The Washington Post

When minds change about having kids

Columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

How do I prevent a bait-and-switch like yesterday’s column? [A husband said he wanted kids, then changed his mind.] How can you ever trust people to keep their word?

Anonymous

You can trust people only to be human — and it’s human not only to lie, but also to grow, evolve, change one’s mind. If you put a high value on predictability, then all you can do is choose people who are comfortable with being transparent, and whose choices match their professed interests (e.g., a guy who says he wants kids and had jobs as a youth coach or camp counselor, vs. a guy who talks kids but noticeably avoids them). Neither transparency nor history is a guarantee, but that context will help you to see a reversal coming and prepare yourself for it.

Which brings us to the other thing, besides humanity itself, that you can trust: You. If you can trust yourself to handle it if someone you love promises X but delivers only Y, then it won’t be as big a deal as if you gambled your entire being on getting X as promised.

Re: No baby:

What I take from this is that you can’t ever trust anyone. So if you want kids, then you should adopt on your own because you could very likely end up with someone who won’t want children after all and leave a huge heartbreaking mess. Ugh. How do I change perspective?

Anonymous 2

It’s a long way from “people are subject to change” to “you can’t really depend on anyone.” I absolutely believe in trust — it’s how I get through the day, and you do, too. There’s trust every time you use an ATM, board a bus, send an e-mail, take a course, order a meal, make plans with a friend.

Whether people will keep big promises about the future is less reliable for sure. There are the aforementioned growing and changing, and there are also surprises (guess what! he fathered a child in college!), and there are illnesses or injuries that lay waste to all plans in one stroke. None of this is new.

But all of this is — or at least can be — reduced to a low-percentage possibility, based on setting your priorities and acting judiciously from there. Meaning: Know your goals, then find someone who shares them and takes corresponding action.

It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good; just look around at all the people who have successfully had families with someone, or remained in a happily-childless-by-choice couple, or who have dug into a location for decades with neither half of the couple clamoring to get back to wherever.

And when plans do collapse, people still make it work, solo and in partnership, maybe not as often (or as blithely) as they did pre-collapse but in impressive numbers all the same. They just draw on their own priorities and resources and deal with it — because the alternative is to shake your fist at life for not coming through for you. That’s fine for an initial reaction, but it doesn’t make for much of a life.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com.

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