Carolyn Hax: Mom’s haranguing about pregnancy is more than she can bear

Advice columnist

July 14 at 11:59 PM

Hi, Carolyn: My husband and I are in our 30s and weighing whether to have a child, well aware of the greater challenges the longer we wait.

My mother can’t seem to stop bringing up the topic frequently. She asks if we’re trying, reminds me how age will make things harder, and gives advice about meeting with doctors, fertility experts, etc. Last time we spoke, she mentioned surrogacy.

From asking her politely to stop inquiring to telling her it’s between me and my husband to getting downright angry with her, I’ve tried everything, and I’m at a loss for what to do now. I don’t want to cut off contact, but she doesn’t respect my boundaries. I’ve even tried just staying silent when she raises the topic, but that hasn’t deterred her in the slightest.

She thinks she has the right to know. Perhaps because we’re from a culture where everything is openly shared. Or perhaps she had that sort of relationship with her mother where she discussed everything. I don’t have that deep emotional attachment with her, though I don’t think she knows that or wants to admit it to herself. I was always at odds with her growing up, and even now prefer to maintain my distance.

I don’t think she has the right to know about my family plans . . . but am I wrong? Too harsh? Have I taken it to an extreme?

Unsure: This is your body, marriage, business. You have the right to decide whether your mother has the right to know, and you even have the right to make the wrong decision or take it to an extreme. Your culture may say otherwise — but you get to say whether you’ll live by the norms of your culture.

There’s just no part of this that is your mother’s place to decide.

But I don’t think this information will help you, except as validation. Being right won’t fix it.

Instead, let’s look at your approach: You are on the defensive, trying to stop her. Of course this feels hopeless. She can do what she wants, and she feels culturally empowered to.

So start thinking about what you want, and do that. Do you want to see your mother? Yes/no. Do you want to answer her questions? Yes/no. Do you want to attach any consequences to behaviors of hers that you find obnoxious? Yes/no. Instead of resenting her power over you, see how you’ve bowed to it — then summon and use your own power.

You have the power to set a hard boundary: “I am through discussing this. I will hang up/walk away/leave when you raise it.” Calmly follow through.

You have the power (calmly!!) to play rhetorical offense: “What do you hope to accomplish by asking that?” “Has telling me this helped you?” “Is this giving you what you need?” “This pushes me away. Is it worth it?”

You have the power to change your goal. You can’t stop her prying, but you can stop your reacting to it.

You have the power to give her something she craves — inclusion, influence, intimacy? — in a form of your choosing, on your terms, with your boundaries elsewhere in place.

Shifting power in a relationship is hard. People resist. But living your principles is worth every bit of that work.

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