Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Don't dwell on disappointment, but do embrace joy of newborn
Q: My 26-year-old son's girlfriend — of four months — is pregnant. I have very mixed emotions about this, mainly because he just met her, and I do not know her. They work and live across the country. I am disappointed in their behavior. How do I tell my friends the news? I am embarrassed.
Carolyn: There's a child on the way, and this is your big concern? How to tell your friends?
American adults overwhelmingly choose premarital sex — the Guttmacher Institute says 95 percent, CDC says about 85 to 91 percent. (Amusingly, a few studies peg approval of premarital sex at 60 to 65 percent; being conflicted is a popular pastime.) Plus, birth control isn't perfect, so you have statistical permission not to single this couple out for shaming.
It's more productive anyway to shake off any notions of the way things should be, and start making room for the way things are. Any big concern belongs with the stability of the home that will welcome this baby, and leaving behind your disappointment will position you to provide the invaluable resources of love and acceptance.
If they plan to raise the baby as a couple, then tell your son you stand ready to help however you're able. If he okays it and if you can afford it, fly out to meet the mother. Well, one more if: Go meet the mother if you can do so without putting on a thin-lipped judgy face, because you don't want to get off to a bad start at the grandma gig.
As for your friends, tell them, yay, you're going to be a grandmother! You really needn't elaborate, not even if a recipient of your news acts scandalized. Just say, "He's a grown man, and every baby's a joy."
J: There isn't just one "good" reaction to having a baby (whether you're the parent or grandparent). My friends had an unplanned baby and for the first half of the pregnancy, they were dealing more with getting used to the idea than acting like they were super-excited. They kept the baby and are very happy.
The grandmother shouldn't feel like she has to be happy about it. It's okay to be reluctant or have some not-so-excited feelings about the child. What matters is that she takes the remaining five months to prepare for when the child does come, to show it all the love it deserves.
Carolyn: Thanks for weighing in. There's an apples-to-oranges flaw in your argument, though: As the ones having the baby, your friends had the standing to be ambivalent and to work through that without apology to others.
A grandparent has much less leeway. Internally, yes, she's free to validate and work through her feelings at her own pace. Outwardly, though, her options are limited, unless she wants to jeopardize her relationship with the parents and therefore the baby.
Certainly the expectant couple owes it to extended family to be forgiving of their initial reactions and not hold grudges for insufficient displays of joy, but for practical purposes, the grandmother needs to operate with the understanding that expressing dismay at a pregnancy sometimes sears itself on the memories of the parents, and can be really tough to forgive.