo, liberally

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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127 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Constance Plank says:

    Don’t worry what they say about you. Time will have his parents understanding that the kids are deadbeats.

    I think you were lucky to have them move out at any price!


    I don’t much like the trend for money, either. Therefore I give less generously to a “gimme money” than to a registry where, say, they ask for wustoff knives. (My very favorite kitchen tool and quite $$.) But, that’s my choice.

    You can always, totally properly, decline with thanks and send a congratulatory card! Cost, maybe $3.


    Constance in the Sierra Foothills

    • avatar David Bolton says:


      The selective logic that goes on with most weddings these days just baffles me. It’s okay to spend thousands of dollars on one day, but suddenly common sense prevails when it comes to not wasting money on presents the Blessed Couple can’t use or doesn’t want. Again, I want to stress to anyone who expects to receive a gift for any occasion—especially for a wedding, which usually involves at least some amount of tradition—that you allow the gift-giver to select what they want to give you rather than try to dictate. And to try to flout these rules in the name of the “modern” wedding is just a reflection of the entitlement attitude that so many younger people have these days.

      LW1: While I think you ultimately did the right thing, I also think you should have done this two years ago. Letting the stepdaughter and BF sit around and mooch did no one any favors—and even though they were paying something, it wasn’t enough to make them establish any real responsible behavior so they could learn some real lessons about money management. One of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned has been to never devalue a service that you’re offering, because the person on the receiving end will not understand its true worth to you. I don’t know what the situation was that made them move in with you in the first place, but short of a serious illness—I wouldn’t allow it again.

      • avatar amw says:

        It isn’t all young people, but you’re absolutely right. The sense of entitlement so many (of all ages really) possess baffles me.

        • avatar Lindsey M says:

          I don’t understand how a cash registry is any worse than a traditional registry. If you don’t like registries, fine. But it makes absolutely no sense that you’re offended by the cash suggestion but not the toaster/blender/etc. suggestion (and at the end of the day, registries are nothing more than suggestions — each gift giver decides themselves whether they want to give a gift at all and if so, what that gift will be). It just seems super stupid to register for things people don’t need because of this reason — that would seem to be the most foolish act of all.

          • avatar amw says:

            I’ve seen registries that offer both, that way a guest that is generous enough to give a gift to the couple can do so in a way that is most comfortable for both

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            Because Lindsey—this is what giving cash is like.

            At Christmas…
            Person 1: Fifty dollars? Oh, you shouldn’t have! Here, open my present, Person 2!
            Person 2: Fifty dollars? Oh, you shouldn’t have!

            At Valentines…
            Person 1: Fifty dollars? Oh, you shouldn’t have! Here, open my present, Person 2!
            Person 2: Fifty dollars? Oh, you shouldn’t have!

            What I’m trying to get across (without much success, apparently) is that it can be quite fun to give a gift. The best gift I’ve ever given was to an ex (and it made him bawl—and I mean, like REALLY cry). And it wasn’t cash, and it took a HUGE amount of personal effort and time and other people to work out. The worst gift I’ve ever gotten (from the same ex) was a check for $300, that took long enough for him to find a pen that worked. Yes, I understand that I’m not building a new life with My Special Someone and blah blah blah—my point is that his gift was such a blunt statement of non-commitment on his part to have any emotional investment in the idea of giving me a gift at all. If I’m going to ask someone to my wedding—they get to choose what they want to give me, if anything—period. If they PERSONALLY and PRIVATELY ASK me what I want, or if I would like money towards something, then I have the option of saying “yes, that would be a lovely gift” or “no, that’s not necessary,” etc. Making a public statement that monetary gifts would be appreciate for help with a honeymoon, down payment is tacky. Period. It’s NOT the same as a gift registry—which I personally don’t like either, but for which I’ll at least cut some slack and allows the gift-giver some ideas for taste, style, etc.

            I don’t pay attention to gift “lists.” Ever. Not for birthdays or Christmas or anniversaries or Valentines. I buy someone something I want them to have or I think they would like or that they could use. I give lots of thought about what gifts I give, and I usually have a great time doing it.

          • avatar Count Snarkula says:

            David, you and the Count have so very much in common…

  2. avatar Linda Myers says:

    My son and his wife moved out within 24 hours after requesting their help over a year ago. Haven’t heard a lot out of them since, I was told I ruined their plans.

    You really just have to let it go rather than thinking you were maybe in the wrong, and hope someday connections will be different. I just may be stubborn, though I believe I did all I could too help with maybe the best help was in finding the point of saying no.

  3. avatar Tanya Brown says:

    Re: #1

    Bad guy, eh? Says who?

    The rent you were asking was, as far as I know, pretty minimal. You gave them plenty of advance notice. They responded by sneaking out in the dead of night, rather than having an adult-to-adult conversation along the lines of “Thanks for your hospitality for the last couple of years. We really appreciate it. However, Billy Ray’s parents have offered to put us up for awhile, so we’re going to move out.”

    I’m probably projecting, but they remind me of some of my grifter relatives. There’s never enough money to be responsible, but plenty of money to blow on crap. They drift from “emergency” to “emergency,” many of which are a result of poor planning. Naturally, if you refuse to bail them out, you’re a bad guy.

    Change your locks, sleep with a clear conscience, and let the boyfriend’s family enjoy their company.

  4. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  You are not the bad guy.  The rent you requested was not exorbitant and if these people are old enough to live together they are old enough to pay their way to do so.  My guess is the $400 includes not only utilities but groceries as well.   Its unclear why the childcare arrangement was a debacle but I gather your 5 year old was not properly supervised by your step-daughter which would have been enough for me to send their behinds out the door no matter how much they were paying in rent

    I’m amazed at how some people expect no more of 20 plus year old people these days than they do of 15 year olds.   Those who are critical of you in these circumstances appear to believe that your step-daughter and her boyfriend are children who still need parent’s financial support.  I’m at a loss to understand what age is the new *normal* for people to grow up these days. 

    Yes, times are tough…jobs are not growing on trees….sometimes families have to join households to make ends meet.   Thats fine assuming all family are pulling as much weight financially and in household duties as they can. 

    LW#2:  I’m with you.  I understand that  in some cultures  cash is the traditional wedding gift but I do not  think that is what is going on here.  These are your friends, you know what their *cultural traditions* are and I expect if you knew it was the cultural tradition to give cash to the bride and groom you would happily oblige.   I was not raised in a particularly *posh* or *Emily Post* household but my upbringing taught me that cash was a gift which showed little thought for the recipient.  This is ingrained in me  to the point that while I give cash as Christmas gifts to teen and young adult family members because I know they need it…I always  try to find something *extra* to add to show that I gave more thought to them than writing a check. 

    I’m not such a purist as to think that a wedding registry (as long as it is not emblazoned on the wedding invitation or an insert thereto) is out of bounds but I think asking for cash on the registry is out of bounds even if it has a designated purpose like a honeymoon, down payment on a house, groceries for a month,  insurance premiums, rent etc.   Of course, if you call the bride or groom’s parents and inquire what would they like for a gift and you are told…*well they are saving for a downpayment on a house* that is one thing.  If you are given an unsolicited  *request* (even through a registry)  for cash, I would probably send the cash and be surprised if they sent me a thank you note. 

    Query:  Does Peter Post think thank you notes are obsolete too?

    And you know, if all of these young couples already have all they need in the way of toasters and mixers and espresso machines…why can’t they afford their own damn honeymoon or down payment on their house?    


    • avatar Chris Glass` says:

      Katherine – I always give checks as a gift for weddings to be used at the discretion of the couple. I usually enclose it in a nice card about a week or so before the event. This serves a dual purpose the couple has it ahead of time if they choose to use it for wedding or honeymoon expenses. It saves duplicating a gift that will have to be exchanged.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Katharine, “I’m at a loss to understand what age is the new *normal* for people to grow up these days.” NO KIDDING! Me, too.

    • avatar John Lee says:

      Katharine, I understand that you feel like asking for a $100 kitchenware is totally proper but asking for an “up-to-the-guest” amount of money is somehow offensive.  But I think you’ll have to admit that it’s a bit old-fashioned, if not impractical and weird.

      Really?  If someone has all the basics in the way of toasters, mixers and expresso machines, they don’t need help with a downpayment of $60,000? 

      • avatar Barbara says:

        If you need help with your $60,000 down payment, BUY A LESS EXPENSIVE HOUSE!! Don’t expect everyone else to support your excessive aspirations.

        • avatar John Lee says:

          A $300,000 home anywhere in California or New York or Florida or pretty much anywhere with good job prospects (20% would be $60k down payment) would be a two bedroom home built in 1970s in an average neighborhood.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          I agree with Barbara—and as I’ve stated before, if you want to go in with some of the other guests to send the couple on a surprise trip or to have a surprise gift of money towards a downpayment, a car, etc—I’m all for it. A registry is one thing, if you want to give guests an idea of your style, taste, etc. To dictate that you want money removes all of the fun from the gift giving process.

          • avatar John Lee says:

            David, fair enough with the statement that it removes the “fun from the gift giving process”.  You are right about that.

            I’m just more practical and am willing to forgo fun in order to be more financially responsible.  I’m sure we’ve all read or know of typical college graduates with huge student loan debt (typical life stage of people getting married).

            Again, it’s my stand that it’s OK to ask for money in place of a traditional registry.  If you think all wedding registries are tacky, money or household goods, then I have NO argument with you.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      @Katharine: I had been previously married, Rusty had lived on his own, and then we had lived together for one year before getting married. We had all of the essentials (though nothing lavish)…but we certainly could not have afforded a down payment on a house…and our honeymoon was two days and three nights of kicking around Austin, Texas (made a lot less expensive because neither of us imbibe, and we drove there from Houston).

      But then, we were married by “hanging judge” Ted Poe, at the courthouse, with Rusty’s mom and best friend present. We didn’t want a big to-do…many of the people in his family weren’t doing any better than us financially, and some much worse. Still, you might be surprised at how many of these kind and generous West Texas people wanted to know where we were registered, and were willing to let Pat, my lovely MIL, go to Macy’s or Neimans in case it was there (there is no mall in Big Spring, and a lot of them would genuinely be lost and very uncomfortable in places like that) and purchase place settings, and crystal…and then reimburse her for them. Things they really couldn’t afford…and we really didn’t want or register for.

      It took us three years to be able to afford a down payment on a house…and we’ve never had a two week honeymoon at some barely affordable hot-spot…and that’s perfectly fine with us. I don’t have a diamond either…we are not friends of the loathsome diamond industry. We’ve been together 17 years, and we’re still in-love. Who could ask for more?

      But I am rather surprised at the reactions to gift registries on this thread. When I was married the first time, over thirty years ago, it was strongly suggested that I register, and all of the higher end department stores, jewelers (many sold china, crystal and flatware at that time and previously, and I know some still do in coastal cities) had bridal registries going back decades. I grew up in Chicago…which is not the “rube” town so many seem to think it is (think Gold Coast, the Opera, Michigan Avenue, the Art Institute, etc.) and registering was A Thing To Do. Well, I didn’t…again, poverty stricken (but much less pleasant and far more ignorant) in-laws. One also registered for linens back then.

      As for asking for money, I am torn on that. I always give money…unless I know the couple extremely well, and am aware of something very special they might desire. It is not so that they will remember me…it is to make them smile. Frequently registries contain far too many pricey gifts…wishful thinking or wealthy relatives, friends of parents, or business associates of mom and dad. Also, so many people are asked to travel to weddings today, and that extra cost can be very hard to absorb, plus a gift, and lodgings.

      I don’t know. Sometimes I think that couples who have been co-habiting for years, who have everything that they could desire…and who are having that $50,000, or even $100,000 It’s Her Special Day blow out (how often do you hear about it being “his special day”? The groom has been relegated in far too many cases to wailing wall, ATM machine, Schmoo and fashion accessory) might be a bit more tactful in their requests for cold, hard cash. You know….maybe not mention that extended luxury honeymoon at Atlantis…or the down payment on the McMansion.

      Or, as Rusty said, put this on that Wedding Announcement Website: “No Gifts Necessary”. If I saw that, I’d think “cash”, and that’s what I’d give. A lot of couples did that in the ’70’s and the ’80’s…and it wasn’t offensive…and it always worked splendidly.

      And do remember…most unwanted gifts can be returned. Brides in particular have become such entitled, spoiled, evil little monsters of late. Blame the noxious wedding industry, and the diamond merchants: promise rings, pre-engagement rings, engagement rings, wedding rings, engagement ring upgrades, Milestone rings, Journey rings, anniversary rings…and now, Push presents (preferably, you guessed it, something with diamonds) for doing what only women are biologically designed to do, and what, hopefully, she agreed to in the first place. I always thought the baby was the reward. O, well.

      There are also Divorce Rings (they have a deliberate gap in the band. NO, I do not lie). Should we have the man reach from beyond the grave, and provide widow rings…or should he just pre-arrange for that one?

      O, sorry, sorry, sorry…I wandered. My point was that gifts can usually be returned…but brides are too lazy to write thank-you notes…so how can you expect the poor dears to actually return an unwanted gift?

      I did…except for the inexplicable four pairs of wooden salt shakers and pepper mills I somehow received. And the three-foot-wide styrofoam plaque with the raised design of pioneers and ox-carts in…mmm…corpse brown and delicately hand washed with spotty gold spray paint.

      My favorite gift was the soup pot I got instead of a Bible and crucifix (the person always gave the latter to all couples, no exceptions…until me. And no, I am not Jewish, though I am a devotee of many Jewish traditions, and philosophies)…but that is a story for grown-ups…

  5. avatar John Lee says:

    I’m lucky I get to play my Asian card when it came to my wedding gift. Even though I’m probably 75% American (culturally), I was fortunate I “got away” with asking for Red Envelopes with minimal shock and complaint.

    I have two thoughts on this.

    1. It is sad that in this day and age of financial irresponsibility, old fashioned people still feels it more OK to spend money on a new set of $100 knives or $200 whatever unnecessary kitchenware instead of contributing money to help pay for a down payment for a house, a honeymoon that every newlywed goes on or paying down debt. My more American wife was initially afraid to offend people, so she went to some expensive house ware store and picked out for our registry, ridiculously expensive (to me) knives, pans, pots, etc when we already have everything we need to live (except a house that we own). Fortunately, I was able to convince her otherwise and go with my Asian culture on this particular situation.

    2. Old (fashioned) people can complain all they want, this is not just an Asian, Italian or whatever culture phenomenon anymore. I have two WASP American friends in their late 20’s ask for support for financial contributions (or charity donations) in lieu of junk they don’t need. It’s here to stay.

    • avatar Katharine Gray says:

      For all of those old (fashioned) people who object to being ordered as to what form the wedding *gift* should take, I can only remind you that there are two responses to a wedding invitiation.  Yes or No.  If yes, it is good manners to send a gift.  If your response is no you owe them nothing more than the RSVP with your regrets but a card would be nice.  

      And to all the young (modern) brides and grooms…old (fashioned) people don’t have to attend your wedding at all and quite frankly are probably looking for a good excuse not to waste their time doing so.  Being told to give cash is a good excuse for me to say *I regret*.  Whcih means I don’t need to send you any cash or even a bad Elvis velvet painting.   Saves you some rubber chicken.  Saves me the waste of my time  watching your insufferable selfishness unfold into a life of *me me me greed greed greed* as well as the cash.  The fact that you don’t have to pay for my wedding meal ought to be gift enough for you these days.

      (I was told by one couple when we inadvertently declined the invitation…oh that was ok…two less meals to buy).  Of  course, they had already been gifted by us. 

      • avatar D C says:

        I haven’t been to a wedding in a few years — I’m sure if my husband and I had the same wedding today that we had in 1981, everyone would think we were complete losers.  We chose the time of our wedding, 3pm, to avoid the expense of a dinner.  We actually had a reception.  We received our guests, served them punch and cake, mints and nuts, and mingled and talked with as many as we could for as long as wel could.  We had a 4 hour window on the venue, so there really wasn’t a whole lot of time, which saved us a lot of money.  The venue was something I wanted very very much, and we COULD have used my father-in-law’s church and fellowship hall and had it all night long.  My mother couldn’t afford that, and neither could I.  I had the wedding of my dreams.  My dreams just weren’t very extravagant.  We’re coming up on our 30th anniversary in December.  Maybe the two are somehow connected? 

      • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

        I am not sure how asking for cash is any more selfish than putting items on a gift registry that you want.  It is just the form of the gift.  You are still free to give them what you want, just as you do not have to give them that expensive set of china on the gift registry.  To suggest that those who request cash are somehow insufferably selfish is illogical. 

        • avatar Sadie BB says:

          When it comes to money, logic has its limits…for instance on a romantic occasion presenting a $1000 gold bracelet is just not going to have the same effect as presenting $1000!

          And your culture may be fine with requesting money as a wedding gift. Mine isnt. Neither culture trumps the other, however much words like ‘tacky’ (for cash) or ‘old-fashioned’ (against cash) are flung about

    • avatar Karrin Cooper says:

      Wow ok WHERE to start (and still be polite):

      1. I would fall over in adoration if someone gifted me with a set of Wustof knives! Are you kidding me?! It is every chef’s DREAM!

      2. My husband and I WORKED to buy our home. We SAVED for our honeymoon and no I am not ‘old fashioned’ by any means. However, as you stated ‘”It is sad that in this day and age of financial irresponsibility'” (your words) that one feels it is ok to ask for money instead of working for what they want. So that rather makes your statement a bit ironic, no??

      • avatar John Lee says:

        1.  Giving Wustof knives, whatever they are, sounds really expensive.  With the average American having what, at least $1000 in credit card debt (prob more like $5000, I didn’t check), that would be the definition of fiscal irresponsibility.  I’m sure it’s a chef’s dream, but maybe using that money for a house payment or paying off debt would be a better idea??

        2.  Um…  I have zero debt and am as financially responsible as humanly possible.  No school loans (I got a full scholarship) and worked during my summers.  I saved up enough to pay for my wedding and honeymoon without having to incur a cent in debt.  No credit card debt ever and I grew up as a son of minimum wage working poor immigrants.  How does asking for money to pay for a house, instead of asking for Wustof knives make anyone not fiscally responsible?  What irony?

        I never demand gifts of any kind.  That’s not the debate – anyone asking for a money gift is no more making a demand than someone asking for registry gifts.  People are complaining about the money gift pretending they are offended because they felt like it’s a demand.  Just admit it’s the money aspect and nothing to do with a demand because a wedding registry is just as much of a demand, if that how you want to take it.

    • avatar Donna Sampson says:

      I have to agree with you John Lee. What is a wedding gift about? It’s about helping the newly wedded couple get a start in their lives. Since more and more people have started their lives on their own before getting married, then the start they need help with is not the “smal affordable gadgets” part, but the house part. Why give them another toaster they don’t need when they DO need money? I was brought up to appreciate whatever anyone gave me, but I usually give couples money because I know they need money. When my oldest was getting married, she had a registry. Most things they needed were more expensive than one person would buy. A vaccuum cleaner, for instance, is something they needed, but was more expensive than one person would buy. If people gave money, then she could take the money  the Jones’ gave, the Smiths’ gave, and the whoever’s gave, put it together and buy the vaccuum cleaner. It’s not about being greedy, but about being real. The need is money, not more gadgets.

      • avatar Karrin Cooper says:

        Really? I got 2 wonderful gifts at my wedding that I treasure far more than money: a bottle of fine smooth Tequila that I still have half the bottle in the fridge 3 years on. Everytime I toast with it I remember my friends who gave it to us. The second was from a very lovely couple I adore that were thoughts for the Bride and Groom. Every morning when I get up I see them on the wall. It makes me smile thinking of my friend Royce who not only gave me away at my wedding in all his Clan Gunn glory, but passed a year