DEAR MISS MANNERS: We found out 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 it is a social gaffe to ask anyone, family or not, about their family planning and should not be done 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.
This is not to say you should bandy about the information, merely that knowing it as a personal matter is important, as if the baby were not planned, saying the wrong thing could cause more harm.
So, does social etiquette absolve you of responsibility if you do misspeak, or 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.”
This is a thank you?
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.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.
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