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.