Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR READERS: I have stepped away from my daily column for two weeks while I work on my next book, a memoir, which is scheduled to be published in the fall. While I’m away, I hope you’ll enjoy these topical “Best Of” questions, chosen from 13 years of “Ask Amy” columns. Today’s questions deal with babies. I’ll be back next week with fresh questions and answers.

DEAR AMY: I’m interested in your point of view on a subject close to my heart. I wonder whether it is morally right or ethical to increase our chances of having a boy or a girl for our second child by using the process of “sperm sorting” offered by some companies. My husband and I have a wonderful little baby boy, and we’re thinking of having a second baby. I guess we kind of wish for a girl, so we could have “one of each,” but we would be happy with any outcome. Mostly, I don’t want to do it, yet the technology is there, and I have to admit that it is sometimes tempting. I know it’s a very personal decision, but I’m wondering what you think.

Tempted

DEAR TEMPTED: I don’t like the idea of gaming the system, unless there is some overwhelming medical or genetic reason to do so. Wanting “one of each” just doesn’t cut it.

Even in these technologically advanced times, parenthood is still a state involving some mystery and a great deal of grace. Gender selection creates the illusion of control, where parenthood provides very little (as you probably know by now). The fact that you are even tempted to invest in procedures promoted by companies eager to sell you a sperm-sorting service means that you should talk this out thoroughly with your physician, a counselor or a more experienced parent whose perspective and views you trust. (January 2006)

DEAR AMY: I’m 46 and my wife is 32. We’re expecting our first child in a few weeks and are having problems with my 68-year-old mother. Mom loves to shop at flea markets and garage sales. I’ve told her many times that I do not want her bringing “gifts” for her soon-to-be granddaughter from these outings. The stuff she picks up is stained and dirty. When I point this out, Mom says, “I didn’t have much growing up,” and then she brushes it off. We’d rather for Mom to bring one nice thing rather than many boxes of secondhand junk, and I’ve told her this repeatedly. Mom isn’t hurting for money and when she’s shopping for herself she buys only the best, yet when shopping for others you can bet that it will be from a yard sale or a clearance table. Her last visit during a holiday weekend resulted in a nasty departure and a lot of hard feelings when she revealed to my wife that she didn’t even know what my first word was. (She dumped me on her parents who raised me while she was busy working and dating a long string of much older men.) How can I stop her, short of cutting off future relations with her granddaughter? I’m tempted to not even tell her when the baby is born.

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New Dad

DEAR DAD: Well, it’s clear that you’re spoiling for a fight, and whether it’s over flea market toys or your mother forgetting your first word — you sound determined to have it.

I’m not saying that your complaints aren’t justified, mind you — but be careful.

The prospect of your own fatherhood might have brought on some strong feelings about your mother’s parenting, but the way to address these issues is not through your baby daughter. Using her birth as an excuse to become estranged from your mother is not the answer. You’ll have to deal with your mother directly about your own childhood. Her reaction might not be satisfying, but you should try.

Your mother sounds very challenging. She might have a health issue that is affecting her actions and her memory. Failing that as a reason, you should do your best to tolerate her — within the firm and fair boundaries that you and your wife will establish. Give your mother an opportunity to be a better grandmother than she was a mother.

The flea market stuff that comes in the front door can go right out the back door. Stuff is just stuff — it’s easy to dispose of. Relationships shouldn’t be so disposable. (June 2006)