Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Parents Keep Bugging Me About Having Kids”

My relationship with my parents was fine as a child and I had a great childhood growing up. However, as an adult, some issues have started creeping up, particularly as they retired and moved across the country to live in the same city as me — a positive thing, I had thought. They decided that they would start pressuring my husband and me into providing them with grandchildren — from jokey “hints” by holding up my old baby clothes and saying they wanted grandchildren to telling my in-laws that they expected grandchildren “chop chop!” I tried to be nice about it, but children have never been in my future; I’ve known since I was 10 that I never wanted kids, and at this point I have been married for eight years and I am in my 30s!

It bothered me though, so I reviewed an action plan with my counselor and set up an in-person meeting with them to set boundaries. In the week leading up to the chat, I learned that they had met with my in-laws (who had no idea this was coming) to try to enlist their support in coercing my husband and me into have children. I was furious when I found out, and my in-laws made it expressly clear that this made them very uncomfortable.

It doesn’t end there, though. Tuesday was the in-laws’ meeting, and then on Thursday I received a package in the mail from my mom containing a five-page handwritten letter telling me I had to have children because my parents deserved grandchildren, I would regret it forever if I didn’t, and I would die alone, sad, and lonely, surrounded by strangers. Oh, and that my pets were just “things” that wouldn’t be there for me when I died alone. This letter was accompanied by photos of my sister and me as babies and a collection of handwritten cards I had made for my parents as a child! The meeting I had planned with my counselor was held with my parents on Saturday, and I didn’t say anything to them about the in-laws’ visit or the package. Our talk went surprisingly well though, and they had to “hear” me for once.

Months later: I let them have their space, and I let them contact me when they want, but it seems like every time we have an interaction they use it as ammunition. (For example, a dinner party where I jokingly said “no kids for me” turned into me saying I “hated” children while apparently spewing hate speech.) I need space, and yet I still love my parents and want to enjoy a relationship with them. But it’s hard. At my sister’s wedding, six months after the talk I had with them, I had a mutual friend approach me saying my mom told her to tell my sister and me to have kids!

My question is: Where do I go from here? It feels as though every time I try to “be nice” and let things go, they do something that royally pisses me off and crosses my boundaries in a big way. — Being Nice Isn’t Working

Oh, wow, your parents sound kind of nuts, to be frank. You saw no sign of this kind of crazy prior to their moving to be closer to you and harassing you about your choice to not have children? This is truly coming out of left field? If so, I might be a little concerned about their emotional and mental well-being. Have you spoken to your sister about this? Has she seen signs of boundary-pushing? Does she also feel that there were no signs of this kind of behavior prior to a few months ago?

Speaking of your sister, I highly suspect that, now that she’s newly married, your parents are going to shift their focus onto harassing her to have children. That doesn’t make their behavior “right,” but it could take some of the pressure off you, particularly if your sister actually does have a baby. If that doesn’t happen any time soon, or if you find that your parents are still bugging you and disrespecting your boundaries, you have some options: further distance yourself from them by ignoring phone calls, etc.; spend holiday get-togethers with your in-laws or traveling elsewhere; don’t share personal or sensitive information with them; tell your in-laws to ignore phone calls from them. If things continue to implode, you could also consider a drastic measure: move far away. This, of course, is complicated. You would have to leave jobs, friends, and other family. And as your parents age and need support, you won’t be close to help them (which may or may not be such a terrible thing).

While none of these measures ensure that your relationship with your parents improves, they will likely go a long way to protect YOUR well-being and, at the very least, decrease the resentment you feel towards your parents (which negatively affects your relationship with them). I know, when what you want is a close relationship with your parents in your adulthood, it sucks to not have that, especially when your childhood was so great and you can’t understand what happened. But… life isn’t fair. Be glad you did have the wonderful childhood you did and that any damage your parents might be creating in your life and your relationship comes when you are stable enough to combat it, when you are able to enlist the help of a counselor, and when you have the support of what is hopefully a loving and understanding partner.

P.S. Stop making “jokes” about not having children in front of your parents! I guess it’s a defense mechanism for you, but it’s clearly a very sensitive topic and you know they don’t find the joke funny, so just stop. You complain about their using your interactions as “ammunition” against you, but when you are the one joking about not having kids, it’s like you’re handing them the bullets. Stop.

I have been in a relationship for a little over a year and a half now with a man, “Henry,” who is still married to another woman, “Carol” — who left him for another woman. They have two children, 13 and 11, who have autism. The younger is completely non-verbal and will need to be cared for for the rest of his life.

When I met Henry, he told me he had been “separated” for over a year. Carol had moved in with the new girlfriend, but because of the special needs children, she had stopped by the house to cook and care for the family daily before going home to the new girlfriend. Sometime after we had started seeing each other but before we got serious, Carol and the new girlfriend broke up and Carol moved back in. I was not made aware of this until we were more involved.

Henry refers to her as his “ex-wife” and they sleep in separate rooms, but they still share a joint checking account. She freely transfers money from “his account” (actually “their account”) to her account to pay bills or when she needs money. She cooks and cleans for him and the kids. They play video games together, watch shows together, and basically do everything a married couple does. He tells me that they tell each other everything. He tells me all of this as well, and I think he believes this makes it acceptable.

I’m not concerned that they are sexual in any way. I have met her and her most recent girlfriend. However, I feel like he is just as intimate (and maybe more so) with her than he is with me. And when I try to talk to him about it, he shrugs it off and says “as long as I’m not sleeping with her, it shouldn’t matter.”

Is their relationship inappropriate in this context or am I overreacting? I do love this man, but I find myself pulling away because I feel like he has one foot in his marriage and one foot in his relationship with me. Here we are one and a half years in and he has told me outright that he sees no reason to divorce (he has health insurance through his wife’s company), he’s not leaving the house under any circumstances, and he will not ask her to leave. Am I wrong in thinking this leaves very little space for me in his life?

Thanks in advance for any advice you can give. — Feeling Stuck

 

Nope, you’re not wrong in wanting more space in Henry’s life or in thinking that he is likely more intimate with Carol than he is with you. I mean, he shares a life with her — a home, finances, kids, hobbies, they tell each other everything. They are family and they are partners. They may not sleep together, but so what? So, that’s the one little space he’s made for you? Sex? Oh, lucky you! I mean, yeah, if that’s all you want, then it IS kind of lucky! Some other woman does all the other stuff — the cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, maintaining the house, and you get to have the sex. But you want more and he’s made it clear he’s not giving up what he has with his wife to make space to give you more.

The answer here is obvious: You need to MOA. Let Henry have the family life that is working for him (and his wife and his kids). He can always find some woman — or women — to fill his sexual needs on the side, which sounds like all he really has room for and interest in. And you can make yourself available to someone who has more time, space, and interest in giving you a bigger role in his life.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

29 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Ruby Thursday September 18, 2017, 10:05 am

    LW #2: This isn’t about you. This isn’t about what behaviors or arrangements are “acceptable.” This is about their children. They have two children with autism, with one requiring full-time care for the rest of his life. Even though their sexual relationship has likely ended, she still cares for the children and their household. The only people who deserve space in his life right now are his two pre-teen children. The fact that you only mention his children in passing before focusing on Henry’s relationship with his wife concerns me.

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    • avatar

      alafair September 18, 2017, 10:12 am

      I think she’s right to focus on the relationship between the boyfriend and his wife. I have a daughter with autism. She’s in college now, but I co-parented with my ex and his wife very successfully, through times when she was essentially non verbal ,in part because we all have clear boundaries and roles in these relationships to each other, and in part because we all respect each other enough to listen to concerns and feelings and hash stuff out. If the boyfriend wanted her to be a larger part of his life, he could make space in his life for her. He’s not.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy September 18, 2017, 10:23 am

      I don’t know if that’s totally fair. Henry presented himself as available when he started dating the LW. Without kids of her own, and especially without special needs kids, how was she to really understand the impact their needs would have on his life and their relationship? It’s 100% normal when in a committed relationship to expect a certain amount of time and attention from your partner, and the LW is not wrong for wanting that. Her boyfriend is also not wrong for devoting 98% of his time and attention to his children/family. That he is no longer in a sexual relationship with his wife doesn’t change the fact that he simply is not available for the kind of relationship the LW wants. He should have been more upfront about that from the beginning. But the LW can see the writing on the wall. To push for more WOULD be pushing for Henry to shift focus from his family to her. He’s made clear he’s not interested in that. They aren’t a match and she needs to move on. Probably someone who isn’t married and living with his spouse would be a better option for her. And, yeah, someone with special needs kids who is committed to addressing those needs simply is not going to be physically and emotionally available for a relationship in the way many people would want.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros September 18, 2017, 1:24 pm

      I know divorced couples who co-parent kids with varying needs without living together, having a joint checking account and being intimate friends. I think it’s pretty sad if we’re saying that having a special-needs kid implies that you can’t ever separate from your spouse.

      If he’s not able to give any time to anyone other than his wife and kids, then he should not be participating in a relationship. Since he doesn’t seem to know this, then the LW needs to assess the situation and make a decision, which is what her letter aimed to do.

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      • avatar

        Ruby Thursday September 18, 2017, 4:39 pm

        I want to clarify that my comment was in response to her question about whether his relationship with his ex-wife was appropriate. She notes that Henry is now up front with her, adding “I think he believes this make it acceptable.” I do not think that parents with special needs children cannot divorce and co-parent effectively nor are they unable to date. I agree he should have been more honest from the beginning, but her explanation of his relationship with his ex-wife bothers me. Based on her description, I dont see an issue with them living together if they thinking it’s the most effective way to co-parent two children with disabilities. I agree with everyone that the central issue should be whether he is able to include her more in her life.

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      • avatar

        dinoceros September 18, 2017, 5:04 pm

        That makes sense. I think the living together thing could definitely work for parents of a special needs child. But like the LW says, they’re basically a married couple still, minus the sex. I think he’s going to have a hard time finding someone who wants to date him unless they just want to hook up.

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  • avatar

    Fyodor September 18, 2017, 10:13 am

    LW1, just hope that your sister has some kids to shut them up. There’s no reasoning with grandbaby-obsessed parents. Maybe move to a different city?

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  • avatar

    TeacherNerd September 18, 2017, 11:07 am

    LW#1: My husband and I married “late” (we were in our mid-30s), and I knew my ability to have children was nonexistent. We tried adoption; it didn’t work. My parents said not a peep and have the view that not having children doesn’t make one’s life any less valuable or important. My MIL, on the other hand, on our wedding day, approached my mother to voice her (my MIL’s) concerns, to mention ways of having children, and to get my mother on her side. My mother, bless her, said that she raised me to have common sense, that my husband also had great sense, and that she wasn’t going to say a word because it wasn’t her business. My husband and I remain sad about not having children (six years later), but as much because we live in a state (Utah) where parenthood, especially motherhood, is weirdly prized above all other life circumstances. My MIL died about a year after our wedding, but would not have been happy with adoption, either; it’s “not our real child” unless I birthed the kid. For her, the grandchild was a status symbol. Having a child (or multiple kiddos) is an experience I would have welcomed, but our lives are NOT less-than for not having them – as it sounds like you think and feel as well.

    I just shut down the discussion. Nope, we had no children. And change the subject – or get to the point where you say that your status as a parent (which includes a non-status) is something between you and your husband, and you are not discussing it with anyone else. And change the subject or walk away.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie September 18, 2017, 11:24 am

    LW#1 – I always say that when it comes to kids – I prefer to rent not own. I am a fantastic aunt.
    You don’t have to move, you just have to start enforcing boundaries with a bit of rigor and a very polite spine. Never bring up children. Just don’t. Like Wendy said – don’t joke about it. Don’t mention it. Don’t apologize for it. If your parents bring it up – leave. Don’t give them an inch. Not a warning of “I’m going to leave.” Just leave or get off the phone. Do not respond to the email. If on the phone “Well, I can see it’s time for me to hang up. Bye!” Click. If visiting, “Well I can see it’s time for me / us to leave. Bye!” and out the door. No argument. Just “sorry we can’t stay longer. It’s time to go.” I don’t care if you’ve had one bite of your Dad’s best stuffing on Thanksgiving. This is cause/effect. Action/reaction. You need to train your parents like they are puppy dogs. Every time they pee on the carpet, you do whatever is current training for puppies. I don’t have a dog. If a relative is like “WTF?” you simply say, “It was nice seeing you, I hope we get to see each other soon.”

    Are your parents competitive with other couples? My mom was totally fine with not having grand kids and never bugged me about breeding; when my sister had a kid my mom said “Now I get it. He is the love of my life.” and is over the moon with him.

    LW#2 – He sounds like a great guy but this isn’t the right configuration for you. It’s ok to decide this isn’t right for you and move on.

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    • avatar

      wobster109 September 18, 2017, 1:24 pm

      This is exactly right. LW, you’ll notice none of LisforLeslie’s suggestions involve you explaining your reasons. Sorry to say you have to give up on your parents “hearing” you and understanding your perspective. Trying to make anyone think/agree/understand something is a losing battle. It depends on them changing, and what if they never do? Then you’ll be rehashing the same arguments forever. If you’re looking for the “magic words” or just the right phrasing that will finally make them understand, you won’t find it, because there’s no such thing.

      So no more trying to explain your reasons. You already know they’ll see it as an invitation to bring out their own reasons and try to argue whose reasons are right or more important or whatever. Instead focus on shutting down those conversations quickly and consistently. The goal is not “get my parents to understand me”; it’s “spend time with them without discussing kids”. You can train behaviors in a puppy without making it agree with your reasons.

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  • avatar

    freckles September 18, 2017, 11:50 am

    LW #1: Holy crap. My husband and I aren’t having kids and if either of our parents acted like that I would be livid. When we told my mother in law, she said some inappropriate things, but we talked to her, and she’s cut that out at least. Your parents are way, WAY over the line here. You said you had a talk about boundaries with them, but I’m wondering how explicit you were with them? (You may have been perfectly clear, so apologies if this is not helpful). If you haven’t told them specifically, ‘You cannot keep doing this. Husband and I are not having kids, and that decision is final. You cannot pressure us into changing our minds, and if you continue to do so, we will have to cut back the amount of time we see you and talk to you, including zero contact if you continue this.” And then stick to it. As others have said before… Hang up. Walk out. Shut it down. And tell them why. “We talked about this, and you are not respecting our boundaries, so we’re leaving now.” And if that doesn’t work… you’ll have to go no contact. I know you say you want a relationship with them (of course you do!), but your own mental health and happiness is way more important.

    Good luck to you. I hope your parents get the message and stop with the baby pressure, so you can have the relationship with them that you desire.

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    • avatar

      Stillrunning September 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

      That’s a good script. You really need to combat this lunatic behavior by enforcing it. Sending over a mutual friend to tell you to have babies is weird, as is the friend agreeing to do it.

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  • avatar

    Miss MJ September 18, 2017, 12:11 pm

    My parents and in-laws stopped “hinting” about grandkids (that we’d been clear we were not going to have) once my brother and my husband’s brother and their wives started having kids. 6 grandkids in and it’s been years since anyone’s said anything to us about it.

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  • avatar

    Stillrunning September 18, 2017, 12:40 pm

    LW#1- I feel for your sister if she does have a child. Be ready to support her; it sounds like she’ll have to pry the baby out of your mother’s hands.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros September 18, 2017, 1:21 pm

    LW1: I also was wondering what Wendy asked — have you not noticed them acting totally bonkers before this? Because I think it’s unlikely that two people would be totally normal and then suddenly just start acting this unhinged. Do you understand how abnormal they are? I ask because your work with your counselor is great and your heart is in the right place when it comes to setting boundaries, but I’m wondering if you have not realized just how crazy they are and if you haven’t relayed this info to your counselor (if your counselor thinks sitting them down for a heart to heart is going to work).

    This sort of boundary-setting work is not a cure-all. It can’t turn unhinged people into normal people. It only works on regular people or people who are moderately eccentric. I get that you want to enjoy a nice relationship with them, but that’s not the type of parents you got. This is a situation where there’s only so much you can do. You can’t fix them. I think you need to limit your interaction with them. If they bring up kids, leave, hang up, whatever. If that means you don’t see them for more than 5 minutes at a time ever, then so be it. If that means writing “return to sender” when they send you mail, then OK. You’ve made a valiant effort, but your current boundary setting is like putting up a white picket fence to keep out dinosaurs.

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    • avatar

      LisforLeslie September 18, 2017, 2:13 pm

      @dinoceros: “…your current boundary setting is like putting up a white picket fence to keep out dinosaurs.” That is brilliant.

      I did not suggest what my mom and I do which is say “This conversation is over.” followed by moving to the next topic of conversation. Believe it or not, we both adhere to the single rule which is that once the other uses that phrase, said topic can not be brought up again for the remainder of the day/visit. It is rarely used and it’s incredibly frustrating when the other person throws it out (throws it down?) but we both respect the other’s request. That’s the key. Respect that 1) we each have a perspective and 2) telling someone how to run their life rarely works.

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      • avatar

        dinoceros September 18, 2017, 3:29 pm

        That’s a good idea!

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    • avatar

      csp September 18, 2017, 3:02 pm

      I can easily see how the parents could be this way. They loved being parents and circled their lives around their kids. Heck, they moved just to be near these kids. Now they are sitting retired without the job they built their lives around. And they can’t imagine being happy without their kids and are worried about their daughter’s life choices. it is crazy but makes sense.

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      • avatar

        dinoceros September 18, 2017, 3:31 pm

        I can see how parents might really, really want grandkids. But I think writing 5-page letters about how you’re going to die alone and contacting your in-laws is way beyond this. It’s not their desire that I think is bonkers, it’s how they are handling it.

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  • avatar

    Brise September 18, 2017, 1:49 pm

    LW1: your parents are heavily pressuring you, but if you are sure about your decision, and if you see the obsessional part of their behavior, perhaps you can take it as a folly of them as old people, and not get so upset. Forgive them and go on with your life. Don’t cut them off or take it too much to your heart. Simply don’t take it seriously. They are old, probably a bit lonely. Of course they don’t respect you, it is obvious, but if you don’t take it seriously anymore, and take it as some kind of dement fixation of theirs, it will be easier for you and clearer for them that they are out of their mind. But I wouldn’t expect great changes in them. On the contrary, they will get worse the more they age. Get ready for that and take it differently, not as an offence to you, but as a sign they are becoming really socially awkward and old.

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    • avatar

      csp September 18, 2017, 3:05 pm

      I actually love this. Just accept that they will needle and you will just ignore it.

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  • avatar

    Bittergaymark September 18, 2017, 3:07 pm

    Your parents sound nuts. Almost as nuts as cracking jokes about this with your parents… 😉

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  • avatar

    csp September 18, 2017, 3:18 pm

    LW1: I totally feel for you in this situation. And is sucks to be reminded that you are disappointing your parents. I just think one conversation is not enough. I think you should have straightforward conversations more frequently and help them mourn the fact that they won’t be grandparents.

    Look, you do not owe them grandchildren. I am not saying that at all. You have the right to build the life of your choice. But this is clearly the dream they had and I believe they uprooted their life and moved near you for that dream. Before they moved and left friends and a community, did they know your kid-less plan? So talk to them about it. Start talking about the life they want to build without grandkids. I think you are thinking about them hearing you but I don’t think you are hearing them either. You are telling them that the end of their life is looking different than expected and that is not a one conversation conflict.

    This happens all the time when parents find out a child is choosing a plan out of the norm. Some people never marry or move away and are gone for years or have non traditional relationships. Heck, my mom has a very hard time with my weight and I can tell it just kills her. This manifests itself in many ways but I think you need to recognize their feelings if you want them to recognize yours.

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    • avatar

      Leslie Joan September 18, 2017, 5:01 pm

      Wow. No, LW1’s parents’ dreams and expectations are their problem, not the LW’s, and I don’t have the slightest sympathy for anyone who uproots their life on the expectation that anyone is going to do what they expect without having explicitly talked about it in advance. If they expected LW to start raising chickens and selling eggs, I wouldn’t have any sympathy for them for buying a farm and a henhouse and boxes of egg cartons. This is the way it works: you get to dream and do for your own life. Your kids’ lives are theirs to dream and do. These people are trying to dragoon LW and her sister into something that is not her business, and their choices were manipulative.

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      • avatar

        LisforLeslie September 19, 2017, 7:31 am

        Agree with @LeslieJoan. Sitting down to discuss it gives the parents a platform. They will likely perceive it as an opportunity to make their case and steer the world in the direction they want.

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      • avatar

        csp September 19, 2017, 7:53 am

        Lets say someone in a long term relationship moved for a significant other with the expectation of getting married, then the plan changed. I am not saying that someone should be forced to get married, but if you love someone, you should help them grieve the feelings. These aren’t random people but parents that the LW has loved her whole life. I think this family doesn’t talk directly to each other. The LW makes passive aggressive jokes and the mother sends messages through other people. I think if you want to maintain a loving relationship, you need to talk to each other.

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    Leslie Joan September 18, 2017, 4:12 pm

    Sooo, LW1, how long have you had the counselor you’ve been working with, and why did you start working with the counselor to begin with? Something tells me you may have struggled with boundary setting to begin with, and a powerful level of emotional manipulation on their part. Anyhow, the suggestions given here to leave or to hang up the phone every time she brings up the subject are good ones. And do not bring up the subject yourself, whether kiddingkidding lyrics or otherwise. Though to be honest, a part of me would be very tempted tell her that if I were even mildly interested in having kids, the pressure she’s putting on me would definitely turn me against the prospect for all time. That’s a person who is way too invested in your reproduction than is healthy, and you can guarantee she’d be out of control in your business if you actually had a kid.

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  • Dear Wendy

    Dear Wendy September 22, 2017, 6:57 am

    From the LW:

    Wendy–

    Thank you so much for everything you and your followers posted. I took everything to “Henry”–including the column and comments. He was less than pleased that I had shared his information online but he was willing to listen.

    We had a long, difficult chat about things and I believe he finally understands where I am coming from and wants to start disentangling himself from “Carol” so that we can be together. He seemed really confused at first because he kept saying “we are just best friends” but when I asked him what they did differently now than they did when they were living together as man and wife, a light finally went off.

    We are going to start things small. For starters, he has closed the joint bank account and opened his own. He also agreed to pursue the divorce, is going to talk to her about their living arrangement and drawing more roommate-like boundaries, and he will not be sharing any more information with Carol about our relationship. I know things will not change over night and will remain vigilant but I’m hopeful this may work out.

    Feeling less stuck.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie September 22, 2017, 7:49 am

    Wow! LW#2 that was a brilliant and simple way to frame the problem. I’m really glad that your bf could empathize and start making changes. I think if you’re patient (but persistent) you have a real shot at a good outcome.

    Color me impressed.

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