Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where we sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about baby-making.
Dear Muffle,Ever since I turned 30 my mother has been less-than-subtle about her desires for a grandchild. My mother loves to make comments to friends who have kids about how she wants to someday have a grandchild and calls other grandparents “lucky.” She even once went as far as to say if I had the baby she would raise it.I am in a long-term relationship with a man and have functioning female reproductive organs. The problem? Neither of us want to have kids. The biggest reason is the financial burden. Raising kids is fucking expensive…and that’s not even including the healthcare costs. There are some other, more personal reasons, such as the fear of bringing a child into the current madness, the desire to not take care of yet another person (I am a caregiver), and my overwhelming fear of commitment with all things in life (I can’t even decide on a tattoo).I have mentioned some of these things to my mother, but that doesn’t seem to dull her enthusiasm and desire. She continues to make awkward comments at all the wrong times and almost feels like she is obligated to have a grandchild.Do you have any advice on how to curb my mother’s enthusiasm and awkward comments? Or, do you have any magic words I could say to her to make her see how I feel? Or, perhaps I am in the wrong and I do owe my mother a child and a continuation of the family?Thanks,Childless Woman
First and foremost, CW, I have to respond to the very last line of your letter to me: you do not “owe” your mother (or anyone else, for that matter) a baby. Your body and your reproduction or lack thereof is something incredibly personal, and it belongs to no one but yourself. You can choose to share your decision-making process with others, like your partner or your mom, but that is entirely at your discretion, and you can revoke that privilege at any time. There is nothing more intimate than what you decide to do with your own reproductive organs, and that alone is good reason for everyone else to butt out.
Of course, they don’t, in practice. Even strangers, upon learning a woman’s age or marital status or just noticing that she exists, will ask about her number of or plans to have children. I’ll save my rant on why this is just so, so inappropriate and an artifact of seeing women’s value as tied to their capacity to bear children for another time, but regardless: it happens. And your mom in particular may feel that she is in a privileged position with respect to you and your body; after all, she’s likely known you longer than anyone else in this world, and may have even given birth to you herself. Unfortunately for her, this no more gives her a right to determine (or even necessarily know) your reproductive choices than anyone else.
You spent a little time in your letter justifying your choice not to have kids, CW, and while I understand why you feel you had to do that, you don’t. Your reason can be as simple as “I don’t want to.” You’re under no obligation to explain to me (or, again, anyone else) why that is. It’s your body, your life, and your choice. That’s enough.
Knowing that to be true, however, doesn’t solve your current problem. Your mother repeatedly steps over your boundaries on this issue, and you need her to stop. To do that, I would shift the conversation from justifying your decision to focusing on the fact that it is your decision, and that you do have boundaries here. Instead of explaining why you feel the way you do, try telling your mom how her questions and comments make you feel: “Mom, I understand what you’re saying, but I’ve told you before that I’m not interested in having children, and it makes me feel like you don’t respect my decision when you make these comments. That really hurts my feelings, especially since this is so personal. Please don’t bring this up any more.”
This likely won’t make your mom stop, at least not at first, but once you’ve said this to her, you’ll at least have made your boundaries clear. Going forward, you’re entirely justified, when she brings up wanting grandchildren, to say calmly but firmly, “Mom, I’ve asked you not to talk about this,” and change the subject. If she persists, ask her to respect your feelings and move on. And if she still won’t quit, you should feel entirely free to end the conversation: “Mom, I don’t want to talk about this. I’ll see you when you’re ready to talk about something else.” Then leave.
Conversations like this aren’t easy, but it’s easier to maintain boundaries when you make them clear, explicit, and enforced. Your mother’s unfulfilled desire to spend time with children is not your problem, and she should satisfy that yen in a way that respects your autonomy. Maybe a part time shift at a local daycare will remind her that babies aren’t all snuggles and smiles.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.