Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Coming Clean?

So again I enter a family gathering with the in-laws where I’m dreading the confrontation. As I mentioned in a recent post, the family is being brought together at an indoor waterpark for a bit of a reunion. Far flung siblings and their spouses are traveling, some flying in. This is a big deal. And it’s going to be a disaster.

It won’t be a disaster for the families with kids. I’m confused, though, because more than half of the siblings have no children, and this is a place that is SO childcentric, I honestly wonder how anyone is expected to have any grown-up fun.

Surrounded by so many kids, doting non-stop on the nephews and the new baby (now about 9 months old), with all of the siblings now married or engaged, it’s sure to come up. We’ve decided to answer honestly, instead of putting people off with phrases like “oh, kids? The farthest thing from our minds right now ‘til A finishes school!”

This is a huge step forward for us, it really is. And who knows if it will happen, really, but we've decided it's time to come clean.

I do know I need to talk to my husband and tell him to let me handle it. I worry that he will be overdefensive, never giving anyone the opportunity to discuss the issue like adults. People aren’t going to understand, and that’s okay, but we have to give them a chance to open a dialogue, to learn about the childfree choice.

It’s easy to jump to the defensive, to respond with that witty comment.
"Why don’t you want kids?” they will ask. Must resist the urge to snap back,
“Why do you want kids?”

I will admit, I need to practice my responses in my head. So often I end up overexplaining myself, overjustifying myself, and end up damaging my own credibility, giving people too many opportunities to attack. I run it over and over in my head in an attempt to prepare:

Father-in-Law, while cooing at baby Josephine: “I can’t wait ‘til you have kids.”

*Nervous chuckle followed by awkward silence* (we’ve decided not to be the ones to bring it up... usually it ends here, but soon I know the conversation will evolve.)

FiL: “So really, when are you guys making me a grandpa?”

“Actually, Dad, we don’t plan to have any children.”

Okay, see, this is the problem. No matter how many times I roleplay this conversation with my husband, or go over it on my own in my head to try and predict how to manage it that will inevitably happen someday, to prepare how I might keep the conversation rational, this is where I lose it.

This is because my father-in-law is not a rational human being. He is an emotional, deeply selfish man who sees every situation in relation to how it affects him. Will he react with anger? Will he dismiss us? Will he cry? He'll probably cry, and that’s a situation I don’t know how to manage.

I wish like nothing else that I could expect a response like “oh, that’s disappointing. Why don’t you want kids?” Something that could continue the conversation without putting us immediately on the defensive, either out of embarrassment for making my father-in-law so upset, or out of frustration over a selfish, stupid or irrational response—I hate to say it, but all of these are far more likely than any reaction that is not a conversation-ender.

Am I not giving the man enough credit? Obviously this is an emotionally charged issue, especially for someone who’s never been shy about expressing his desire for grandkids of his own (his other grandkids are his stepchildren’s kids), and I would be silly to expect a completely deadpan reaction. He’s all about over-the-top reactions (my husband gets his drama genes from somewhere), and I just see us consoling him, plying him with explanations, justifications, promises that it’s not his fault for being a terrible or absent father, unable to say what I really want to say:

“We’re not having kids because we don’t want to be parents. We love our marriage the way it is, and we haven’t come close to finishing living the life we want to live, traveling, and moving up in our careers. Between my niece, our friends’ kids, the boys, we have plenty of kids in our lives and are really happy that way.”

The conversation needs to be framed not as “we would love to have kids, but…”; we need to frame it as “we don’t want kids. Period.” And that’s the biggest challenge, and the easiest trap to fall into when overexplaining the childfree choice. We have to fend off arguments like “you can still work” and “you can still travel” before they get a chance to be presented.

We’ll never have a good enough explanation for some people. But it’s time to stop hiding and at least give it a shot, even if it means upsetting people we care about. We have to give them all a chance to prove us wrong, to prove us melodramatic, to show us we freaked out over nothing.

Sure, it could happen. I’m not taking bets on us being wrong, though.


Ashley said...

I wish you the best of hubby and I are lucky in that we don't have relatives who are that way. My sister-in-law has two adorable red-headed little girls (she's a redhead as well) and that seems to be more than enough for my mother-in-law...and even around them, she isn't super-Grandma. My dad and stepmom just had a baby of their own last June (can you say oops? He's an adorable baby, but thanks to his arrival, my parents will never be able to retire or relax...if they had just aborted or used freakin' birth control in the first place, they would have been empty-nesters quite shortly...I'm already married and living on my own in another state, and my younger brother is 17 and graduates high school in 2 months). And my mother knows that she sure as hell won't be getting grandkids from me...she's more than welcome to be a surrogate grandma to her friends' kids, though (she's 47, but all of her friends are in their thirties). Please let us know how this momentous family "vacation" goes, and I want to hear some of your snappy bingo comebacks!

impregnated said...

Googled for blogs about women who choose not to be mothers after reading a book about childlessness (forced and voluntary). I don't think you need to justify your decision to anyone and it's great to read an account of a childfree woman who doesn't bag women who make different decisions. Look forward to following more of your blog.

Emily said...

Hey there --

Just read your latest post and am cheering you on regarding "coming clean." One thing to remember though, that might help... It struck me when I read your line "He'll probably cry, and that’s a situation I don’t know how to manage."... Your FIL's feelings aren't your responsibility to manage at all. Ultimately, he is choosing his own reaction, and will do so no matter how many scenarios / different ways to phrase things you run through in your mind. Just be true to yourself, and let the chips fall where they may!

cipher said...

I guess this is one reason to look forward to getting old! At some point their pressure will become irresponsible. I think that's how my family feels, now that I'm 37. As the increase in risk of the potential spawn having health problems, the pressure has decreased. Still feeling it even more though in many ways, knowing that the window will close soon. It's really hard to take a stance with your life that will leave those you most want to be proud of you disappointed instead. I struggle with it a lot. We are lucky to be of a generation that does have a choice in the matter, but society as a whole hasn't caught up with us yet, and still doesn't seem to think childfree is a valid choice. At least the younger women who come into contact with us will have someone who paved the way. Good luck, and let us know how it goes.

Dawn said...

We also made the childfree choice. We turned 40 this year & don't regret it. Can I offer some advice? One I would let your husband handle his father. Don't feel you must explain yourself. Short answers are fine. If there is dead air, let it be dead. I don't think my husband has actually ever said to his parents "we aren't having children." Over the years we have just never shown an interest in the process. I know they don't know at 33 he went & had a vascetomy. But here we are 40, no kids. Time goes fast. So let sleeping dogs lie. It is fine to say nothing & smile when he asks for grandkids. I personally think you feel too much responsibility to his feelings on such a personal issue. I would respond with remarks like "kids don't look appealing to us at the moment." Because we heard it all too, you will change your mind, what if you regret it, who will take care of you when you are older. So changing your mind is certainly okay. I wouldn't give it a hard & fast "we aren't having kids" answer. My husband & I knew from the time we were 22 we didn't want kids. But we discussed that privately. We used phrases like "don't know if we will" "no sure". Maybe you think that is false hope, but it really allows people to go from the thought process of "have to have kids to OH maybe not." Just my suggestions. Enjoy your life, it is your own. No need to defend or justify.

Anonymous said...

I finished reading all of your blog and I think it is awesome.

Just turned 41 at the beginning of this month with no children of my own . I new at a very early age that I never wanted children. I'm sure some of it had to do with my dealings with my mother who was a stay-at-home parent, however I was always and still am very independent. Upon turning 36, I have been letting more of the real me come out.

DH has 4 from a previous marriage. 2 are grown, 1 turned 18 in December and the last one is 11. She lives full-time w/her mom. I have very little interaction with them so I'm just a step-parent in name only. Watching DH have to attend to the last 2 since we have been together has only strengthened the fact that I don't want to bear kids with anyone. I love my husband dearly, but I will admit that his kids have put a damper on our relationship. Though he does not say it directly , I come second behind what ever those kids want including the ones that are grown.

Be who you are. It is not good for your health to be anything other than that. I can attest to this. My health has improved over the last 5 years because I'm letting more and more of the real me out. Yes, those that you love may not like it, as a matter of fact I can guarantee that some will hate it. I ran across a saying that has helped me a lot in this "coming out" that goes something like this

"I rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not"

By the way I'm originally from Chicago. Left when I was 19 yrs old. Graduated from Chicago Vocational High in 1983.

Anonymous said...

I hit the publish button before I signed my name.

Also wanted to thank you again for publishing your thoughts. It's great to have that that support even if it's in cyberspace.


bine said...

there’s one thing about this childlessness business that really bothers me.
it’s not only that people regard me either as a child-hater, which i am definitely not, or some antisocial element that will not provide the nescessary offspring to keep our society going in the future.
it’s not only this strange worried look that people give you, like you’re somehow not normal, but that they feel they have the right to ask away “well, why don’t you have children” or “isn’t it time you had children?”
just imagine this scenario: i might not be childless by choice. i might have been desparately trying to get pregnant for years, i might have had several miscarriages or i might have had my uterus removed to keep my myoma from returning over and over again. luckily this is not the case, but wouldn’t those everyday questions be incredibly cruel then?
i can’t come up with the reason why people feel entitled to inquire in such a personal matter, as if they were discussing your tastes in fashion.
this may be something entirely different with the hopeful grandparents-to-be, but even the new neighbors in the house i moved to this year asked me this right away during our first chat. have you experienced stuff like that, too?

Emily said...

Soo.... No post in a looong time... I am dying to hear how the weekend and the announcement went Tiara!

Tanya said...

I hope it went well. I do. I feel for you as I have a mother who is like your FIL.

Thankfully, I have a breeder sister! Blessed be! She is now pregnant, due in June and my mum will be a grandmother.

The last time I came home from Asia to Canada to see my folks, mum asked me about kids. I said no. Not now, not ever. No. She asked why not. I asked her if she was going to come to Hong Kong and help me out. Oh goodness no, she says. Heh. No kidding, mum.

I said that I love my life. I love my freedom, my travels, my job, my friendships and my relationship. I love how I can do what I want when I want and that is the end of it. I said I want to do things to the best of my ability and this is the choice I made for my life. I can not do all this AND be a good mum.

I am thankful that my MIL has one grandchild as well. Hubby's mum is wonderful in that she gets how rough raising kids is and how it can affect a marriage. When my husband told her years ago that she would never get grandkids from him, she accepted it graciously and was relieved that was the BIG NEWS he had for her.