DEAR MISS MANNERS: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought our 34-year-old son back under our roof – temporarily, we all fervently hope. For now, we are back to family dinnertime, like we used to have years ago.
In some ways, that is a silver lining. I do enjoy his company, and he gives us some support.
However, his table manners seem to have lost something over time. He wolfs his food in huge bites, sometimes so big they’re falling out of his mouth, and he seems to be practically swallowing his food whole, gulping noisily.
When he’s dined with us as a guest, I didn’t notice this so much, but now it is every night. So far as I know, he’s never been fed skimpy portions – I always make sure there’s more than enough to go around – and no one is threatening to grab food off his plate if he doesn’t eat fast enough.
He typically just sits with an empty plate while others finish, and he seldom goes for seconds. I tend to think it’s just a bad habit from living by himself, but I don’t know.
It’s well past time for me to be correcting his eating habits, but this is bothering me at mealtime and affecting my own appetite. It seems like a poor compliment to my cooking for him to gobble indiscriminately, as if it were dog food. What’s more, he will (I trust) resume his professional career when things get better, and he risks making a very poor impression when colleagues or prospective employers invite him to lunch.
I don’t know how to speak to him about this without making him feel like a reprimanded child. It’s hard enough not falling back into a mom role with this grown man who’s now back in his old room. I don’t want to introduce resentment or strife. But I’m starting to dread mealtimes with his unexpectedly savage behavior. I didn’t bring him up that way. What do you suggest?
GENTLE READER: Welcome back to Family Dinner. If you recall, those were the occasions on which you taught not only table manners, but conversation, nutrition, pretending interest in how others spent the day, and other such basic skills of civilization.
Time for a refresher course.
Miss Manners understands that the remedial approach should be somewhat different. Perhaps not, “because I’m your mother, and I say so,” or even, “You don’t want to make a bad impression on others” – because your son has, presumably, been getting along for some time (either without business lunches, or among other gobblers). Although maybe that’s why he is living by himself.
But health arguments, which have no effect on children, work with grownups. If you are not afraid that he will choke on those huge, unchewed bites, you should be. Please insist that he slow down so that you are not in terror of having to perform a Heimlich maneuver.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.
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