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Hax: Concerned alcohol will harm baby-to-be

  • Article by: CAROLYN HAX
  • April 17, 2014 - 1:51 PM

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

My daughter has mentioned that her doctor says light drinking during pregnancy is OK. 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 may cause permanent harm to her baby, even before she knows she’s pregnant. What, if anything, is my responsibility here?

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

Voicing 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 when or if she’ll get pregnant.

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; 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 focus on 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 OK for pregnancy.

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

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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