Dear Carolyn:

I just found out that I am going to be a dad. However, the mother is my ex-girlfriend. I broke up with her three months ago after seven years of dating. I didn't think we could make a marriage work because we were always bickering. I told her when I ended the relationship that I no longer loved her. That is not entirely true. She says she wants no money and nothing that I am not willing to give. I want to be there for my child and for her, as best as I know how. I am willing to live with her and even marry her for the sake of the child. She was appalled when I made that offer. What do I do now?

New Jersey

"Appalled"? A detail that says a lot.

Had she just found your offer unappealing, that would make sense. Not only did you just declare your un-love, but you also presented her with an idea whose time has gone. Marriage "for the sake of the child" has fallen into well-deserved disfavor; too many unions created solely to provide kids with love and stability wound up afflicting them with the opposite. Lovelessness, resentment, (even more) bickering, divorce. Not to mention setting a bad example of how "loving" adults get along.

But you had a good foundation of good intentions -- so, normally, I'd suggest you just use that to build a better idea for supporting and staying involved.

Except for that telling detail. She was "appalled" at your well-meaning offer . . . or she wasn't and you completely misread her reaction . . . and you bickered constantly . . . and you told her you no longer loved her while telling us that it wasn't quite true.

Meaning: You two communicate like turtles play hopscotch.

So, what I hope you do now, for the sake of the child, is explain to your ex that you want to love and help raise this baby, and be there for her, too, and you think maybe joint counseling would be a good idea -- not let's-get-back-together counseling, but let's-not-screw-up-our-kid counseling. Learn to talk to each other. Learn to stop pick-pick-picking and getting defensive. Learn to adapt to each other. Learn to be parents, and gently take it from there.

Dear Carolyn:

My mother-in-law brings "presents" (puzzles, books -- stuff we probably already have anyway) to our two little kids when visiting, and then retracts them before she leaves, with the excuse that the things need to benefit other grandkids (yet to be born). The older one does not understand why the presents are taken away from him. I do not like her gesture, since it gives my kids a false expectation. I also do not know how to tell her without causing friction, since we do not have a great relationship. What to do?

Freezing in Alabama

You don't tell her anything. You change your kids' expectations: "They're Grandma's toys, and she just brought them over to share." You can think her gesture is petty, batty or cruel, but the moment you voice anything of the sort to your kids, you poison their relationship with their granny. That's worse than de-gifting. Besides, your kids will grow to see through her just fine, without any prompting from you.

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