Carolyn Hax: Martinis and maternity raise a red flag for worried mom of adult daughter

Carolyn Hax
Columnist April 17

Dear Carolyn:

My 30-year-old daughter, who lives in another state, has informed me she and her husband are ready to start a family and have stopped using birth control. However, they both drink socially, sometimes fairly heavily.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My daughter has mentioned that her doctor says light drinking during pregnancy is okay. I expressed my concern, once, and sent her some information about the effects of alcohol on a fetus at various stages, including in early pregnancy, to which she didn’t respond. And I continue to see postings on Facebook of my daughter enjoying wine, beer, bloody marys, martinis . . .

This would be my first grandchild and I don’t want to start out being overbearing and opinionated. But I remember how careful I was when I was pregnant and am concerned she might cause permanent harm to her baby, even before she knows she’s pregnant. What, if anything, is my responsibility here?

A Concerned Mother


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

Overbearing, check; opinionated, check. Your heart is in the right place but your actions crossed the line.

Voicing your concern was a natural response to a mom-to-be-to-be who posts cocktail selfies on Facebook. Sending the article, though, was the shot across the bow by someone who’d rather indulge her own fears than respect a boundary. It warned your daughter that, in your eyes, she’s either ignorant about fetal health or too irresponsible to act on what she knows.

Crossing that line once is certainly forgivable, but now you’ve got to rein yourself in or risk being That Grandma.

I’m not unsympathetic. The position you’re in is one of the toughest ones going: You’re generally correct, specifically unsure, largely powerless, and the stakes are high.

Where you’re correct: Drinking “fairly heavily” while trying to get pregnant is just a head-shaker.

Where you’re unsure: You don’t actually know how much your daughter is drinking. You also don’t know whether she’ll get pregnant next week, next year, or ever.

Where you’re powerless: You can’t swat the drinks out of her hand. You can only fret about sending articles, send articles, fret about saying something, say something, or just fret — lousy choices all.

Trying to assert control is not the answer, though. Your responsibilities are limited to assessing what you actually know (vs. fear, suspect, see on Facebook . . .); weighing the potential benefit of action vs. the risk either of inaction or of offending; and understanding that your reach into the life of another adult is at her pleasure.

Since you’ve said (and sent) your piece, please consider your to-do list exhausted. Now your focus needs to shift to being the person she can trust not to get into her business. Counterintuitive, yes, but it will position you to be much more influential than if you keep trying to influence her.

It often helps in these situations to have self-calming techniques ready. In this case, I suggest making a conscious decision to trust the daughter you raised, the one who used birth control right up to the point when she and her husband decided together they were ready for children, and who is talking to a doctor about what is and isn’t okay for pregnancy.

When you remember “how careful” you were, also remember that was your choice. It’s your daughter’s turn to make hers.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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