Carolyn Hax: Not sure what to expect when she’s expecting

Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 7, 2011

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

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 husband and I are expecting our first. I know my mother is dreading the day that I tell her I am pregnant because anytime I call to tell her I have news (not baby-related), I hear her gasp for air on the other end of the line.

I am incredibly close to her, but she has never been interested in children, never actually wanted any of her own (although she loves us dearly) and has expressed dread at being a “grandmother.”

I have to see her in a couple of months for a family event honoring my brother and his wife, when I will be nearing the end of my first trimester. I am not sure how to tell her, how to not take away from the celebration of my brother and his wife, etc. I might show, and I know she’ll have radar about this . . . so holding out until after the event is probably out of the question.


Whoa baby

Your mom’s not a nurturer, fine, and she clearly did something right notwithstanding, because you’re “incredibly close” despite her open bias against kids.

But her “gasp for air” (!) tactics and your fear that your news will dent her enjoyment of a family event? No wonder she didn’t want kids; Mom is all about Mom.

If/when she reacts poorly to your news, say to her, gently and with a smile, “We did this for our joy, not your dismay.” Antisocial translation: STHU. I hope she surprises you (and herself) by being a great sport. Congratulations.

Carolyn:

I agree that Mom is quite often all about Mom (and my husband would definitely agree), but I think she really just wants what she thinks is best for me.

Mainly, she knows this will set back my career. She gave up several careers to take care of us, and while she realizes it was her decision, she was strong-armed a bit and her marriage has always been about what my dad wants. So I think she thinks I’ll be repeating her mistakes.

Also, I don’t think this will dent her enjoyment, but I think it will put the focus of the weekend on me instead of my brother and his wife. My brother is sensitive to that, and I fully admit he had to live in my shadow for many years.

Maybe I should tell them all (Brother, Dad, Mom) by e-mail before we all converge, but say I don’t want this to take away from Brother’s big weekend?

Whoa baby again

If you’re not showing, then tell them at the end of the weekend if at all. If you’re showing, then, yes, tell them beforehand.

You can keep the focus on your brother by deflecting attention or steering it back to him. And it’s not like you’re showing up with a newborn; you’re expecting, which a lot of people greet with “congrats” and then move on to the next topic. It’s a huge deal for you, but not a huge deal for mankind.

As for your mom, if she harps: “Choosing career over kids to fulfill your hopes for me would be no different from your choosing kids over career to fulfill Dad’s or society’s expectations.” Done, ya?

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com.

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