Care and Feeding

My Mother’s Attempts to Lift My Spirits Leave Me Feeling Crushed

Baby clothes.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Evgeniy Skripnichenko/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have been together for seven years and want very much to have children. We have learned that it is difficult for me to conceive, and for some time now we have been undergoing fertility treatment. I did become pregnant more than once, but each pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at 8-14 weeks. Now my doctor has decided we are good candidates for IVF, so we start our first round in a month.

For some time, my mother has been buying baby toys and clothes, saying she’s storing up for her future grandbaby (my only other sibling has made it clear they do not want children). She’s constantly sending me photos of these items, especially after a miscarriage to try to “boost my spirits.” This definitely does the opposite of that. It leaves me feeling crushed. My mother and I don’t have the best relationship because of an abusive childhood, but I have really been working to mend our relationship in my adulthood. Yet I am dreading the next round of her shopping and picture-sending. How do I tell her to stop buying things without crushing her excitement?

—Ungrateful Child

Dear Ungrateful,

You are not ungrateful. You are in an understandably fragile state of mind (and heart). How about being utterly honest with your mother? This does not have to be “crushing” to her. Tell her you love her, you value your relationship with her, you’re delighted that she is so excited about the possibility of grandchildren, but because of your experiences of pregnancy so far—and because you are so hopeful and worried and fearful about what will happen next—you cannot bear seeing or hearing about these purchases. If she wants to keep buying things, that’s fine. She just needs to keep them to herself. If she cannot do that—if she cannot center your feelings, your experience, and your request of her, then the work you’ve done to mend your relationship with her, I’m afraid, has been in vain. She will not be able to be a good mother to you even now, and you are going to have to distance yourself from her. I hope it doesn’t come to that—I hope she can hear you and really take in what you tell her. One’s responsibility to be loving and respectful of one’s children does not end when they reach adulthood. (And it’s never too late to start behaving like a parent, either.)

—Michelle

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