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Dear Carolyn: My co-worker is in her mid-30s, has some health issues, isn't married, doesn't make much (we have the same kind of position, so I know), and is pregnant. She doesn't even care for her pets properly. But she wanted this baby so much -- her emphasis -- and wants everybody's good opinion on this. Not bad or different, just good.
Thing is, though I do like her and consider her a friend, I can't sign off on her pregnancy. I don't want to come off as sanctimonious or judgmental, but I've been avoiding her because I don't want to have to congratulate her on something I do not approve of (and neither does my religion).
What will I do when I see her around the office? She's been exclaiming over her pregnancy to anyone who will stand still and listen. I just don't want to hurt her feelings, so I'll give her a nice, polite "Congrats," but I can't go beyond that. I'm really tempted to fake an ailment when colleagues throw her a baby shower. I don't want to show any approval by giving a gift.
Carolyn says: Who wants a "bad or different" opinion on a wanted pregnancy?
You consider her a friend. She deserves better than a faked ailment, even when the truth -- "I find your pregnancy irresponsible and self-indulgent, but here's a Babies R Us gift card" -- isn't appealing either.
So suck it up, and find other truths. For example: This baby is coming, whether you approve or not. And: When an insecure co-worker craves attention or approval, that's not the same as asking for your help, advice or guardianship; you no more get to "sign off" on this aspect of her life than you do her outfits or bedtime. And: A baby of a possibly irresponsible and self-indulgent mother is not only innocent of the mother's alleged crimes of judgment, but also can use all the "village" s/he can get.
And, about that "possibly": While the mother's circumstances may seem predictive of a badly raised child, it's important to bring a high dose of humility to all such predictions. You fear, calculate, anticipate, but you don't know. Just as ideally equipped parents can fail spectacularly at child-rearing, parents who barely seem to manage their own lives can produce some wonderful kids. From what you say, this child will be wanted and loved -- a key element of the best start a baby can get.
Obviously, delusional longings aren't sufficient to nurture a child; I'm not encouraging the barely functioning set to dive into parenthood. I believe we have a heavy burden of moral proof to meet before bringing life into this world.
I'm merely saying, to you, that once the baby's on board, hand-wringing and colleague-evasion become a bit precious.
You can come out from behind the filing cabinets. Just use her truth, not yours: "You must be so excited -- I know how much you want this baby." She is, and you do.
For the shower, consider rallying office mates to open a tuition savings account in the child's name (check out the "Tax Benefits for Education: Information Center" at www.irs.gov); it's a great way for the village now to help ensure a village later, in the form of good education.E-mail Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.