Dear Amy: My son has been bringing his longterm high school sweetheart, “Terry,” to our home for supper now for a couple of years.
Terry was not brought up with table manners, and as a matter of fact, her family doesn’t even own a dining table. They eat in front of the TV or in their bedrooms by themselves.
She arrives without saying hello, picks at her food, and worst of all picks her fingernails and split ends before and after the meal at the table.
I haven’t said anything so as not to put a rift between us.
The behavior is thoughtless and rude. She acts as though she could not care less about our family dinner hour.
Please advise me how to kindly counsel her. My husband and I have had enough!
Sabotaged Suppertime Dear Sabotaged: Poor girl! I can understand why she spends so many suppers at your house – her own seems devoid of important mealtime closeness.
Even though “Terry” seems rude and disengaged while at your table, it is likely because she simply does not know how else to behave and is possibly embarrassed by the contrast between your households.
Because she hasn’t received even nominal training or guidance at home, you should offer it to her at your house.
You could do this in stages, exactly as you would with a young child. Start by asking her (and your son) to help you set the table. Show her where implements and glasses go and ask her to fold the napkins and place them under the fork. Engage her in various cooking tasks such as chopping vegetables and making a salad. Ask her what her favorite dishes are, and see if she and your son could cook from a recipe for the family.
During meals, engage and include her in conversation (please remember, she has never done this before). The more engaged she is, the less she will fall back on her anxious (or unconscious) behaviors.
After the meal, depending on who did the cooking, she and your son should clear the table and take care of washing the dishes.
I hope you will continue to approach this with patience. If you are able to bring her along, it could have a profound impact on her.