Carolyn Hax: Mother-in-law demands secrecy on baby gender

September 1, 2013 

Dear Carolyn: We are expecting our first baby — a little girl! Just before the tell-all ultrasound, my mother-in-law expressed surprise that we would want to find out the gender and informed my husband that she does not want to know until the birth.

We have shared the good news with other people, and there are gender-specific items in the nursery and on our registry. She knows we know.

However, I am stressed about “ruining” the surprise for her; my parents are, too. I also am sad she did not get to share in our excitement about finding out the gender, and I feel like we are being judged for already making bad parenting decisions — that finding out the gender was somehow “wrong.”

My husband thinks I am making a big deal out of nothing, and I should just ignore her. Should I just bite my tongue and respect her wishes, or should I talk to her about this?

EXPECTING IN THE MID-ATLANTIC

You don’t just have a baby coming (congrats!); you’re also getting a new stage in your relationship with your mother-in-law.

To get things off to a sustainable start, try viewing the gender juggle from the following perch:

- You can have different approaches without judging each other.

- You can’t make her respect your choices, but you can set the tone by respecting hers. Yes, she “didn’t get to share” in this particular excitement, but there will be others. Don’t dwell.

- You also can’t bear responsibility for her choices beyond respecting them. That means you can remind yourself to watch what you say, but you can’t blame yourself if someone slips or brandishes something pink.

- When in doubt on any of the above, act as if adults are actually adults. Bite your tongue, sure, but also treat the possibility of “ruining” her surprise as a mild bummer, not an irreparable tear in the family tapestry.

Dear Carolyn: I’m 31, and I have chronic pain — every moment of every day. Pain has taken a lot from my life that I’ve spent a lot of time mourning, and I find it hard to talk about in a matter-of-fact way.

So how do I respond to questions about my treatment?

I can’t find answers that don’t lead to follow-up questions, which leave me close to tears. What I want to say is, “That’s a really private topic to me, and while I know you are just trying to be helpful/caring, I’m grieving the loss of a life I loved, and dealing with this has been traumatic and painful. Thanks for your concern, but please don’t ask ever again.” But I don’t want to alienate the question-askers. This is a daily thing — please help.

L.

I’m sorry for all you have lost.

You’ve got the right answer, and every right to say it. Any time you doubt that, remind yourself that your social obligation not to “alienate the question-askers” comes with a matching one: theirs not to alienate you.

I do suggest you streamline, though: “I appreciate your concern, but I prefer not to discuss it.” Not only is that better suited to daily use, but it also tracks more closely with the basic principle that you don’t owe the merely curious any details about your condition.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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