Dear Miss Manners: We found out that my sister is pregnant (yay!), but inside the family, she had always said she would plan for a child a few more years down the road. Upon hearing the news (after celebrations, of course), and between just the two of us, as we were on the phone, I asked if they were trying when they conceived.
My mother says that it’s a social gaffe to ask anyone about their family planning under any circumstances.
My side is that it would be irresponsible to not ask that question, as it pertains directly to her and her husband’s mental and emotional state in the coming months.
Is it a familial responsibility to understand the states of relatives’ well-being? If so, is it more important than the social blunder?
Gentle Reader: Let us assume that your sister did not plan the pregnancy. If she is nevertheless thrilled with her news, what difference could knowing the circumstances make to anything you may say?
And if she is not thrilled, what would you then refrain from saying? “That’s wonderful news – we’re so happy for you”? And what would you say instead? “Oh, tough luck”?
Your defense of your curiosity – that not knowing would prevent you from forming a clear picture of her mental health – sounds to Miss Manners like an attempt to use the cry of medical necessity to defend rudeness. You are not your sister’s doctor. You also seem unaware that pregnancy – whether planned or not – can bring on all sorts of shifting emotions that no outsiders, however good their intentions, may be able to anticipate.
Familial responsibility in this circumstance aligns with good manners, which prohibits the all-too-vivid vulgarity of asking couples whether they were “trying.”
You should have allowed your sister to decide whether she wished to volunteer such information. Miss Manners can only hope that the expectant mother refused to be dragged down to a statement that was only theoretical when uttered, and instead replied, “We’re thrilled.”
Charitable but not gracious
Dear Miss Manners: My wife and I bought a wedding gift, traveled out of town and spent the night at a motel to be at the entire celebration for the newlyweds. I was appalled to find out that in lieu of sending thank-yous to their guests for the presents, the couple would donate the equivalent cost of materials and postage to cancer research instead. Is this a new trend?
Gentle Reader: The idea that snubbing people one actually knows – who, in this case, have been generous – is whitewashed by charity to people one doesn’t know has been with us for a while, Miss Manners is sorry to report.