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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Don’t Ask Rude People To Explain -- They Just Might

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We just received wonderful news: Our 34-year-daughter and her husband are expecting their first child. She was born with cerebral palsy that mostly affected her legs; life hasn’t always been easy for her, but she’s able to get around and has lived a mostly normal life.

What really galls me is that I’ve told a few people my daughter is pregnant and they actually said to me, “Is she going to be OK? Can she actually have a child?”

I was floored when they said that. I said, “I’m not sure what you mean. Do you want to explain --” and then they would say, “Oh, nothing, we just thought because of her condition ...”

Comments like that really anger me, and I’m not sure how to respond without really blowing a gasket. I think they are rude and make it sound like my daughter is “damaged” in some way. How should I handle these insensitive comments?

GENTLE READER: As you have discovered, it is a bad idea to ask such people to explain, because then they do. Rather, you should make it clear that you will not tolerate that line of questioning.

The civil way to do this is to respond to their words, not their meaning. So to the question about whether your daughter can have a child, Miss Manners suggests, “That is the usual result of pregnancy, isn’t it?” Other references to her “condition” would entitle you to explain, “Her condition has been diagnosed as pregnancy.” Then, as a prompt to what the reaction should have been: “... and we are all thrilled.”