Precinct 333

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Dear Abby Blogging

I never thought I would blog on a Dear Abby column, but this letter and response leaped out at me.

Dear Abby:

My husband and I have been married for 55 years. We come from a generation where living together and having children before marriage was unthinkable.
Our 21-year-old granddaughter, "Stella," and her boyfriend moved in together two years ago, in what they called a "trial marriage." Last month, Stella gave birth to a baby girl and sent my husband and me a birth announcement.

We mailed it back with a note telling Stella we are ashamed of their conduct and lack of morals. We also told them there's nothing to celebrate about this birth of an out-of-wedlock child.

Four days later, my daughter (Stella's mother) phoned us in a rage. She said things are different nowadays and we have no right to impose our "outdated moral values" on their daughter and her boyfriend. My daughter insists we owe them an apology. She says we are out of line. Your opinion, please.

in Arizona

Dear Standing:

Although you come from a generation that believes it is best for a child to be born into an established family, it's time to face the fact that a number of younger people feel differently today.

Your moral values are not outdated, but you do owe the couple an apology for lashing out in anger. It was cruel to have returned the birth announcement and told your granddaughter that the birth was nothing to celebrate. Simply not responding at all would have signaled your disapproval.

Now hold on. What, exactly do the grandparents owe an apology for? I don’t see anger here – I see an honest statement of the moral beliefs of the grandparents. I see an expression of disapproval. Maybe it could have been couched in different terms, but I don’t see where grandma and grandpa should be expected to stay silent about their beliefs because others (by their lights) have low or no morals. And I also don’t see where failure to give a gift communicates the message of disapproval that grandma and grandpa wanted to communicate. The thing I see wrong with the manner in which they communicate their message is that it closes doors and does nothing to encourage the granddaughter and the baby’s father to do what the grandparents view as “the right thing.”

Given that my wife and I have not been blessed with children and have been unable to adopt, I would partially disagree with the grandparents. Even if a child isn’t born into a traditional married two heterosexual parent home, the birth of a child is always something to be celebrated. The miracle of new life deserves nothing less. But as a teacher who has seen too many baby showers in the cafeteria and too many excited tenth-grade parents-to-be, I have to agree that we need to stop accepting out of wedlock birth as simply one option among many that are equally acceptable.

Oh, yeah, and about mom complaining that the grandparents “have no right to impose our ‘outdated moral values,’” how does an expression of disapproval do that? Isn’t her demand that the grandparents apologize an impositon of moral values, in and of itself? Is it not an equally “incorrect” insistance that only one set of values is correct? Doesn’t she seek to require that they adhere to beliefs that are not their own? The answer to all of the above questions is “yes,” and that points up the very hypocrisy of those who complain that others are seeking to “impose their morality” -- it isn’t the imposition that they are objecting to, it is the morality itself that they find objectionable.

Frankly, I think everyone in this situation blew it. Granddaughter and her shack-up boyfriend shouldn’t be having kids while they are still playing house. Mom shouldn’t be demanding that her parents adhere to and abide by beliefs that are antithetical to their own. Grandma and grandpa should have found a constructive way of voicing their disapproval, one which did not burn the bridges with a couple who need support and encouragement to do what is best for their new child or deprive the child of the love and nurturing it deserves. And Abby was wrong in her assessment of the situation -- at least how the grandparents should have responded.


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