Help! My Sister-in-Law Won’t Adopt a Developmentally Disabled Child.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 16 2014 3:04 PM

Unwelcome Home

My sister-in-law won’t adopt a developmentally disabled child. As the parent of one, I’m offended.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, I look forward to your questions.

Q. Adoptive baby: I am the parent of two wonderful children, one of whom has Down syndrome. My sister-in-law (my husband’s sister) and her husband have started the adoption process. My MIL casually mentioned the adoption agency they were going through, so I went online and checked their profile. I noticed on the agency website that they are only interested in typical children. This was heartbreaking to me. There are a lot of children who have developmental delays that could use a stable and loving home. Their deliberate decision to not even consider a child with developmental delays was a slap in my face. Prior to this incident, they have been nothing but caring and generous toward both my children, but now I wonder if they are just faking it with my Down syndrome child. I sent my SIL a link to an adoption agency that helps place children with developmental delays, and she just responded that they were happy with the agency they selected. Should I have another conversation with her about this issue? I will see everybody in a few weeks for the Fourth of July and I’m not sure if I can hold back my opinion on this.

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A: What in the world do you mean when you say that you went online and read their adoption application with the agency? If this agency is not keeping such sensitive information totally private, they should be out of business. But if what happened is that you finagled a way to get their private information, shame, shame, shame on you. No one else’s reproductive choices have anything to do with your family. Because this couple is not seeking out a child with special needs, it in no way reflects on the love they have for your child. You’ve already crossed a line, so start back-tracking immediately and practice keeping your mouth zipped about their adoptive plans. I hope there’s a support group for parents of Down children who can help you work through this (and if they start stirring you up—run!). If not, and you find this is ruining your relationship with a loving couple in your life, seek some short-term help to deal with your own issues.

Q: Working Wife: I’m 24 years old and my boyfriend of two years and I are having serious talks about taking our relationship to the next level; however, if we got married, he would prefer that I be a stay-at-home mom. We both attended the same challenging university and enjoy careers in the military. Nothing against mothers who stay at home to nurture their children, but I was raised with both of my parents working and pulling equal weight within our family. My mother made sure I understood I could be whatever I wanted to be, and college was anything but a cake walk because of the military schedule I followed. I wholeheartedly think I’m capable of handling a career and raising my kids, but my boyfriend has justified his stance by not wanting his children in day care raised by strangers (we live too far away from home for family to help) and defaulting to women being the traditional caregivers. I’m willing to get out of the military if that was the issue, but he expects me not to work at all. My friends and co-workers all think I’m at an impasse that’s straight out of the 1950s. I wouldn’t be writing if I wasn’t torn between someone I want to spend the rest of my life with and what he expects of me as his wife.

A: And since this is 2014, and not the 1950s, I have a solution for your future husband—when you have those babies, he stays home with them! It’s good that you two are having talks about how you see your future. What’s not good is that your boyfriend sounds like your superior officer, and not your partner. He may have a vision of what family life is, but if it conflicts with yours, he doesn’t get to impose it on you. Of course, even if people are absolutely sure about what they want after the babies come, once they do arrive, babies have a way of changing parents’ minds. What’s crucial is that the parents are flexible and generous-hearted with each other. But you sound as if you’re already on the defensive about caring for kids who don’t exist. That’s a warning that you two are a long way from being ready to spend the rest of your lives together.

Q. Daughter’s New In-Law: I have three children, two boys and one girl. My husband went to college and had a lucrative and stable career. I did not go to college, and mostly stayed at home with my kids or had short bursts of part-time employment. Throughout my marriage, I felt anxious and ashamed of my lack of college degree and made sure that all three of my kids graduated from undergrad. My daughter went onto law school and is a practicing attorney. I have always been so proud of her that she will never have the insecurities and worries that I did. However, she recently got married to a man whose family is well off. Her husband has three brothers, and all of their wives have stayed home with their children and abandoned their careers (one of them was an accountant, one was a teacher, and the third worked for local government). I am worried that my daughter will leave her job when she gets pregnant and end up in the same place I was. My husband was mortified that I felt this way and thinks I ought to drop it entirely. But I want to give my daughter some sort of warning, let her know that the housewife existence isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.

A: As with the letter writer above whose boyfriend wants her to stay home with their nonexistent kids and who needs to back off, Mom, you too need to not impose your anxieties about your daughter’s yet unconceived children. You say the women in the family you are observing all “abandoned” their careers. But maybe from their perspective they are taking a break in their careers—you hardly are in a position to know, and certainly not in one to judge. What to do when the children come is something a mother and daughter should be able to talk about with each other, but I don’t think you should even broach this topic until you’ve more thoroughly dealt with your own insecurities. The last thing you want to do is impose them on your daughter—or have her react against your desires. You raised three accomplished kids; I hope you find great satisfaction in that. And now that they’re out of the house, it’s time for you to concentrate on what you want to do with the rest of your own life.

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