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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Responding to Unintentionally Hurtful Remarks on Parenting

DEAR MISS MANNERS: At a gathering four years ago, I politely greeted a young father and mother, although I don’t know them well, and said hello to their 6-year-old daughter, Mia. Mia glowered at me and said nothing. Her mother said, “She’s not talking today.”

This took me by surprise, so I responded, “Well, please tell her that I said hello.” The mother apparently took great offense and said, “She can HEAR you! She’s just not talking!”

I was so embarrassed and caught off-guard that I think I said “Oh, my,” and stepped away. Four years later, the mother and Mia still seem to regard me with contempt. I don’t know what I did wrong in this very awkward situation. Did I handle it badly? What should I have done differently?

GENTLE READER: Silence and glowering seem to run rampant in their family. Barring sickness or a disability (and even those should come with an explanation from the parent), Mia’s reaction was unacceptable. It is wrong to teach a child that ignoring people with mean looks, if and when they feel like it, is acceptable behavior.

Your response was not only justified, it was the only graceful way to have handled it. It certainly did not merit a four-year grudge. Miss Manners recommends that you avoid this family in the future -- as it seems that they have made it impossible to do otherwise.