Dear Care and Feeding,
I gave birth to our second child six months ago. It was a rough pregnancy physically and an equally rough postpartum period. I am 100 percent done having kids. My husband is also 100 percent done (and would have actually been fine stopping with one). For a variety of reasons, I can’t do hormonal birth control and IUDs freak me out, so our current method of prevention is mostly abstinence (hello, two small kids during a pandemic!), otherwise condoms. I am pretty reluctant to have sex because I’m terrified of getting pregnant again. Our first kid was a surprise, and the second took exactly one try to get pregnant, so another surprise pregnancy seems very likely. Given that neither of us wants more children, I brought up the subject of a vasectomy a few months ago, and my husband was OK with the idea and asked me to get some recommendations. I did—I found a doctor for him in our area who people swear by—and gave him the brochure. He said he’d make an appointment that week.
Now it’s been three months. The topic comes up every once in a while, and he always says, “Oh yeah, I still need to schedule that so we can have sex more.” Then he doesn’t do it. He has joked that I should just make the appointment and tell him where and when to show up. At this point, I’m wondering if he just doesn’t want the vasectomy but doesn’t want to admit it (to me or even to himself). Or are guys just sometimes squeamish about the idea even if they do want one? I don’t want to pressure him into doing something he doesn’t want to do, but he’s also a procrastinator, and I would love to stop worrying about another pregnancy.
—No More Kids
Sure, guys are sometimes squeamish (that seems natural enough to me). Sometimes they’re scared of surgery of any kind (ditto). Sometimes they’re ambivalent, sometimes they’re lying (they don’t in fact want to do this but can’t bring themselves to tell their partners), and sometimes they’re lying to themselves, as you think your husband might be. But sometimes they are so accustomed to wives who take care of everything for them they would never ever pick up the phone and make a doctor’s appointment themselves. I can’t help thinking that this last explanation might be the accurate one in your situation since 1) apparently it never occurred to him on his own that a vasectomy would be solution to this problem, and 2) when you brought it up and he “was OK” with it, he asked you to do the work of finding a doctor (and you did!). But you would know far better than I if this is the case. Like: Has he ever made a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment on his own? Do the two of you have an understanding that this is your job? (Lots of couples do have such an unspoken understanding. I will set aside the question of whether this is good for a relationship.)
If this is the way things go for the two of you, go ahead and make the appointment and tell him where and when. You’ll find out pretty quickly at that point if there’s something else going on. Or you could take the long way around and ask him: Is this something you actually want to do? And don’t let him off the hook with another vague answer (“Yeah, sure, I just haven’t gotten around to it”). I wouldn’t worry about pressuring him into doing something he doesn’t want to do (if he really doesn’t want to do it, he won’t). It sounds like the two of you may have some problems communicating (his joking about this subject that is seriously worrying you seems another sign of that). It also sounds like you may be uncomfortable holding him accountable—that you tiptoe around him and his feelings more than is healthy for your relationship, and that he counts on you to do the heavy lifting. I hope you two can have an honest conversation about all of this. And for sure if you make the appointment for him and then he balks—or just “forgets” to keep it—you will have to talk it through. I hope, too, that he’s been honest with you about being “100 percent done.”
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am the biological father of a 15-year-old girl whose biological mother and adopted dad and half-siblings just moved across the country to Houston. Previously, they lived in Fairbanks, Alaska—which is 300 miles from where I live in Anchorage. Now that her family lives in Houston, we are 3,300 miles apart. Her mother and I dated briefly in college. She was the first girlfriend I’d ever had, and it was not a healthy relationship. After I found out she was pregnant, I broke up with her (the feelings between us were decidedly not mutual) and left Fairbanks. I should add that my parents advised me to do so. And as bad as I feel about what I did, I don’t regret my decision. My daughter has a much better life than she would have had if I had acted otherwise.
I have had little contact with her for most of her life, but since she reached out to me two years ago, I have been trying to build a relationship with her through text messaging. The texts she sends me are all very similar: “YOU ABANDONED ME,” “YOU RUINED MY LIFE,” “YOU ARE A BAD PARENT,” “DON’T HAVE ANY MORE KIDS,” “I AM GOING TO HATE WHOMEVER YOU MARRY,” etc. I text her back and tell her I love her, trying hard to make things right because I know I am at fault. However, our relationship has only gotten worse. I am single, an engineer who works 80+ hours a week in remote Alaskan villages. My work can be very stressful and I can’t continue to sustain the emotional abuse my daughter constantly hurls at me without putting my job in jeopardy. I do want to try to build our relationship and the last thing I want to do is go back to ignoring her. Her mom is nicer to me, but she is very close to my daughter and will back my daughter up under any circumstances. What should I do?
—Ashamed Bio Dad
First things first: You cannot build a relationship through text messages. Pick up the phone and call your daughter. If she needs to hurl abuse at you, let her do it in something resembling real life, and respond to her in real time. If you truly want to have a relationship with her, as you say you do, you will be honest with her and with yourself. How bad do you feel about the way you handled things 15+ years ago? What precisely do you feel bad about? You say you don’t regret your decision, but does that mean you regret none of it? Can you think of any other ways you could have handled things? Can you admit (aloud) to those? Or at the very least admit to having been young and frightened and selfish and perhaps too much under the influence of your parents (who, as parents do, wanted the best for you—but weren’t think about anyone else affected by your “decision”)? I don’t think you have a chance in hell of a relationship with your bio daughter if you’re not going to come clean to her. Telling her you love her—when you don’t even really know her—is probably infuriating to her. Those words are meaningless in this situation. Get to know her.
Yes, she’s being awful to you now. But was she awful from the first time she reached out? Or did she start out tentative and curious and then switch gears? She is certainly at the age of major gear-switching (as noted in my response below to Your Kid Isn’t Always the Best). The easy thing to do would be to cease contact with her rather than continue to listen to (or read) this abuse. But if you mean it when you say that cutting her off is the last thing you want to do, why not switch gears yourself? Write her a (real, postal-mailed, or emailed if you must) letter telling her honestly what was going on back then with you, and how terrible you feel about it now. I would refrain from mentioning that her mom liked you more than you liked her, or that you have no regrets (honest doesn’t mean including every hurtful detail; it’s enough to cop to being young and stupid and afraid).
Follow up with a phone call or a video chat. Decide how often you’re willing to talk, and stick to it. And if she continues to text you insults, I would text her back just to tell her when you’re going to call to talk for real. (And leave her mom out of this. This is between you and the kid.) The first few conversations may go very badly, but if you’re serious about wanting to build a relationship, you’ll stay the course. And she may eventually get past where she is now. I’m pretty sure she didn’t reach out to you just to yell at you.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have two 14-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. Over the last year or so, when we have had a family vacation planned, the kids are adamant that they do not want to come with us. We forced them once to accompany us on vacation, which quickly turned our holiday into a hell-a-day. We don’t want to create a home-alone situation, but frankly Mom and Dad need a break sometimes and would like to get away (to be candid: I feel OK with the kids being alone; my husband does not). Are we bound to be eternal shut-ins, never able to take a vacation, or can we find some compromise that will push the children out the front door to come with us and somehow a miracle will occur and we’ll all find ourselves simultaneously enjoying one another’s company on vacation?
—Captured in California
I don’t think a miracle will occur, but rest assured, you’re not the only family in which 14-year-olds don’t enjoy vacationing with their families. I know of parents who insist that their kids go along with it anyway (I’m not a fan), believing that they know better than their children what their children “really” want (and need)—but it doesn’t sound like family togetherness is your main concern anyway. Unless you want to continue to make yourselves and them miserable by forcing them to take what are absolutely not vacations for them (and, as you learned, will not be vacations for you), you have few choices. You can give up vacations for a couple of years, until both you and your husband feel it’s safe to leave them on their own. Or you and your husband can take the trip, and leave them with a relative or close (and willing) friend—or perhaps with two separate friends of theirs, with willing parents, especially if you’re up for returning the favor.
You might also think further about whether they truly can be trusted to stay on their own. You say you feel OK about it, but are you sure they’ll be OK, or is this wishful thinking on your part? And if you know in your heart of hearts that they won’t be—or you know they will but your husband has his doubts—and there isn’t anywhere they can stay while you get your (brief) getaway, can’t you be adult about this and recognize that it won’t be all that long that you’re giving up these breaks from the daily grind? In a few short years, you can take all the vacations you want, because the kids will be grown and gone. (I myself found that the years between 14 and 18 passed in a flash—it was as if I blinked and four years had passed. So take heart.)
Dear Care and Feeding,
I recently relocated from a major metropolitan area to a less progressive, suburban one to be closer to family. Part of this means I now own a home and yard, not a condo with condo fees. I myself am childless, though I have been involved in community activities for about 10 years with kids ages 13 to 18 (i.e., I’m kinda kid-dumb but not totally). The neighbor kid asked if he could mow my lawn last year, and I said yes. It was affordable and he did a great job, and I developed a friendship with the parents. He also came over and dogsat for me a few times. But this year he turned 14, and since then, it’s been nothing but problems with him. He doesn’t show up when he is supposed to, or he does come to mow but skips part of the lawn—or he shows up the ONE TIME I told him he cannot mow (weekend mornings). So then Mom gets involved and now THEY are dictating the terms of his cruddy job to ME (e.g., he can only do weekend mornings, even though he does plenty of other activities at other times). To top it off, recently he blew off watching my dog. I knew he had blown it off (I have cameras in my house that he and his mom know about). The mom also knew he had blown it off. I went over and paid anyway as an honesty test, which the two of them failed pretty hard, since he took the cash and she didn’t object.
Overall he isn’t a bad kid. He would never steal, he wouldn’t abuse my dog (other than through neglect), and he speaks to me respectfully (even if what he does isn’t respectful), but I have a lot of work and family stress right now, and this is just something that’s consuming too much emotional energy for me (not to mention that one of my favorite things about not having kids is sleeping in on the weekend, since I start work very early on weekdays). I want to maintain a friendly relationship with this family, but I’m super done with this crap. I want to just tell him “Hey, with the limitations on your schedule now, it looks like we aren’t a good match for mow times” and use a service the next six weeks or so, but my mom has advised me to wait until the end of the year to save a relationship with the parents, to just use a service next year. My question is: Is my mom right? And at what point do people without kids have a right to gently and tactfully say, “Hey, your kid is in the wrong here?” And how do I say “Hey, I’m using a service” next year without hurting anybody’s feelings?
—Your Kid Isn’t Always the Best
First: Your mom is wrong. Second: There is no point at which people, with or without kids of their own, have a “right” to say, “Hey, your kid is in the wrong.” There is nothing to be gained from such a conversation. And third: The words you offer for a graceful way out of this ridiculous situation are perfect—that with the kid’s limited schedule, this isn’t going to work anymore. If your neighbor/sort-of friend’s feelings are hurt, it is truly her problem, not yours. The only part of this that’s your responsibility is having let this go on for as long as you have (and my guess is that this is learned behavior from your mother—so be grateful that you have at least a little voice inside you that knows better!).
As to the kid who’s “not always the best,” feel free to be generous (in your mind) and chalk it up to the madness that sets in when a human being turns 14 (which usually passes). But honestly I wouldn’t spend any more time thinking about this. It’s not, or shouldn’t be, your problem. (Though if the mother challenges you when you offer your polite excuse for discontinuing her son’s work [nonwork] for you, and you still want to try to be friends, I suppose you can offer your sympathy for what her life with him must be like right now. Fourteen-year-olds who go off the rails usually do it at home too.)
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