Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax
Columnist

Lending a hand gives a mother-in-law a voice in family planning

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of “relationship cartoonist” Nick Galifianakis. She is the author of “Tell Me About It” (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon.

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My husband and I have been in a difficult situation for the past year. He lost his job and had to take one that isn’t quite as good. I work only part-time to save on child care for our toddler. My mother-in-law is very sympathetic and has given us a significant amount of cash to help with bills, and she baby-sits as often as she can so I can work occasional overtime.

We mentioned to her recently that we are trying to get pregnant. She exploded: “Why are you trying to get pregnant when you rely so much on me already?” I understand where she’s coming from, but I want my daughter to have a sibling, plus I believe our situation will eventually be a lot more comfortable and we’ll be able to sustain a two-child family.

We dropped the subject with her, but are still actively trying for another baby. I’m wondering how you think I should handle it when/if we have news to share? I don’t want to seem ungrateful for her help, or that I don’t understand her concerns.

Maryland

Then don’t take her help for granted or fail to acknowledge her concerns.

I’m curious: If your sister were in your exact position, and you gave her . . . thousands? to help her weather underemployment problems, and she announced plans for another child, how would you feel and respond?

Carolyn:

I don’t want to feel defensive, but if I had a sibling in my shoes, I would try to consider the long-term as well as the short-term. Our family will always be our family, and any children we have (or don’t have) now will be our family forever. It feels shortsighted to make such a long-term decision based on our current bank account. I should also add that we have tried hard to pay my mother-in-law back as much as possible.

Maryland again

That’s huge. To the extent my opinion matters,* though, I think it’s premature to expand your family when waiting a bit would find you in a more stable position — with your mother-in-law fully reimbursed, for example, and some money in the bank.

Sure, your pinch might be temporary and family is forever — but you don’t want to be so invested in forever that you’re unprepared for next week. Siblings are swell, but they’re not compulsory, immediately time-sensitive or required to be only X years younger than the preceding child. They also eat, wear clothes and need doctors. Maybe you had plans for ideal spacing, but your financial plans got an abrupt rewrite, so these can, too.

If there’s a fertility issue, then that changes things: Your husband explains this to his mom and sets up a schedule to repay her.

Otherwise, I think you’re ethically bound to postpone conception until you’re able to say, truthfully, to your mother-in-law: “We remain grateful for your help, and will keep paying you back. We also wouldn’t be trying if we weren’t in a position now to support another child fully.”

I suggest a Plan B, too, that isn’t your mother-in-law, in case the money-crisis bird poops on your windshield again.

*That accepting others’ money makes family planning their business is a third-rail topic. See “Welfare.”

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

 
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