Q: I’m having second thoughts about the people we asked to take our child if we were to die.
Over the past few years, they have expressed some views I really don’t agree with. During a recent visit, someone mentioned that the president fell off his bike, and the wife exclaimed excitedly: “I hope reporters were there and took a million pictures!” (This is just one example from an uncomfortable visit.)
I’m not sure how to back out of our request. They probably won’t have to see it through, so tanking the family relationship for the slim chance it becomes reality seems silly. But we are older, and I cannot imagine these people having influence over my kid. I do not want my child to be like them. (Or this version of them, at least.)
How do we tactfully approach them to rescind our request?
A: The first thing I thought when I read your note is: This may not have been an issue five or six years ago. The United States is seeing some of its deepest divides in its short history, so barbs about presidential missteps (literally, in the case of the president falling off his bike) may have gone unnoticed or even ignored in the past. Now, these comments seem to signal something deeper, and jokes like these can lead to snap judgments about values and, in your case, doubts about guardianship for your child.
I don’t know what this off-handed joke means for your family, though. Are you intimating that this family has fallen down the fake news rabbit hole? Do these people believe in conspiracy theories? Are they sliding into casual racism and anti-LGBTQ thinking or believing that elections were stolen?
Or do they simply have opinions that don’t mirror your own?
It will be impossible to find people to replace you when it comes to matching values, behaviors and beliefs in the case of a tragically early death, so only you can decide where the line needs to be drawn. It is popular (and maybe true) to assert that parenting is political, and, if you were to ignore this family’s political leanings, you may feel as if you are going against your core values. You could also look at the evidence of the family you have chosen (affable, intelligent, fun to be around) and decide that those are “good enough” characteristics for you to be comfortable with keeping your original decision.
Nothing would be ideal, so instead, the question is: What is good enough for you? With no guarantees, no promises and no assurances of what the guardians will do, you’ll want to be able to go to sleep and think: “We are making the best decision we can with the options we have.”
As you weigh your options, gather some information. I would strongly suggest considering what would be best for your whole child, beyond political leanings. Again, if there is extremism, that may be a red flag, but there are many factors to consider when it comes to your child. Lawyers who specialize in guardianship have seen various parental decisions (and their consequences), so they should be able to give you good counsel. Chances are that they are going to have you look at factors that you may not be thinking about (proximity to family, staying in the area and near school/friends, etc.), and many lawyers will suggest a backup even if you do change your mind. Would you be willing to use this family as that backup? Look at the steps and go through the motions before alerting the family of any change.
If you decide to assign different guardians, you have another challenge to take on: talking to your family. The most courageous act would be to sit them down and say: “Ralph and Jenny, we value our relationship with you, and as little Reginald has gotten older, we’ve changed some of our thinking about his guardianship. We value our relationship with you, and we take this very seriously, so please know that we intend for you to always have a relationship with Reginald.”
It’s going to be hard for them to not take this personally, and what they’ll probably hear is, “You aren’t good enough to raise our kid,” so be ready to offer a kind “why.” Try something like: “We’ve become deeply committed to social justice, and we want to ensure that Reginald would also have that at home. Our friends Frank and Michelle are committed to this way of life, and it feels like the right fit.” If they are mature, they may shrug and say they are hurt but understand your decision. Just be prepared for some family fallout. As long as you stay kind, clear and on message, this may blow over.
If you want to take the less courageous way out, you could downgrade this family with the lawyers without telling them. This would mean that, in the unfortunate case that you both die prematurely, the shock and anger would happen after your death, and your child may take the brunt of it. Families have been deeply hurt and divided over such decisions, so I strongly encourage you to be brave.
Go slowly, have multiple conversations with each other, talk to your lawyer and follow your intuition. Good luck.