Help! My Boyfriend Is His Parents' Only Hope for Grandchildren—but I Don't Want Kids.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 6 2013 6:15 AM

End of the Line

I don’t want kids—but that means my boyfriend’s parents will never have grandchildren. Am I evil?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Got a burning question for Prudie? She’s off next Monday but will be back online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers on Monday, June 17.  

Dear Prudie,
A year and a half ago I began dating an amazing man with whom I had been friends for a few years. We are both in our late 20s, and a month after we got involved I explained that if we were to continue dating he needed to understand that I did not ever want to have children. He thought about it and told me he never really saw himself having children either and the (non)issue was settled. His parents separated when he was little and I have spent time with both of his families who have welcomed me with open arms. During a BBQ at his father's house, his dad had a few beers and tipsily admitted he can't wait to have grandchildren. He sensed my discomfort and asked "You don't want to have kids?" and I gently explained that it wasn't something I saw in my future. He has never brought it up since and continues to be warm and inviting to me. My boyfriend is his dad's only child. His mother has a daughter by her second marriage who is autistic. I've come to the realization that I could be ruining his parents’ only chance at grandchildren, and I feel horrible about it. I haven't brought it up to my boyfriend because I'm certain he would respond that this is his decision and his parents will just have to accept it. While that is certainly true, I can't help feeling guilty that I am taking away the chance for his wonderful parents to be wonderful grandparents. The feeling is so strong that sometimes I think I should just let my boyfriend go while we're still young so he can find someone who can stomach the thought of kids. What should I do and how do I stop this tidal wave of guilt?

—Grandkid Guilt

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Dear Guilt,
It is admirably sensitive of you to consider the implications of your decision for your boyfriend’s family. Realizing a grown child will never have offspring can be a major psychological blow to the parents. It’s particularly intense if that grown child is an only child. (Your boyfriend’s mother does also have a daughter, but that child’s degree of disability may preclude her from having children.) Good for you for having this internal debate, but now it’s time to make it external. You simply have to include your boyfriend in your thought process. I agree he’ll probably dismiss your fears and say having kids is not for him. But I’m concerned that while your desire to remain child-free is well-considered and long-standing, his may not be. If you’d said early on that having children was important to you, and wherever your relationship ultimately went you wanted to make sure he was someone who shared that desire, I’m betting he would have come back to you and said he saw himself becoming a father. You’re young and in love, and being youthful and besotted makes it hard to focus on abstract issues like parenthood, especially when your circle of two seems so complete. You need to tell your boyfriend about the exchange with your father. Explain to him his dad has never mentioned it again, but your conscience has been pricked by this and you are troubled. Tell him you’re not asking for reassurance or a declaration of how happy he is with you. You are asking that he truly contemplate what it would mean to him, and yes even to his parents, if you two were to stay together and never have kids. I’ve gotten many heartbroken letters from people who thought they were part of a couple who shared the same views on having children, only to find a partner had changed his or her mind. This has gone both ways: someone who never wanted kids experiencing a compelling and unexpected desire for them; or someone who always assumed children would be the natural progression realizes they aren’t. There’s no way to ensure this won’t happen to any couple. But with a decision as profound as this one, it’s important that both people feel it was arrived at after the deepest thought.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Food-Freak Husband

Dear Prudence,
I'm a woman in my 50s who started masturbating when I was about 12 and have ever since. As a young girl, I discovered my orgasms were much more intense and a lot faster (just a few minutes) and easier if I had my legs straight out on the bed with muscles tensed. The problem is that now I have to do that to be able to come. I hate it and am embarrassed about it. My lovers have never expressed a problem with this—to the contrary—but I am still deeply ashamed. I have tried to climax in other ways but it took a really long time and I needed a vibrator to finish. I fear my current lover will get tired and bored with my "patented method.” I told a close girlfriend about this last year and she blurted out, "Ewww: mannequin!" which was a kick in the gut. But should I just get over my shame, and if so, how?

—Mortified

Dear Mortified,
When you’ve let your lovers in on your supposedly shameful secret that you must stick your legs straight out in order to have a Mount Pinatubo–intensity orgasm, to a man they’ve responded, “I can work with that.” Over the decades you’ve worn a powerful groove between body and mind that is a shortcut to ecstasy. This is not a cause for despair but celebration. Just because you have a “patented method” does not mean you’re a dull lover. You can engage in all sorts of gymnastics, but at some point during the session, you will feel the urge for your legs to stiffen. By your own account, no one has ever softened in response. The only negative I see is that it’s your personal method and not universally applicable. The world would be a happier place if the countless women who never reliably get off could solve this frustration with a session of mannequin legs.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I recently found out I'm pregnant (yay!). We have very few disagreements and generally see eye-to-eye on most things. But we fundamentally disagree on whether or not to find out the gender of our unborn child. I don't want to find out; he does. I could go through all of the arguments, but neither of us views it logically. Me: It doesn't really matter what the gender is, I'd rather be surprised. Him: Hates surprises. This is one of the few things in life that there's no compromise, because you either find out or you don't. I also don't think that it would work for him to find out and me not to—I know the answer would be revealed one way or another. How can we resolve this?

—Future Mom

Dear Future,
Relative to the length of human history, it’s only in the last nanosecond that we’ve had the technology to know the sex of an unborn child. For endless millennia, parents-to-be have accepted they’ll just have to wait for the baby’s arrival and in the meantime they just paint the cave a neutral color. Your husband’s argument that he doesn’t like surprises is specious because anyone who can’t handle surprises should not get into the parenting game. You’re right there’s no compromise position here, except maybe to be told that one of the baby’s sex chromosomes is X. But all things aren’t equal in the childbearing business, and to break this deadlock, I say the choice goes to the person who’s actually doing the gestating. In any case, in a few months this mystery will be resolved and you’ll realize how silly it was to fight over this, because having a child is a series of unfolding mysteries. As for this information coming out beforehand, when I was pregnant I elected to be told our daughter’s sex. Then at one of my last obstetrician appointments before my due date, as my doctor looked at the sonogram screen she said to me, “I can’t remember. Did you want to know what sex she is?”

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I are in our late 30s and I am lucky to be able to raise our three young children full-time. My father gave each of his three daughters money to buy our homes as wedding gifts. Although my mom left him when I was in my teens, we all managed to spend holidays together and life was pretty darn perfect. Five years ago he met a woman with two teenagers, fell in love and remarried. I couldn't stomach being around her and her children in the beginning. But I have accepted that I have had this person shoved into my life and have come to like her. I hate to admit it, but her children are good kids. But it sickens me to see this happy little family living in my childhood home, and I refuse to visit. They take my three girls to dinner or movies once a week, but it’s my father’s wife who calls to make the plans. I’ve decided unless my father asks, I will refuse to respond. My sister says I should be glad that at almost 70 years old he is happy, and to cut them some slack. But this is eating me up and I am getting to the point where I am honestly done with my father. How do I get through to him?

—Secretly Seething

Dear Seething,
The question really is how your sister can get through to you. You have a wonderful life, yet you’re eaten up with resentment that your father has also made one for himself. Not only that, these newcomers have expanded the universe of people who embrace you and your children. The best I can offer is this literary assignment. Read the poem “In the Desert” by Stephen Crane and reflect on whether you really want to be this creature:

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”

—Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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