parent opinion

ASK HOLLY: 'My daughter is pregnant again and I don't think I can cope.'

Welcome to Mamamia's advice column, DON'T FREAK OUT, where Holly Wainwright solves your most personal and problematic dilemmas with her sage wisdom. If you have a drama you need solved, email us at — you can be anonymous of course because otherwise, awks.

Hi Holly,

I need help. Sorry for the long story but the context is important.

My daughter is 24-years-old with an 11-month-old. She got married aged 22.

After an incredibly rough pregnancy, she was very unwell and her baby boy also ended up in NICU.

It was of course a traumatic time for her and her baby; it was also scary to watch her going through this and I was at the hospital sometimes twice a day to help.

When she went home, I went with her for the first week. Her husband worked away, so she was on her own from four weeks postpartum for two weeks at a time. So I would drive the four and a half hours each way to see her and help with bub every second weekend, sometimes for four nights at a time.

When her bub was six-months-old, she found out her husband was having an affair. She was blindsided and devastated and decided to leave him after much deliberation. Her trust couldn’t be restored.

I organised trucks, trailers and family to move her while she regrouped and worked out what next. I found her a house to rent and supported her financially while she applied for assistance.

I organised and paid for a lawyer to negotiate and sort custody out for her.

I have been babysitting when I’m not at my job so she could get back into the workforce with some casual work as well as financially supporting her and her baby whenever she needs it.


Basically, I have been running myself ragged supporting her emotionally and financially. Babysitting, cooking, and washing clothes to help her through this traumatic time.

She had just decided she was ready to move back to the city, get back into work and her bub would go into daycare. I offered to drive down one day a week to babysit him to help reduce his time in care and help with the cost. She was ready to relaunch.

But now she has just told me she’s pregnant again. She started seeing someone two months ago, and he has two other children with two other mothers. To start with, she was adamant that she didn’t want to continue with the pregnancy but is now doubting her ability to go through with an abortion

I am devastated for her having to make this decision. I’m also sad for her son, he’s been through so much during his short little life already, he will barely get any of her energy or time and attention if she continues with this pregnancy, she’s already complaining of exhaustion and she’s only approximately three weeks along. I’m scared for both their futures.

But If I’m honest, I’m also scared of how it will impact me.

I’m not good at setting boundaries and she will lean on me heavily for support in every way if she continues with this pregnancy, and even more so if this new guy doesn’t hang around.

I don’t know that I can cope, I’ve only just turned 50 and before her son was born I had just started to live my own life.

I feel like I will just be forever tied down, physically and financially supporting her and not allowed to be free to live my own life.

I am torn between wanting to support her to make her own choice and being so angry at her because her choices will have such a massive impact not only on hers and her son’s life but on my life.


I’m not hiding my disappointment from her very well. What do I do?

Worried Nana.


Dear Worried Nan,

This is an actual pickle. A really difficult, thorny life moment. Your daughter has been through a year that’s hard to imagine — a traumatic birth, becoming a mum, a betrayal, a split, a move, a new partner, a new pregnancy. It’s a lot.

But this isn’t actually your pickle to sort out. It’s your daughter’s.

The good mum we would all like to be helps her kid out to the best of her ability.

While you're here, a spoken word video staring Laura Bryne articulating the contradiction of pressures that mothers face in their daily lives. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

She loves them hard, supports their decisions, offers advice when asked, provides as much of a safety net as she is able. And also, she steps away to let her child stand up straight on her own.

You have done the first few things on that list and if, as you say, the toll would be too great on you to continue being hands-on support for what comes next, then you need to do the last bit, too.


But easier said than done, yes? Becoming a mother doesn't make any of us perfect. We don’t always hit the "good" mum high-water mark because we’re also messy humans with lives of our own. And limits of our own.

Here’s the thing. Listing out all the things you’ve done for your daughter, mentioning that you are "not good at setting boundaries" and telling me that you are "not hiding your disappointment very well" suggests that a lot of the help you’ve given your daughter this year has been served up from a place of resentment.

It’s hard not to project our own opinions and choices onto our kids. They’re these tiny little blank canvases when they land in our arms and we want everything to be peachy and warm and tidy and perfect for them always. We don’t dream of difficult births and cheating spouses and unexpected pregnancies and having to pay for lawyers and moving trucks at exactly the moment we’d rather be spending that money on yoga classes and a weekend in wine country.

It wasn’t in the brochure and it’s hard not to resent that. But it’s unlikely that your daughter isn’t aware of your frustration and disappointment, and I’m sure she would rather not be needing your help.

"Boundaries" might be the most overused word of our era but it’s the relevant one here, in all directions.

You are overstepping a boundary to think you have a say in whether or not your daughter keeps her baby. That is not your decision, your call, even really your place to have a stated opinion about. It’s also a bit over-steppy to voice concerns about how a new baby might impact her son. That’s certainly her business to sort out and people have been finding their way through that particular conundrum for eternity.


But also, whatever your daughter decides, you need get a little bit good at boundaries to save your relationship with her from crumbling into a toxic stew of bitter resentments.

The way to do that is to ask for help yourself. But here’s a good place to start. I’m sure I nicked this from somewhere on the Internet, because as we know, I am not a trained professional and it sounds like you need one, but let’s try this out.

An easy way to think of a boundary is a drawing out, in words, what’s okay and what’s not okay.

It might look like this:

Spending one day a week looking after my grandchild is a joy and I hope it helps to lighten your load. Any more days than that is not something I can do.

Or like this:

I’m always here to be your shoulder to cry on. I can’t always solve your problems.

Or like this:

I can love you to bits. I can’t pay for everything.

Okay, so I’m not Brene Brown, but you get the picture. Boundaries are hard to express but make things better in the long run. Or at least, that's what I'm told (also not good at them, hands up). This might be one of those times where you have to get good at something that doesn’t come easy.

Because whatever your daughter decides, you don’t want to be the one who wondered why you gave everything, and still ended up losing what really mattered.

Good luck xxx

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