Dear Prudence

Help! I Don’t Want to Take In My Husband’s Grandchildren.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

Mallory Ortberg.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Sam Breach.

Q. No maternal feelings: I have been married to my husband for a decade and have been very happy with my life until now. My husband has been married twice before and has several children and grandchildren. I have never had any maternal instincts and make no bones about it. Small children make me uncomfortable, and I much prefer to socialize with them once they have grown. I get on perfectly well with the older grandchildren and even had a few live with us as they went to school in our city.

My problem is my husband’s youngest child has chosen to self-destruct in the most damaging, destructive way possible. And she has two small boys who she has dragged along in her wake. My husband wants to help his grandsons, but I can’t be their full-time caregiver. There is no possible way this will end well for anyone. These boys needs attention, security, and emotional support I am not capable of. I am not a bad person or a cold one, but realistic. If we take these boys in, no matter what promises my husband makes, I am going to be the primary caregiver. I want these little boys to have a secure home, and I don’t want to wreck my marriage. How can I phrase this well?

A: I’m so sorry for all of you involved in this painful situation. This may very well turn out to be the kind of story that ends sadly even though none of you (apart from your husband’s daughter) has done anything wrong. You’re not interested in parenting children, full stop. Your husband wants to care for his young grandchildren who have been abandoned by their mother. (I assume the father is not in the picture, as you have not mentioned him.) You must be very honest and upfront with your husband about this. Is it possible for the two of you to support his grandchildren without taking on their full-time care? Are there other, younger relatives or family friends who are willing and able to take the boys in, such that you two could contribute to their well-being financially and emotionally, without having to live with them? If it’s at all possible, I think you should explore your options.

If you and your husband are the only people standing between his grandchildren and foster care, and he’s determined to take them in, I think you’re going to have to acknowledge the possibility that things just may not work out between the two of you. While it would be sad if you separated, it would be even worse if you begrudgingly took in his grandchildren and drove yourself to distraction being a live-in caregiver when you know you are not interested in or capable of mothering anyone.