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Dear Carolyn:

My husband and I are in our 40s, have twin girls and would like one more child. We are working on the third child and the only reservation is telling my mother. She is a college-educated woman in her 60s who seems to have some odd definition of the number of children a person should have.

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

Here’s an example: About 9 months ago, I unexpectedly became pregnant naturally after years of infertility. We were over-the-moon excited and joyful, although a bit scared due to the rate of miscarriage for older women. She acted like we were careless teenagers and when I miscarried, she asked me what I was planning on doing to “prevent this from happening again.” Really.

We make over six figures each, have no debt, own a home and have lovely, well-mannered daughters, whom she enjoys.

It is not just me. My sister-in-law, who is much younger, had an unplanned (but not unwelcome) pregnancy when her older daughter was 18 months old. My mother reacted with no joy whatsoever and cautioned my brother about the risks of having children so close together.

For the record, my mother is an only child but seemed to really enjoy parenting her own children. She has always had strong opinions about family planning. I don’t know where this judgment comes from.

I don’t expect her to be joyful, but I need some help formatting a response to her sarcastic and unwelcome comments and attitude.

Hoping for One More

If this were the only topic on which your mom had strident opinions, then I doubt you’d have thought twice about the answer: “Mom, you’re a great mom and I love you, but, wow, you’ve got some [messed] up responses to pregnancy announcements.”

And then she’d either own up (your gain) or stomp off (her loss).

But, you’re scared to death of her, both of her disapproval and of the sharpness with which she expresses it, no? And so it doesn’t sound as if you’re seeing her preggo-bias as a bizarre exception in an otherwise warm and approachable person.

That has me wondering, and hoping you’ll ask yourself: What do you want from her?

If your relationship is otherwise warm and you just want a little stinkin’ joy from her here, then please see that as a frill you’ll have to live without. You can stand up to her, sure, and say, “What’s so terrible about a wanted child we’re well-prepared to raise?” But speaking up will have to be an end unto itself, since Mom sounds unlikely to soften. All of us have a loose wire here and there, and this could be one of hers.

If instead what you want is your mom’s approval for once, or if you just want to put to rest this power she has over you, then you need to think bigger than a poorly received birth announcement.

Instead, you need to look at why your own approval isn’t enough, even at 40-something; why the one thing that eludes you is apparently the one thing that preoccupies you; why you’re not content to say, “This is the mom I’ve got, great at some things if not others, and that will have to do.” Pinpoint the want — and you’ll see that it’s not a need.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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