DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am estranged from my mother -- and as a result, my father, several siblings, aunt and grandfather. The reasons are not important. Suffice it to say that I believe the reasons are appropriate, that the estrangement has been long-term, and that it is extremely unlikely to resolve. I don’t see my mother at all.
I have just had my first child with my wonderful husband. My baby is the first grandchild on my side. People who are not aware of the estrangement (acquaintances, doctors, extended family, my husband’s family, strangers, etc.) often pleasantly ask if baby is the “first grandbaby,” if “grandma is so excited!” and other questions of the like. People expect that my mom was in the delivery room, that she will be at events related to the baby (birthday parties, baptism, etc.) and ask where she is, if she isn’t present. The questions are well-meaning, and based on the assumption that most people my age have living parents who are involved with their grandchildren.
My husband and I are usually flustered by the (perfectly normal) questions. How should we respond to these questions politely, without making anyone uncomfortable, but without being misleading? My husband suggested saying, “I don’t have parents,” but I feel like that implies my parents have passed away.
GENTLE READER: “I am afraid they could not be here” is sufficiently vague, while slightly loaded, without being misleading. Or you can mistake their inquiry about your parents for one about your husband’s -- if they are on good terms -- and answer questions only in regards to that. The trick is to be brief and vague and not to allow oneself to be pressed into further explanation. This, Miss Manners finds, can often be expressed more successfully through the tone and finality of your statements, than through the actual words.