Ask the Grumpies: What to do with bad houseguests?

Wally Waffles asks:

A friend of mine with two kids wants to visit me this summer and stay at my house. The two kids (both girls – who are like 11 and 7?) do absolutely nothing to help out when they are visiting. Nothing. They don’t even take their own plates to the kitchen after dinner. I’m single with no kids, so feel uncomfortable asking them to do things – but it is a source of tension for me. We spent xmas together last year and I felt like I was having to do everything for the two kids and their dad (who also does nothing). And I really needed a vacation too! Any advice on how someone who doesn’t have kids can address this? I just don’t want to have them come and wreak havoc on my house and expect me to do everything for them. I will be resentful and frustrated. Of course, I could ask them to stay elsewhere, but this is an ongoing issue.

#Disclaimer.  We’re from the Midwest and midwestern hospitality rules are clear that good guests clean up after themselves and offer to help in the kitchen and doing yardwork and maybe helping with that new deck or whatever big project the host has been putting off (if healthy and able to help).  Hosts are to play the 3 asks game with the guests to determine which help they are willing to accept and which help they aren’t (as well as the extent to which guests actually want to help).  We understand that hospitality rules outside the Midwest aren’t quite so orchestrated, but guests should still use the rule that they provide as little work as possible for the host, including cleaning up after themselves, as a minimum, and offer to help out otherwise.  They should also take the host for a meal out and pay for it.

The dad who does nothing is the bigger problem than the kids in terms of being a good host. You can ask the kids to put plates away but it’s less polite to ask the dad. I mean, you still can, but it depends on how good of friends you are. He sounds like he was raised in a barn and is raising his children the same way.

Personally I wouldn’t have them at my house. It sounds awful. I would have a hard time spending time with the guy at all.

That said you have options.

1. See what happens when you cheerfully ask the dad to help out in the kitchen and tell the girls it’s cleanup time. This could go fine or it could result in dad writing a dear Wally letter later (my parents got a bizarre letter telling them they were awful hosts for asking the husband of a couple help with outside (bbq) grilling when they stayed at our house while traveling across the country—no big loss).

2. Talk to the dad ahead of time saying you’re happy to have them but you were exhausted last year/last summer and they need to help out.

3. They stay elsewhere or just don’t visit this year.

Back when I was always on childcare duty at DH’s in-laws, I would make sure every play session ended with a clean-up session.  Kids were willing to take instruction from me.  I have never felt the least qualm telling other people’s kids to help out.  And I’m perfectly happy for other people to instruct my kids to clean up after themselves (#daycare).  Some parents don’t like it though. So it’s not like it’s a sure thing– the dad might get irritated.  If he does, then you have to think about how much you value his friendship if he gets upset vs. you being resentful from him being a dick.

They may know this song (not from Barney, but from preschool or elementary school).  Almost every kid I’ve interacted with knows exactly what to do when I start singing it and sings along too.:

But again, the problem is not the kids– you can ask them to pick up after themselves.  It’s the Dad who is old enough to know better and is old enough to be a good example and to guide his kids.

Grumpy Nation:  What advice do you have for Wally?

Ask the grumpies: Postpone sabbatical to try for funding or not?

Lisa asks:

I’m curious about your experiences being on leave. I am supposed to be on sabbatical in the spring, but the sabbatical funding I applied for did not pan out, and I have been so preoccupied with the mess [in my department] that I have been unable to make an alternate plan. I’m trying to decide whether to cancel/postpone my sabbatical or go ahead with it and hang out elsewhere as much as possible. I won’t be able to offload everything, but could offload some of it. But I hate to “waste” a sabbatical and don’t think postponing would be a problem (the Dean is well aware of the mess and the amount of involvement I have with it). It sounds like the leave has been good for you even if you’re not really “gone”.

I would definitely see what the rules are on postponing— Ours are competitive and we’re not allowed to postpone.  Also if you get a sabbatical after X years, does that mean your next sabbatical won’t be until X+1 years?

I knew the department head in another related department and just asked if I could have a desk over there.  It’s in another building.  He said yes and wrote me a letter of support.  They had space to give me a desk in an office with a window, which I wasn’t expecting.  There’s even a couch although it’s a bit musty.  (Everyone remarks on how cool the couch is but nobody actually sits on it.)  I changed my parking permit over and informed my current head that those were the dates I was no longer doing service (though I actually did process a bunch of course waivers after that date, and of course I also did the promotion and tenure stuff I wasn’t allowed to not do).

You should be able to offload everything. The best part of sabbatical is breaking service ties and starting fresh when you get back. (I won’t be able to this time— the chair has kept my spot for me as program coordinator and we’re now hiring for 6 new positions instead of just the 5. And adding I don’t know how many new programs without any thought put into them because the new college president values speed over anything else.). If you can’t do that it might make sense to wait until you can.

For academic readers– saving up for a half-paid full year leave is wonderful if you can do it. The first time we were able to do it, DH really got why savings might be useful.  Before then I think it was just something he did because it made me freak out less.

I’ve definitely felt more “away” when I’ve actually been in another state and my time away has been more respected in those instances.  But also we haven’t had to deal with finding housing or renting out our house, so that’s something.  Currently our furnishings are probably too worn to rent to people and there’s that awful Trump flag across the street.

Grumpy academics:  What are your thoughts on local vs. away sabbaticals and on postponing a year?

Ask the grumpies: Do you loofah?

Leah asks:

 Loofah/Scrubbie or washcloth or hands to clean your body?

#1 I guess a washcloth or nothing?  Depending on if it’s a bath or shower.

#2 Loofah

Ask the grumpies: Do procrastinators sink or swim come college time?

First Gen American asks:

How many of your chronic procrastinator students sink vs swim come college time? Asking for a friend.

If you’re talking about my students here at the R1 where I work… most of them do just fine.  They’re smart and they’re good at pulling things off last minute.  Sure, they might get Bs instead of As, and maybe the occasional C, but they’re fine.  It’s not that hard for procrastinators who were good enough to get into the school to do fine in my major.  Because generally they’re smart or they couldn’t have procrastinated and gotten in.

If you’re talking about student at say, MIT or Caltech… not so much.  There is a lot of sinking.  The people who do well aren’t necessarily the smartest (smart, definitely, but necessarily super-geniuses) but they’re the ones who can handle failure and know how to work hard and start early.

Which reminds me also:  DH taught in an engineering major at my R1, and his students were definitely sinking.  They’d sunk out of one major and into his and many of them were on their way to Political Science (where they would likely be fine) or just dropping out.

In the above two engineering situations, people were smart enough to get in and had enough flex in their high schools to be able to deal with procrastination, but they couldn’t cut it once they got to college.

Academic Grumpeteers, what’s been your experience with procrastinators?

Ask the grumpies: Will your kids be paying a portion of their college costs?

bogart asks:

[Are] people are planning to have their kids pay a portion of college costs and if so, how much.

Background: I have 1 kid and expect to be able to afford to send him anywhere (this is more a function of an employer’s tuition benefit than household wealth, though we are not comfortably off). Both I and my stepkids (whose college I also helped pay for) graduated college with some debt, not an obscene amount (let’s say 1/3 of our first year’s anticipated salary had we gotten an entry-level college-graduate job). I’m inclined to expect roughly the same for my DC, with him either working summers (or whatever) and/or taking on (sensibly financed) student loans. But at this point that’s just a vague notion, not an actual plan. I’m interested to learn what others’ thoughts are on the pros/cons of college kids investing some of their own current/future $$$ on their education, with a note that I definitely know that needing to work lots while in college creates lots of problems for lots of people and don’t want that for DC. And also whether DC does or doesn’t cover what I’m (vaguely) thinking of as a reasonable amount isn’t going to have a big impact on our household’s financial well-being one way or the other. And that I realize I’m lucky and frighteningly privileged to be able to say that.

Related posts: Should parents pay for their childrens’ college?  You can read this deliberately controversial post for why we think the argument that people won’t care about their own education unless they’re paying for it themselves is not a great one.

We are planning on paying full tuition, basic living expenses, and textbooks/etc. expenses for our kids in college.  Probably we’ll also pitch in for one of those overpriced refrigerator/microwave units for the dorm room.  If there are any loans, we will take them on.

I figure they can pay for any extras (meals at restaurants… not sure what else… concert tickets?  plane tickets to visit significant others?  stuffed animals?) out of their earnings, either summer earnings or work during the school year.  My friend whose kid is at Brown is paying for full dining hall PLUS multiple restaurant nights a week, though she just had a conversation with him about that.  (But Mommmmm, the restaurants are so good here!)

Not sure about masters degrees– we will cross that bridge if we come to it.

I graduated with my parents paying the 0% interest subsidized loans they’d taken out on my behalf (we were very low income).  DH graduated with 10K of unsubisidized debt at ~8% interest that we scrimped like crazy to pay off ASAP.  I worked for spending money for extras during the school year and DH worked over the summers.

Paying college tuition is a great way to transfer money to the next generation while avoiding gift/inheritance taxes.  It also doesn’t have the problem of creating more expenses like giving someone a house downpayment would nor does it teach people to live large when they can’t really afford to like giving them cash or a fancy car would.  So if you can afford it, why not?

Leah adds:

I was super grateful that my mom helped me graduate debt free by picking up extra shifts nursing. I think the path to take depends on your family. I totally understood the value of what my mom did for me. I worked hard in college. I had a work study job, got extra scholarships each year, and worked for the school newspaper. There’s more than one way to teach being fiscally prudent. Do what works for your family.

Grumpy Nation:  Those of you who partook of higher education, who paid for it?  If applicable, what do you plan to do/did you do for your kids?

Ask the Grumpies: What is UP with the UK?

CG asks:

WTF happened in the UK over the past few weeks? I mean, wasn’t all of that an obviously bad idea? Or is there something I’m missing?

Please correct me in the comments if I get anything wrong.  Here’s a wikipedia article.  Check out October.

From what I understand the country needs to riot until they call a general election and kick the evil Tories out of power. But evil rich people like Tories.

So I’ve been getting most of my news on this from a combination of the kj_charles twitter account and the maureen johnson twitter account.

So um.. Brexit was this thing, this really stupid thing, where the UK is like, let’s stop being part of the EU and thus bring terrible financial distress to our country.  Like, they put it up to a popular vote and there was misinformation and xenophobia and people basically thought it wouldn’t pass and then it did.  They tried a lot of different ways to “soft” Brexit but none of them really worked and there were lots of changes of Prime Minister trying to deal with this, and now they’re actually going through the separation with predicted negative consequences.  The worst prime minister was Boris Johnson, a Trump wannabe and head of the Tory party, which is the party of the super rich upper crust.  They hate the poors and want all the money to go to the rich.  This is all background.

So… what happened recently?

Well, um… Boris Johnson got in trouble when it came to light that instead of following lock-down orders they themselves had instituted, his government spent lock-down partying maskless in enclosed spaces.  I really like the way the UK press grabbed a hold of this and made it an Issue because president Trump did worse but the US press just kind of gave up on being shocked and went straight to that’s just the way it is and will always be, which ugh.  There was finally enough anger among the UK public that he actually stepped down.

He was replaced by some woman named Liz Truss who immediately put forward some horrific policies that would insanely cut taxes for the super wealthy while cutting benefits for the poor and middle class.  That did not go over well — international criticism, tanking stocks, upset public.  She gave up on that and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was dismissed.  A few days later she resigned.  The “lettuce” thing that people were joking about was because the Daily Star bet that their lettuce would last longer than she would as Prime Minister.  And they were right.

Also Queen Elizabeth died and was replaced by King Charles shortly after Liz Truss took office.

Boris Johnson flew back from the Dominican Republic where he was vacationing or something to put his hat back in the ring to be Prime Minister again, and then after announcing he had the votes (which was a lie) he said on second thought he didn’t actually want the position anyway.

The current prime minister is Rishi Sunak (assuming nothing changes between when I write this and Friday), which, yay being the first British Asian Prime Minister, but boo being an evil Tory.

Apparently if people get upset enough they can do a general election and people can vote the Tories out of power, but right now it looks like that’s not going to happen this month.  But who knows, there’s still a few days left.

Soliciting more Ask the Grumpies!

Ask the grumpies is a feature we run almost every Friday. You ask, we answer, or we punt and ask the grumpy nation to answer. In any case, you get the benefit of not only our wisdom but the collective wisdom of the far wiser grumpy nation.

If you’ve asked one that we didn’t answer, we deeply apologize because we must have lost it.  Please ask it again and we will do better!

What questions do you have for us? What can we bring clarity or further confusion to? What can the grumpy nation ponder and discuss on your behalf? Ask in the comments below or email us at grumpyrumblings at gmail dot com.

p.s.  You can ask the grumpies a question at any time, not during these annual-ish question drives, but without these drives we wouldn’t be able to run Ask the Grumpies every week.

Ask the grumpies: Academic jobs tricks

CG asks:

Jedi mind tricks for academic jobs in general.

I like the, “Yes, but…” when it comes to service.  Yes, I will do this service thing, but I have to stop doing this other thing.

Staying out of fights about molehills is another one.

If you want to get something done at a faculty meeting, talking to people one-on-one before the faculty meeting to get them on board.

If you’re running a meeting, make sure you have an agenda.  Also start the meeting on time even if only one other person is there.  Once you have a reputation for this, people stop wandering in late as much.

Grumpy Academics, what are your jedi mind tricks for academic jobs in general? 

Ask the grumpies: FL fascism in higher ed

Rose asks:

Anyone wanting to comment on FL and declaring political affiliations of professors/teachers and students? Any one believe there will be no retaliation? Will proof be required? How can proof be given if a private ballot is involved? How does tenure get impacted?

Apparently this was an urban legend started by a Salon headline.  University of Florida professors/teachers are not required to declare their political affiliations.


Florida House Bill 233 requires an assessment of the “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” at state colleges and universities.

So professors were asked about their political affiliation in an anonymous survey.  This will no doubt be used for evil political purposes to cut funding to universities and to keep students from going to college (“too liberal”) and maybe to funnel public money into evil private institutions like Liberty University.  Who knows.

So… it’s bad.  But also it’s not attaching a person’s political affiliation to their name anywhere.  Other, than, you know, where it’s already attached if you vote in primaries or donate to political candidates.

Ask the grumpies: What’s your take on Oster’s interview about gun violence?

OMDG asks:

What’s your take on the Emily Oster interview of the ED Dr at brown about gun violence? 

I am sorry to disappoint, but sadly the interview is only available to paid subscribers and Emily Oster really does not need my money.  (She and Jesse make waaaaay more than DH and I do.)

From what I can tell, the interview is with Megan Ranney, so I looked to see what else she’s been saying on media recently.  Here’s a Boston Globe article.

Ranney said she believes all of the actions being taken by the Biden Administration on gun violence are significant and important, all for different reasons. But the investment in community violence programs is key, she said.

Everything she says in the article seems to be sensible and to be following our best knowledge about preventing gun violence and gun deaths at this time.  She’s also got a Ted talk, and many other interviews online that aren’t pay to access.  I think she knows what she is talking about.  I assume she doesn’t say anything wild and crazy in the Emily Oster interview.

Grumpy Nation:  What do you all think?