Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I’ve been married a little over a year. My husband and I are 28 and 29. My father-in-law keeps making jabs about us having kids. I will be the first to admit, I’m not a child person. I’m awkward around them and I believe our lifestyle is far too selfish to think about bringing a child into it. We love sleeping in and being able to pack up with our dog and go do things on the spur of the moment.

The jabs are getting worse. At a recent family gathering, he was very intoxicated and shoved my youngest cousin (barely a year old) in my arms and said, “HOLD THE BABY!” It was obvious I was uncomfortable with the child and unsure of what to do. How do I politely tell him to stay out of my reproductive system’s business?


There are plenty of ways to deal with such an intrusive relative — the full range, from ignoring to confronting — but more important than your phrasing is whether you have a unified front with a partner uncowed by the intruder. If your husband supports you, then ask him to talk to his dad.

Either way, I suggest you say to the dad yourself, gently: “Please stop pressuring us about having children.” Then start changing the subject.

Re: Pushy father-in-law:

There’s no real reason to cite your lifestyle as selfish; there are plenty of people who like traveling and spontaneity and still plan on kids. You don’t like or want kids. Your father-in-law’s opinions aside, it’s perfectly okay to not like or want kids, even if you stay home and bake cookies and make beds for fun every day.

Anonymous 2

As I’ve said to the point of self-parody, selfish is to have kids when you don’t want to, whether it’s to placate a spouse or get Society off your back or whatever else.

In fact, as long as you’re not mooching, breaking laws, or corrupting innocents, the best contribution people can make to society is to live in the way they find most fulfilling. Why? Fewer neglected kids, less self-medication, less road rage, fewer divorces, less absenteeism, less pathology in general.

Hi, Carolyn:

What do you do when you want to help a friend who’s in a bad place but your advice is unwelcome? When do you know you should just listen, as opposed to stepping up and helping a friend get out of a bad situation? No one wants unsolicited advice, but sometimes just listening and supporting may not be the best thing you can do to help your friend.

Trying to Be a Good Friend

You can ask, “I have a suggestion I’d like to make, but you haven’t asked my opinion. Would you like to hear it?” If the answer’s no, then you bite your tongue. You can also turn your listening into questions. “That must be difficult, I’m sorry. What do you think you’ll do about it?”

If it’s an emergency, then you can speak out of turn — but even then, if the other person doesn’t want to listen and if it’s not a situation where someone is in imminent danger, then you’re still stuck watching the bad situation unfold.

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