Dear Margo: No Need for a Hostage Situation

Margo-Howard_tall10Margo Howard’s advice

No Need for a Hostage Situation

Dear Margo: I have a delicate situation with my husband. His 24-year-old daughter is living with us — and our two young sons — and I want her out of our house, but he doesn’t want to be the bad guy and tell her to leave. I’m beginning to get angry and am starting to resent his passivity.

We have a dicey history with her. Her parents divorced when she was 11, and her mother got custody. Her father and I met when his daughter was 13, and we married a year later. She never wanted to live with us full time, because her mother let her do whatever she wanted, but she’d come to us when she was angry at her mother or stepfather and then go back when she got angry at us for enforcing rules and requiring small chores.

As a teenager, she often wouldn’t talk to us unless she wanted her dad to buy her something. When she graduated from high school, she stayed with us for a month, and it was a tense, drama-filled time that ended with her storming out and moving back in with her mother and my husband telling her she would not be allowed to live with us again. The relationship was repaired after that.

Six months ago, she went to my husband and asked to move in with us for a month or two while she purchased a house. My husband told her he would talk to me about it — instead of saying no right away, which I wish he had done. Since it was going to be for a short time, I agreed. Well, apparently, the house she’s trying to buy is a short sale that is taking a very long time to process. It has now been six months, and “the guest” is lazy and self-centered and barely speaks to us. I’m afraid if I insist on her moving out, he will resent me later, but I don’t know how long I can put on a happy face and just deal with it. Should I continue to wait it out, or should I insist that she leave? — Frustrated in Wash.

Dear Frus: It sounds as though your husband shares your views but cannot get it together to tell her to leave. Because you’ve been caught in a repetitious cycle with this kid, I’m pretty sure this is the end of the line. I suggest you offer to be “the bad guy” and tell the young woman to get a roommate or make other arrangements because her “month or two” is up. The healthiest thing for your marriage, as well as your young children, is to reclaim your household. There can be no better motivator for this girl to get her act together than her father saying “basta,” even if you are the messenger. — Margo, resolutely

Re: “No Gifts, Please”  

Dear Margo: I’m going to a wedding of an older couple soon. The invitation says, “No gifts, please,” but I would like to give them one anyway. My choices are a charitable donation (a few friends did not care for that one), a check for the amount I would have spent on a present or a gift certificate for dinner at a good restaurant. I would appreciate guidance. — Bella

Dear Bel: I, like you, sometimes override the stipulation of “no gifts, please.” Truly, no one ever minds. In this situation, I think the most celebratory thing to give is a gift certificate for a dinner a deux. And mail the card to the residence, as opposed to bringing it to the wedding. Ain’t love grand? — Margo, festively

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


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52 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Florafloraflora says:

    I like giving gifts, and I like the idea of responding to “no gifts, please” with a certificate for a nice dinner. I wouldn’t give an object that’s going to stick around, though, no matter how perfect I thought it was. That can be a huge burden, just the situation “no gifts, please” is designed to prevent.

  2. avatar seeleybooth says:

    For the couple does not want a gift, that request should be honored. Most say this because they do NOT want or need gifts. To give a gift and ignore their request is selfish and self centered of the gift giver. Go to the wedding, be happy for the couple, the end.

    • avatar D C says:

      I think the No gifts line is to make clear that the couple is established, doesn’t need anything, and only wants your company so that anyone who might not go because they can’t afford a gift would have no reason to miss the party. I also think your idea that anyone who would stoop so low as to give a gift card for dinner is selfish and self centered is ridiculous. I can’t imagine anyone I know having their party ruined because someone had the audacity to pay for a future dinner! How DARE they~! Seriously, lighten up. I do agree with Margo’s advice to send the gift to the home and not bring it to the wedding. So you go to the party, you dance, you celebrate and congratulate the happy couple and a few days later they get a nice little something in the mail that tells them you just couldn’t contain your overflowing happiness for them and continued to pile it on a little bit. How can that be bad?

  3. avatar Ariana says:

    Is there a polite way of saying: “No ‘stuff’ or gifts?” on an invitation, or is there such a thing as a gift-certificate only wedding registry? That would be cool :)

    • avatar Ariana says:

      I meant: No ‘stuff’ as gifts

      • avatar D C says:

        There are ALL sorts of registries now. I know a couple that contracted with a travel agency and their registry was only for payments to their honeymoon trip registry. What I think of that particular form of registry is irrelevant — a registry is to tell people what you’d prefer to have if they have no idea what to get. Some people have very clear ideas of what they want people to have, and they get offended and feel the people they are gifting must be moron’s to want that. Those people don’t have the same concept of gift giving that I do.

        • avatar dcarpend says:

          I’m okay with registries, but only as suggestions to those who wish to use them. To insist that no one give you anything not on your registry or you’ll go into a snit is to reduce gift giving from a thoughtful expression of friendship to demanding that others fulfill your shopping list. Anyone who can not be grateful that a friend thought, “Oh, Sue and Jim would love this!” and bought them a gift doesn’t deserve to have anything to be grateful for, and is too damned immature to be getting married.

    • avatar Patti Spencer says:

      Ariana – I know that my husband and I explained on our gift registries that we would be traveling between the wedding and honeymoon and that gift cards would be most appreciated! We live in Virginia, got married in Michigan and traveled between New York and Pennsylvania for a week and didn’t want to have the gifts with us. Most people honored this. We also both had had our own places before we got married and what we really needed was the expensive stuff, so we were able to combine the gift cards and get what we needed!! I know that gift cards are a great way to go because if you only have a limited amount of money to spend, you can stay with in your budget and the couple doesn’t get a ton of stuff they don’t want, need or need to take back and exchange – that was the biggest pain!

      • avatar dcarpend says:

        On the other hand, every time I use the beautiful hand-painted ceramic platter with our names and wedding dates glazed in, I think of the kind family who ordered it from the artisan for me, and were so kind as to send it. Gifts can stand as a tangible reminder of a bond, and I think it’s very sad to see them reduced to “Oh, just give us money, and we’ll buy what we want.”

    • avatar dcarpend says:

      Miss Manners says that there is no polite way to say “no gifts” in an invitation, because it is rude to assume people will give you gifts, and even ruder to try to manipulate people’s generosity.

      Registries are passable, she says, but not listed in the invitation — only to be mentioned if someone asks.

      • avatar Katharine Gray says:

        I’ll give the *no gifts* people a pass on lack of etiquette because they are not being greedy guts but I understand where Miss Manners is coming from. As far as putting the registry or request for cash on the invitation, I’m with Miss Manners. As for asking for cash…or financing your honeymoon…or your new house…or whatever…. on the invitation or at the gift shop, I’m with Miss Manners that its impolite, presumptuous and just bad form. I have never been confronted with that situation but if I were, I think I would be inclined to decline the invitation and send a congratulatory card. And for those who wonder *but how will people know where I’m registered if I don’t put it on the invitation?* I have never had a problem asking the bride, groom, or parent thereof where they are registered and usually (unless its a dear friend who I know would appreciate something else just as much as whats on the list) buy from the registry.

        I think the gift certificate to a nice restaurant is a great way to let the couple who are not greedy guts that you are happy for them but obviously, its not necessary.

        • avatar D says:

          If you are going to not attend a wedding to which you were invited because you do not like what the couple is asking, you did not care much for the couple to begin with and were probably looking for an excuse not to go.

      • avatar JCF4612 says:

        That is quite correct.

        • avatar Katharine Gray says:

          You are right, I would not want to attend a wedding when the obvious purpose of the invitation to me would be to get money and not because they cared about sharing their day with me. And, I’m sure a couple who would be so crass about asking their guests to give them exactly what they want on this occasion will probably gleefully be counting the rejection cards so they don’t have to pony up for the meal/drinks/whatever (but maybe they will have a cash bar and ask their guests to throw money in a bowl or attach it to the brides dress to pay for the meal).

  4. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #2 – I agree with Margo on this one, a simple gift certificate to dinner mailed to their home would be well received and respectful of their desire for no gifts. Which usually means don’t make a big deal of this, we simply want your attendance to our special day. I love that idea and echo the “Congrats” to this couple.

    Letter #1 -I disagree with Margo on this one. The Step mom needs to keep her mouth shut. At least when it comes to confronting the daughter. Her beef should be with her husband and her husband alone.

    If she has over stayed her original plan of a couple of months, it is dad that needs to say something. The reality is he may not be as irritated by her stay as his wife is assuming he is. This may indeed be what is behind his reluctance to say anything to her. That is an issue for the husband and wife and illustrates a breakdown in their relationship far more than dad and daughter.

    • avatar BeanCounter says:

      They’re equal partners in the marriage, and thus…she has every right to say what needs to be said, if the husband can’t. I think saying something may bring a tidal wave of problems, true, but it might also bring the issue to a head…..something that has been skated around for a long time now, apparently.

      • avatar ann penn says:

        And remember- she needs to act to protect her younger children from this very bad example of how one behaves.

        But another tactic might be to set rules by which she will be able to stay. Pleasant conversation, helping with household tasks, possibly paying a token rent or at least “board” for her food, etc.. and NOT talking back are some ways she could contribute. It’s a long shot, but if they were forced to treat each other as adults, perhaps some of the hostility would go. And she needs to contribute to the household in some way, even if it is not monetarily, or she needs to go.

  5. avatar Cindy M says:

    L #1: Isn’t it just like a man (in familial situations) to leave it to 2 women to “duke it out” and then gloat about how “women just can’t get along.” Men in these situations need to GROW A PAIR and deal with it. But no, it’s on you apparently. He’ll no doubt continue wimping out, and she’s 24 years old. Either continue grinding your teeth in frustration or simply tell her. And if husband gives you attitude about it, tell him off.

    • avatar kseeley says:

      let’s not make generalizations about genders, or any other group, regardless of how true or not true they may be. it’s just small of you.

  6. avatar cathy5893 says:

    If she hasn’t already, LW2 should verify that stepdaughter is actually trying to buy a house, and it wasn’t just a ruse to be allowed to move in.

  7. avatar martina says:

    LW#1 – My father went through this with my brother. It was difficult for him because my brother had his kids with him and the only reason my parents took him in was because of the kids. My father finally kicking him out was the best thing for all of them. Do as Margo says or you’re never going to get rid of them.

    We are taking a woman from our church’s Basket Social Planning Committee (emphasis on social because we spend more time socializing than planning) out for her birthday tonight because her husband (who she was separated from for five years and wouldn’t divorce her after her many requests the past two years to do so) committed suicide on her birthday last year and left her with a real financial mess. The group is asking me if we should get her a gift. If it were me, I personally would consider the party as more than gift enough and would not be comfortable accepting a gift. But that’s me. So, I suggested we get a birthday card (which we would have anyway) and everyone can donate what cash they want. I figure if they feel it’s OK then it’s just me that feels we shouldn’t. She can probably use the money and then use it on what she wants without us paying the gift card fees.

    I like the restaurant gift certificate idea. Otherwise, I would bring along a small token because I wouldn’t want to come empty handed. Bottle of wine, home made chocolates, something like that.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      That is tragic what happened to your friend. I didn’t think that one spouse can refuse a divorce though. Once you’re separated, you just have to file, and it doesn’t have to be willing. Might be different by state though.

      You’re all very kind to donate money since you know she’s in a financial rough spot. The dinner is of course present enough, but in this case, it’s a nice extra gesture, considering her current plight.

  8. avatar QuietGitl says:

    6 months to purchase on a short sale is not uncommon. The bank is waiting to see if someone else will come up with more money, and more likely than not, at this point I would expect them to decline the offer. (They may already have done so.) The realtor would promise anything at this point, because they want the sale to go through. I would kick her out, and I would go to her together, not alone. This has to come from you both so that she will not approach him alone, again — which she might do.
    Good luck.

  9. avatar lisakitty says:

    #1: You need to talk to your husband directly and let him deal with his daughter. But before you do that, research some alternative living situations for your step daughter. Some that come to mind here are extended stay hotels (not cheap), boarding houses, somebody you know with a room for rent, etc. Also suggest a timeline (a month? two?) for her to move out, and provide some sort of financial assistance in helping get her out if needed.

    It’s always best to come to the table with a potential solution instead of sounding like a whiner. The best way to get your husband to take action is to stop playing tug of war with him on this and to come up with a solution that will allow him to save face somehow with his daughter and yet maintain the peace in your own home. I must admit that I would have a hard time with this as well, because I think your children are learning that it’s ok to be lazy (“if it’s ok for my sister, than I can do that”) but the goal here is to get your husband to take care of it himself.

  10. avatar goldee 1975 says:

    Just a comment on the ‘no gifts’ request. Regardless of what the invitation says, it is customary as a guest to give something as a congratulatory gesture and a thank you to your hosts/the happy couple. I have a lot of friends who travel to their hometowns for their weddings, and in my culture, the “no gifts, please” is code for “we’d prefer money as opposed to having to cart a bunch of boxed gifts home.” If they’re a well-established couple and they truly don’t want ‘stuff’ or even cash, I would still give them a (very nice) bottle of champagne. The gift certificate is fine!

  11. avatar mac13 says:

    LW#1. Given your history with this young woman, you should have asked your husband “if a month or 2 turns into 6 what are you going to do?” before you let her move in. At this point I would ask her about the status of the home purchase and remind her that the month or 2 has become 6. If she doesn’t receive that well, lay the law down to your husband.

    LW#2. You knew what to do all along. Go with your gut.

  12. avatar Gemgal2000 says:

    LW#1 – Agree it would be good to have a solution to offer the daughter regarding her housing situation, even if she doesn’t take it, but absolutely DISAGREE that the husband has to be the one to kick her out. A) You can’t make him do it. Even if he should and knows he should, you can’t make him. B) It’s LW’s house too. She has every right to put an end to an unacceptable situation involving her house and her children. Seeking his input would be good so he has less cause for resentment later, but she can be the messenger.

  13. avatar dawn says:

    LW#1…hmm. I am wondering if this woman ever really tried to connect with her step-daughter. Apparently this your woman, at age 24, has established herself well enough to buy a house. That would indicate she is responsible, able to hold a productive job/career, get along with others, and not run with scissors. The young woman also asked to live with the ones that appear from the letter to be the more responsible set of parents. To me, seems something off or missing here…is the relationship between the father/step mom all it should be? Did the step mom ever try to have a real relationship with the young woman? Is the husband/father as unhappy about his daughter living there as the step mom relates? Too much missing info…short sales take time…let her live there once it is verified (tho seems no question about the purchase from the lw) that the purchase is proceeding. One thing for sure….Stepmom won’t be invited there for dinner!

  14. avatar dawn says:

    LW#2 I threw myself a 50th birthday party rather than wallow in self-pity. Said no gifts – got none…except the normal bring a bottle type to the house-party I cooked myself. I DID get hilarious cards and silly hats…and some gave me old photos or memories things. Absolutely nothing wrong with sending a thank you with a dinner certificate to a couples favorite place…but I bet, just bet, that couple would adore something commemorating their day – photos of the wedding, a certificate to go back there next year, a certificate to their favorite spot. No gifts means ~ to me ~ don’t spend money on me…I appreciate you, I appreciate your time, your presence…therefore I would appreciate more of you =)

  15. avatar kseeley says:

    “no one ever minds” actually this is not true. if i say “no gifts”, i mean no gifts. my family is the same. my brother understands that he is going to get christmas presents from me regardless every other year – he hates getting gifts (really, he does) and i hate not getting them, so every year one of us gets to be happy. but “no one ever minds”? not true. it’s just disrespectful to go against what someone has clearly stated they want – or do not want – without so much as a compromise or discussion.

  16. avatar judgingamy says:

    I feel sorry for LW1. If LW is going to agree to be the bad guy, she better tell her husband first. I can just see LW1 laying down the law with the stepdaughter, stepdaughter goes running and crying to her father, father backs up stepdaughter, and LW has to live with an even more hostile stepdaughter- or worse, a gloating one. Short sales can take a long time, and I think as the economy is starting to recover, they are getting less and less likely to be accepted. My parents had to wait 90 days just to be told it wasn’t going to happen. LW and her husband should tell the daughter that she has 2 weeks to find a new place. Maybe then can offer to pony up the security deposit for an apartment or something just to get her out of there.

  17. avatar Allaroundtheworld says:

    My partner and I are the type who are of the type who don’t give gifts and don’t want gifts given to ourselves. We’ve told all our friends and relatives this every year for the last 25 years and every year we still get gifts. We have felt that being together around birthdays and holidays and enjoying each others company is far more important than material objects, but still, each year we receive gifts from family around the major holidays. At first, we felt a bit guilty about not getting gifts for the family, but after telling them multiple times over many years that we will not be part of the gift giving exchange, we no longer do. Our family just enjoys giving gifts for us, and we have accepted it. They understand that we live on a very limited budget, that we will not put ourselves in debt for tradition, and that I’m not of the same faith as mine or his family faith. We do enjoy spending time with both of our families during these special times which is important to both of us, which is more important that material objects. I just never understood the idea of material items equating the importance of the day. I guess being a military brat and moving so much we never had much because we were moving so much so we always had to be ready to move in a moments notice, and we always live outside of the US. Living in so many different countries, we learned about many different cultuers and idea that didn’t put so much feeling into physical objects as gifts as much as being being there.

    • avatar dawn says:

      Love your message….it’s the time spent that matters; whether among friends relatives or strangers who later become friends….

  18. avatar dawn says:

    So not understanding why everyone is with LW1…24 yr old buying a house…not doing drugs not breaking laws, being quiet not causing havoc…just basically hurting stepmom’s sensabilities or feelings? I’m 56R