The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Would-be grandpa scoffs at couple’s reason not to have kids

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: For years, my oldest son and his girlfriend said they would never get married; she was against it. Then, five years ago, she relented and they got married, by all accounts happily.

They are financially secure: well-paying jobs, no debt on their advanced degrees, a rental property they own outright, a manageable mortgage on their home, late-model cars.

Indeed, my son and his wife have worked hard, but we and the in-laws have also provided our ongoing support.

But there is a rub: Our daughter-in-law steadfastly refuses to consider having children — and our son stands by her decision.

Her reason — or the reason they are standing behind — is climate change. In her opinion, it would be the height of cruelty to bring a child into a world that faces such an apocalyptic and nihilistic future.

I will grant you that our country has this and other major problems. But there is an existential question here: What have my and my wife’s lives amounted to, if we have not inculcated a basic will to survive to the next generation?

To make matters more complicated, they channel all their time and energy into biking, hiking, rock-climbing, kayaking, etc. We despair that our younger children will make the same lifestyle choices — especially under the influence of their older sibling.

To many observers, it would seem our kids have been spoiled. And on some level, that is true. But the urge to face an uncertain future and procreate in the face of adversity is supposed to be part of the human condition.

Every generation faces some dire threat. My father’s generation was told to go shoot Hitler. My generation learned to “duck and cover” to avoid nuclear annihilation. How can climate change be worse? Any advice?

— Despairing

Despairing: Some might think it is a tremendous accomplishment to rear children who see a life for life’s sake as meaningful and complete.

“Some” being me. I think that.

I also think your expectations would be a Class A felony if there were such a thing as crimes against boundaries. The couple’s prosperity does not mean children are the required, expected or even logical next step. The prerequisite for kids is wanting them (when equipped for their care). Your wanting children from them does not count.

And oh, holy wow, your support obligates them to produce grandchildren for you not at all, not a bit, not even the fading memory of a bit written in sand.

If they nixed children because they wouldn’t fit in their kayaks, then I would support that just as fiercely. But being responsible for children is enough of a lift without multiple existential decentralized threats, meaning we can’t just go to war or to the bargaining table with them to make them stop.

Some would-be parents aren’t fazed by this, some are, and I stand fully behind both. Bullish procreation “is supposed to be part of the human condition” — according to whom? There’s a packing list?

The couple decide their condition. And people only “steadfastly” refuse when others repeatedly ask, no? So stop. Repeatedly. Asking.

That she “relented” (gah!) on marriage is not an invitation to put another of her principled stands in a vise.

So one more bit of advice: Back the ever-loving heck off this issue, this couple, this entitlement. Or else I’ll throw more metaphors at you.

If anything is going to talk your younger kids out of procreating under the dramatic orange skies of a planet on fire, it’s not going to be your daughter-in-law; it’ll be your unshaken certainty that people owe you kids.