Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Choosing, Pt. II

Amy's column featuring people's suggestions on how to deal with the question, "When are you having children?" (Answer: neverrr!) was apparently a hit. I got a few comments on it, and blushed as my blog post about it was tweeted and re-tweeted by some of my friends. Thanks, Samsanator, TheUndomestic, and thelifeinthepink! Yesterday, Amy printed yet another letter from a couple battling with the issue of children--but this time they're pitted against one another: the woman wants another child, while her husband doesn't. Yawn? Twist! He's the one staying home with them.

Dear Amy: I have been with my mate for about 15 years — married for the last five. We have two delightful children, ages 4 and 2. For some time now, I have wanted to have another child. When I have attempted to discuss this with my husband, he becomes angry and states that he doesn't want more children. During one discussion that turned into an argument, he said he'd rather be divorced than have another child.
He has two adult children from a previous marriage. I work outside the home, so he cares for the children — he took an early retirement from his job. I have explored the possibility of my caring for the kids while he works or both of us working, but he is not interested in returning to work.
Our marriage is strained, and I'm not happy. At times, I find myself hating him because of this. Can you help? — Desperate for Another

Dear Desperate: If a full-time working father with a stay-at-home wife posed the same issue, I'd tell him to count his blessings and get over it. And so you should count your blessings and get over it. [Fair enough. But....since, say, the 18th century, how many full-time working fathers have posed the same issue? Ever since having enough spare heirs to carry on the line became a virtual non-issue (ha!) on this side of the world, I feel fathers rarely insist to wives that they want more than the two children they already have. At least, if it's happening it's not coming up in advice columns]
Until you have cared for two young children as a stay-at-home parent, day in and day out, you can't really know how unrelenting full-time parenting is. [Absolutely true...and yet, there are full-time parents who do want more children, so....]
Essentially, what your husband hears is that you would like to add to his burden.
I deduce that he is older, more experienced and more exhausted than you are.
[I think Amy's probably right here. It's possible he only agreed to have children with her in the first place because she wanted a family of her own--he could have been "done" with all that years ago. In this light, it's pretty admirable that he's giving her both the family she wants and the career she wants, and no one has to pay for day care. She's got a pretty good deal.]
You have little idea what challenges lie in wait for you as a parent, but your husband does. [Also true, but not necessarily fair...if "knowing what you're getting into" were a pre-req for parenthood, no one would ever have their first child. And most parents with older children don't have more than even a couple years of foresight as to what's coming next. I mean, yes, this experienced father does know what's coming and therefore can fairly say he's not up for it. And it's better for him to be honest about it. I just can't help but feel that Amy's being a little harsh on the mom.] He knows that he's in for at least 20 more years of full-time daddy-hood.
It's unfortunate that you're unhappy, but you're way too willing to sacrifice your husband's happiness for yours. If you can't manage your disappointment, get counseling.

In the end, I basically agree with Amy's advice. It's no good to bring a child, or try to bring a child, into a family where one parent is not into it. Since they have two kids, and they each have a job or retirement situation with which they're comfortable and that meets their families needs, I think she's right that it's time to be happy with what they've got and live with it.

I guess what surprises me is how skeptical Amy seems of this woman's concept of motherhood. I appreciate that since the father is the full-time caregiver in this case, she takes his point of view and, ultimately, his side. But she also seems to suggest that since this woman is not home with her kids, she is oblivious to the gravity and challenges of parenthood, and that surprises me--especially since Amy herself was a single working mother for many years. This seemed unexpectedly anti-working-mother to me, and something about it didn't quite sit right.

And yet, if it were a father writing in, not a mother, I probably wouldn't have these qualms. So maybe Amy's actually being fairer than my brain can handle. What do you think?

I must say that somehow describing one's own children as "delightful" suggests a sense of pleasant detachment. Other people's children are delightful, or not. One's own toddlers might be the light of one's life, or a drain on it, or both, but the relationship is a lot more involved than "delightful."

Also, I think the issue goes deeper than just (just?) whether or not to have another child. The fact that he is totally closed off to even discussing it--to the point that he says he'd rather get a divorce--and the fact that she keeps bringing it up and "hates" him for not being open to it suggests that they've got a lot more issues than just this one. I wonder if he's tried to explain/express to her why he feels their family is complete--could be thousands of reasons--and if she'd even listen.

I don't think they should have another child. But I do think they should talk to each other about it.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I've been reading this blog so much lately, but leaving so few comments because... basically I agree with everything you say. Ha.

As an also-frequent reader of Ask Amy, this one did strike me as well as being out of the ordinary due to the work situation.

"He knows that he's in for at least 20 more years of full-time daddy-hood." Although this guy took an "early retirement" we can guess he's at least 50. That'll make him 70 (at the VERY least) by the time his kids are out of the house. It's probably already dawning on him that might never see his grandchildren from these two, and he's just feeling too old for a third young child. I agree with Amy -- I'm on this guy's side. And given that he didn't write the letter, and wasn't given his own voice in the issue, I think it says something that you want to side with him anyway.