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.

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.

Q. Re: Adoptive baby: I read it as her saying the agency only handles nondisabled children for adoption. Hence her suggesting another agency to her brother. Which makes it even more ridiculous that she is taking it so personally!

A: OK, thanks for the clarification. But while an agency might not specialize in babies with obvious disabilities, no one can “guarantee” that a child will ultimately not have special needs. All this only means that this woman needs to examine her own discomfort and defensiveness and stay far away from anyone else’s choices.

Q. Re: Adoptive baby: I’m a 33-year-old with a brother with developmental disabilities; I’m a carrier for the same disorder. I love my brother immensely. But one of the reasons I’m not having kids is because I know I couldn’t do what my parents did. Your SIL’s recognizing her own shortcomings does not mean she doesn’t love your kid.

A: Thank you for making this powerful point.

Q: Dog Thought Dentures Were Chew Toys: My lady friend and I both have dogs. Mine is 5 years old and generally well-behaved while hers is a 1-year-old who can think that the world is her chew toy. My lady friend was doing a good deed and letting her best friend use her spare bedroom to visit the friend’s mom in the hospital since the friend lives an hour away. Unbeknownst to us, the friend, who has dogs of her own, had taken her mom’s dentures and left them in an open duffel bag on the floor of the guest room while the three of us went out to dinner to give her relief from visiting the hospital. When we got back, her mom’s dentures were bitten into pieces by one of the dogs. And apparently these dentures cost about $5,000. The friend doesn’t want to tell her mom about the loss, because the mom has been in intensive care for a week and “is not out of the woods yet.” Also the friend is dropping hints that my lady friend should just write a check for $5,000 for replacement costs. My lady friend says “no good deed goes unpunished” and she didn’t know that there were valuable dentures left on the floor. All of us are gainfully employed, but none of us can easily spare several thousand dollars. If the friend’s mom survives and if she doesn’t have replacement coverage or spare dentures, who should pay and why?

A: Ah, the ghost of my late dog Sasha. We kept a fund during the years we had her for the shoes, wallets, bags, etc. of our guests that the dog ate when anyone dared leave anything chewable within beagle distance. Of course we warned people, but you just can’t anticipate everything, such as a pair of yummy fake teeth more enticing than a Kong. First of all, since the mother doesn’t know about the loss—and I agree she shouldn’t until she’s ready for discharge, since the idea of losing her teeth might cause a relapse—none of you knows whether she has dental insurance. Presumably she does, since $5,000 dentures are the top of the line. If so, and if the dentist has kept casts of the mother’s teeth, replacement cost might be substantially less. This friend is making noises about your girlfriend needing to write a check for $5,000, but you two are pretending you don’t speak this language, so I think you should keep up this little dance. Once the mother hears the news, and you all know the potential cost of replacement, I think it would be generous to offer to pay something—in the several-hundred-dollar range—for the loss. Let’s hope the mother is so happy to be alive, that she can put having to replace her choppers into perspective.

Q. Re: Adoptive baby: Most adoption agencies place online a short profile of prospective parents—which is what the adoptive mom looked at. She didn’t do any snooping. We have two adopted children with Down syndrome—and we love them. But we also realize that people have to make their own decisions about adoption, and parenting in general, and we have to respect them. When we adopted two disabled children, we were second-guessed, and we resented it. We wouldn’t want to do the same to others.

A: We looked into adoption at one point, and I do not remember ever seeing profiles of the people hoping for children. Some of the agencies had profiles of people who had adopted and who wanted to post their stories, but not people who were in process. I’m stunned by the idea that this private information would be made public.

Q. My Mentor Married a Monster: Gloria has been first a mentor and then a mother figure to me since we began working together two years ago. I was shocked when I found out she'd gotten married; I hadn't even realized she was dating someone. I have since learned that Gloria's husband Jason is a prison inmate. From what little she told me, I surmised his crime was serious enough in nature that he might never be released. Against my better judgment, I did an Internet search and found out Jason raped three women. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I despise sexual predators, and now I can barely look Gloria in the eye. I cannot understand why she would marry a rapist. I cannot help but feel she is pathetic and desperate. I don't know how to continue our relationship, and it is exhausting for me to pretend like nothing has changed between us. What should I do?

A: You probably didn't know Gloria was dating because she was seeing someone she could only view behind Plexiglass and whose wardrobe will consist of orange jumpsuits until his demise. You say you "found out" Gloria had married this monster, so I'm assuming you didn't receive an invitation to the wedding shower and the news didn't come from her. You don't need to have survived your own horror—and I'm sorry about what you went through—to be horrified by Gloria's judgment. I agree anyone who marries a violent inmate has serious problems of her own, ones whose depths you don't want to plumb. But this is a private matter for Gloria and since she apparently has kept it out of the workplace, so should you. Mentors can be wonderful, but they can also be stifling, so obviously it's time for you to ease your way out of this relationship. As for her being a “mother figure”—consider that that isn't what you need professionally, so also make a course correction in this aspect of your relationship. You do not have to understand Gloria, you just have to be able to get along with her. 

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

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