Dear Carolyn: My partner wants a baby and I don’t, and because we are same-sex there would be some difficulty involved in having one.
After many frustrating conversations, we have decided we will not have one. I see this as nothing more than sticking to our default state of childlessness, but my partner clearly thinks I have gotten my way and feels owed something in return.
I suggested adopting a new pet and that provoked anger, snide remarks, and tears.
What else can one person provide to make up for not having a child? Even if I sound glib about it here, I actually do feel guilty about this on a daily basis. – Baby Substitute
You can’t provide a substitute for a child. You didn’t choose a different thing, you chose a different life.
And the fact that you stuck to the same thing you already had doesn’t mean your partner did as well. Your partner’s “default state” was childlessness, technically, but that state included plans for future parenthood. So that default really was parenthood-to-be, which is not the same as your childlessness.
Your decision lopped off your partner’s expected life path. You came to it mutually, yes, but in areas where there is no compromise, just either-or, even a mutual decision means one of you 100 percent gets your way. You did here. This is not just something your partner “thinks.”
Understanding that, and saying so out loud, and being sensitive to it hereafter – enough to imagine yourself in your partner’s position before you start making suggestions – are three things you can provide to help make up for your partner’s loss.
Feeling guilty is not the same thing; that’s just feeling as if you did something wrong. Your decision was no more wrong than it would have been had your partner’s druthers prevailed.
Your question sounds glib not because you’re not trying – you obviously recognize you need to do something – but because your response to your partner so utterly lacks empathy. Look again: You say our default.” When it comes to feelings, assuming “my” means “our” is a potentially relationship-ending mistake, and your whole letter comes down to, “I’m not grieving, so why are you sad?”
Your partner is grieving. Respond to those needs accordingly.
Hi, Carolyn: My husband and I are friends with a couple who are just starting the divorce process. We’ve been approached by both for advice, since we’ve been through divorces of our own. We’re trying hard to be supportive of both and not take sides. Until recently, they were still living together and showing up to social events together with their kids. Wife appears cheery and “normal,” tries to steer clear of husband at these things, but husband is generally morose and tends to hover around wife. (He doesn’t want the divorce.)
Now they’re officially separated. We are all part of a bigger social community, so how do we pick which one to invite? Or do we continue to invite both and hope they sort it out? We are closer to the wife, but we don’t want the husband to feel like he’s lost friends, especially since he’s sought out my husband’s support. But inviting them both seems tone deaf, especially given husband’s visible awkwardness around her. Do we just alternate invitations, or invite the person we think would most enjoy the particular event (almost always wife)? Ack! – Trying to Be Sensitive
Invite both and let them sort it out. The husband’s “visible awkwardness” is liable to change over time – possibly even soon – but the slap of being excluded by one’s friends from a social event tends to sting for a very long time. Especially one delivered when you’re already at a personal emotional low.
If one of them makes a habit of behaving badly at these group events, then, sure, revisit the idea of inviting only the well-behaved one – and also keep an eye out for their actual attendance. If one or both routinely opt out, then make plans with them individually and sustain the friendship that way.
However you approach it, the new normal will soon have its say and start making these decisions for you; think of your choices now as just a bridge of decency to help them to that other side.
Dear Carolyn: My sister keeps her two daughters, ages 10 and 8, in car seats. Full-on, cushions-around-their-heads, CAR SEATS. The law in her state says to stop at age 8. Whenever I hint the kids should just ride in the car with seatbelts, she goes ballistic on me. Thoughts? I think she’s infantilizing them. – Anonymous
Maybe so. But infantilizing your (apparently infantile) sister is a delightfully ironic non-solution.
Plus, seats are but a tiny battle that also happens to be self-winning, since they’ll soon outgrow the seats.
Overprotected kids need adults who notice and reward their competence – that’s the war. Just be that adult for them.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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