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Wednesday 16 October 2019

Dear Mary: Food for thought over expensive dinner bill

Parents often find themselves paying for meals when they all eat out as a family
Parents often find themselves paying for meals when they all eat out as a family

Mary O’Conor

Can you advise me on the best course of action for me to take? My son has arranged for himself, his girlfriend, her mother, my husband, daughter and myself to meet up for his birthday.

Whenever we meet him we always pay the bill.

Are we expected to pay for everyone this time too?

Both my husband and I were made redundant from long-term jobs two years ago and our salaries are greatly reduced.

Our son earns in the region of five times my salary yet never pays for anything, despite everything we have ever done for him.

We love him but being made to feel like we should always pay makes us reluctant to meet up with them and it is embarrassing to deal with.

Please help.

Mary replies: You raise a very interesting point, and one which I have often heard discussed.

At what stage do children become adults in their parents' eyes and when do children stop seeing their parents as parents?

Almost never seems to be the answer from what I hear. It is also true that parents never stop worrying about their children, no matter what age the adult children are. And in time this worry continues on regarding the grandchildren.

Given all this it is no wonder that parents find themselves paying for meals when they all eat out as a family.

One proud father of seven adults sons almost boasted to me that in all their years together, and all the meals they had shared, none of his sons had ever even offered to pay for a single meal.

And very recently an acquaintance was being remorseful when reflecting that herself and her daughters used to come back from living abroad for a month every year and stayed with her parents.

Now in later life she cannot believe that she never offered to help with the expense of four extra mouths to feed for a whole month while her parents were getting by on a very modest pension.

So it may be pure thoughtlessness on your son's part that he expects that you will foot the bill for everyone for the upcoming dinner.

But circumstances have changed dramatically for you and your husband having been made redundant, and the cost of a meal for six of you, plus drinks, could be quite prohibitive.

I think it would be a good idea for either yourself or your husband, or both together, to meet up with him or have a conversation next time he calls to the house.

Explain that while you hate to bring up the subject, your finances are more limited than previously and you would like to pay for yourselves and your daughter and he should take care of the other three.

This sounds like a very good compromise. Hopefully he will be mortified for having taken you so much for granted, and if not then you will have given him something to think about going forward.

I hope you don't find this too difficult. But five minutes of discomfort is far preferable to feeling resentful all through a dinner that you know you will be expected to finance.

And who knows - he may even offer to pay for the entire meal!

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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