It’s time again for “Dear Wendy Updates,” a feature where people I’ve given advice to in the past let us know whether they followed the advice and how they’re doing now. Today we hear from “Torn Apart,” who felt her parents weren’t being supportive about her husband’s girlfriend having twins for her husband and her and were, in turn, treating her husband with hostility. She was especially concerned about her husband not being allowed on the title of the house her parents co-signed for. “Now I’m terrified about what could happen when I’m gone, and I’m getting papers drafted by a lawyer for my parents and husband to sign that will guarantee that if I die, my kids and husband will keep the roof over their heads and my parents will promise not to try and take the kids from my husband,” she wrote. Her update below.
I was a little taken aback by the response – but in shortening the story, I think some things didn’t translate. As far as choosing to have the kids – it wasn’t really a choice. My husband and his gf always used all birth control methods, and my husband had been declared by a doctor to be sterile – and then his gf got pregnant with twins despite all this, and, yes, DNA says they are his. I support a woman’s right to choose, but I did ask her to consider letting me raise the children rather than get an abortion, and she agreed to go through with the pregnancy. I’m an agnostic, but the whole thing felt pretty much determined by a higher power (the impossible pregnancy for me to become a mom despite what cancer robbed from me), and I haven’t questioned that in my life.
We all banded together to make this work. (My parents even said they were on board with it back then, but I don’t think they’ve come to grips with the fact something they find religiously wrong seemed ordained by some god and has brought them something my mom at least has wanted since I was 19.) I will never regret having the kids, even though they have to grow up in poorer circumstances. Despite where my parents and my in-laws are at now financially, both my husband and I grew up in poor homes, and we know how to stretch our food budget and do everything we can to keep down costs. We do not rely on my parents to pay for the kids, and since my husband is a stay-at-home dad, we have cut out a major expense. I didn’t grow up with privileges, and I know my kids will be fine without them, too – no costly preschool, no lessons, no TV, no devices of any kind (which kids don’t need anyway), no new clothes, etc.
We made a lateral move as far as cost of living was concerned, but we could only do it if we bought a house instead of renting – which we couldn’t do on our credit alone. We had worked out a way to borrow some money and get the co-signing from my husband’s dad, but my parents then refused to sign off on selling the house we were in. (I had only bought the house when I was in my 20s because my parents insisted it would be better than renting – which it was, but I was young and hadn’t realized the power that put over me – especially when two years later the economy tanked and I stayed at beginning teacher salary for a decade.) After a lot of negotiating with my parents, we accepted that they would only sign off on selling the old house (a requirement to afford the new one) if one of them was the co-signer of the new house and not my father-in-law. The old house is now selling, and my parents are recouping their money (just as we had planned to recoup and repay the money to my father-in-law). We do not live extravagantly, and we aren’t moving to be spoiled – we moved for the financial sense (it’s actually cheaper in our overall budget to live where we are now).
I wasn’t looking for string-free assistance. Since the move, we are further from my parents, so they aren’t babysitters anymore, but they frequently want to see the kids. The distance has given us a chance to avoid seeing them as often, and some of the tension has eased. I was trying to find ways to help both sides accept there are things about the other that they will never agree on, but we all have to suck it up and get along, if for no other reason than the kids. When we accept money from my parents, it is for medical costs – like the money for me to get blood transfusions, and chemo, and pain medicine, and anti-nausea meds, and all the things that literally keep me alive. One-third of our income goes to keeping my health insurance, but copays and other parts not covered make up another one-third of our income. We manage to survive, and part of that is thanks to buying over renting and the other is thanks to my parents. We pay back this money as my husband sells cars (which I guess wasn’t clear as this is something he does while caring for the kids), so we never have savings, but at least I never have a lapse in treatment.
If I weren’t sick, we’d be fine. But I am, so I have to say, check your privilege – having a chronic medical condition is a serious liability in the modern U.S. There is no amount of working and no amount of doing without that can cover the cost of my medication reliably. My reality is that I either die or take assistance – and I’m sick of people who think I have to justify how I live my life in order to deserve to live. If my family can’t pay for both parents and kids to eat, it’s not because I bought a $1.25 soda at work—and it’s not because we moved into a larger house – it’s because I have to pay thousands of dollars a month to keep myself alive. So we sacrifice and do without, and I randomly vent on the internet. I’m glad the situation is easing. I live for my children, literally, but my life endangers them unless I suck it up and take help from my parents. I don’t think it’s too much to ask them to be kind about it.
Anyway, this was a nice distraction from the current state of the country.
Sure, those of us who are healthy can check our privilege, but I’d also suggest that someone who has parents who are financially comfortable enough to be a financial safety net – to help buy a family home, to help pay for medication as well as expenses related to raising two children — should, you know, also check her privilege. You argue that having children wasn’t a choice you made, but… it was. At every step, choices were made, specifically: your husband chose to have sex with his girlfriend, risking potential pregnancy; you chose to ask his girlfriend to not terminate her pregnancy and to consider letting you raise the babies — babies that you admit you and your husband cannot afford to raise on your own, on top of your very costly medical expenses (and I absolutely agree with you that it’s a travesty that in this country having a medical issue like the one you have can bankrupt a person and rob people of choices that others are more fortunate to have). You also chose to raise these children knowing not only how serious your own medical issues are but also how serious your husband’s mental health issues are as well.
The truth is you rely on your parents’ help and they help you — what a privilege to have that help! — but you’re angry that the help isn’t given with more kindness even though you understand that your conservative, religious, boomer parents struggle with accepting your lifestyle (a lifestyle they indirectly help subsidize). I understand how much you hate that you have to accept help from your parents — your letter(s) make your feelings about this crystal clear — and how, if it weren’t for your health issues, you wouldn’t need their help. Life is unfair, I get it. Some people get to be healthy and put their incomes toward savings and vacations and new clothes instead of astronomical medical treatments. And some people get to have parents who are comfortable enough to lend help while others don’t have that safety net. The playing field is far from fair.
Look, if you are serious in wanting more harmony between you/your husband and your parents, I would suggest treating them with more kindness and compassion, as you would like them to treat you. They not only help you make ends meet, but also, I assume, they are whom you would designate as your childrens’ caregivers should something happen to both you and your husband — a reality that, given both of your health issues, is a bigger threat than for the average 30-something parents. They have stepped up for you in a very big way, and while the delivery of their support may not be perfect, you are so lucky to have it.
If you’re someone I’ve given advice to in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too. Email me at [email protected] with a link to the original post, and let me know whether you followed the advice and how you’re doing now.
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