Care and Feeding

I Was Such a Fool to Believe My Boyfriend Wanted a Baby

A woman sadly looks down at her belly.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Tomwang112/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My boyfriend and I had been trying for three months to get pregnant when I conceived. He was the one who started talking about having a baby, and we moved quickly from playful “baby fever” talk to serious conversation. We made the decision together to stop birth control. We were in love—or so I thought. We had no issues in our relationship; he treated me lovingly and sweetly.

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But last week, when I realized I was pregnant, my whole world shattered. As soon as I told him the news, he announced that he’d fallen out of love with me. He’d been feeling ambivalent about our relationship for the past two weeks, he said (just as the fertilized egg was making its way to implant in my uterus, I guess). He doesn’t want to be with me, doesn’t think we’re compatible, and seems to be rewriting our history. He is saying that the weekend we conceived, he wasn’t thinking about a baby at all. Even though we were discussing names and he suggested we look at kids’ stuff while we were out shopping. Now he tells me that I’m trying to trap him. But I’m the one who feels trapped—I’m in a corner. I don’t want to have an abortion. I’m 34. If I terminate, I may never have another chance to have a child. I wanted a baby so much! But I wanted to raise one with him, as a family, not as an abandoned and heartbroken woman. I keep hoping he is just panicking and will come to his senses. Or, if he doesn’t, that I’ll have a miscarriage so the decision to end the pregnancy isn’t on me.

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My (ex?) boyfriend, as one might guess, has been urging me toward terminating. If I do, and we stay/get back together, I will never be able to forgive him for what’s happened. If I have the baby, and he ends up being a good father, I might be able to forgive him. But maybe he’s already proven himself to be a bad father. I just don’t know.

—Confused

Dear Confused,

What he has proven to be is someone you can’t trust, someone with whom you have no business being in a relationship. Do not stay with him, if he promises to stick around if you terminate your pregnancy; do not take him back, if he leaves and then returns. He is duplicitous and unreliable, at best.

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I know this leaves you heartbroken. I don’t mean to minimize your heartbrokenness (we’ve all been there). But you will get over this; you will get over him. No one who’s heartbroken ever believes they will (I know I didn’t, back in the day … or days), but I promise you it’s true. Trust me, not your ex (no question mark!).

A man who has treated you the way this one has is not the man you want to be a family with, even if he “comes to his senses.”

The decision about whether to have this baby on your own is the one to focus on. It may be a very difficult decision for you, but I urge you to concentrate on that even as you do everything you can to put this romantic relationship behind you. You deserve better (everyone does). And no one but you knows whether you can—or want to—raise this child alone.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

This year I’m supposed to start applying to colleges. My parents have always wanted me to be a lawyer, mainly because I have a very high GPA and great debating skills. I have no interest in this. I want to be a preschool teacher, and I’ve known that for quite a while now (I love working with little kids), but I’m afraid to tell them. My parents are the kind of people who equate teaching pre-k to babysitting, so I’m sure they’d be disappointed in me setting my “sights so low.” Then there’s the fact that teaching preschool doesn’t pay well, which I know they’d hate. The one time I did bring up that this was one of the things I was considering as a career, my dad said, “You better marry someone rich, then.” And then he laughed! I know I need to tell them that I want to pursue this career, but I don’t want them to be mad, disappointed, or think I’m not living up to my full potential. Can you give me a script or something?

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—Not a Lawyer

Dear NaL,

Three thoughts for you, Not a Lawyer: First, it truly doesn’t matter one whit what career your parents have chosen for you. If you’re not interested in the law, then that’s that. It’s your life, not theirs. Second, even if you have known for a long time that you want to be a pre-k teacher—an honorable profession!—you have no idea what might spark your interest once you’re in college! Keep an open mind as you begin to take courses, and let your interests—and your passions—guide you. Sure, you might stick with your current plan—but you might discover something else entirely, a path that has never occurred to you before (or one you don’t even know exists). Third, you do not have to discuss any of this with your parents, particularly if they’re going to laugh at you or say something reductive or sexist. If they’re not supportive of your right to explore for yourself what you might want to do with your life, then they haven’t earned the right to hear about it.

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“I haven’t even started college yet! How am I supposed to know exactly what I’m going to do with the rest of my life?” is all the “script” you need. I implore you not to dig in your heels and join them in a pointless battle between two theoretical careers, or waste your breath trying to convince them that teaching small children is important work (they don’t want to hear this, so it doesn’t matter that it’s true). There’ll be plenty of time to argue with them about your future—or, even better, to calmly and firmly tell them what your plan is—several years from now. My advice is to wait until you’re a junior (or even a senior) in college before you have this conversation with them. A lot of things can change between now and then (and none of those things needs to be applying to law school).

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• If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am worried that I am contributing to raising a spoiled kid. My 4-year-old is sweet and thoughtful (among other things), but he’s in a very greedy phase. He greets me whenever we come back together with “Did you get me anything?” Sometimes he even says this first thing in the morning. And he’s genuinely disappointed and upset when the answer is no (which is the answer 8 out of 10 times). He’s an only child, and has doting grandparents (and parents), and especially given the solitude of the last year, we have probably introduced new toys more than we should have or would have otherwise. But his attitude about it bothers me, even though I understand it’s probably developmentally appropriate. Can you tell me some things I can tell him, or a way to explain that new things are special and not for every day? Because what I’m doing isn’t getting through.

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—Gimme Gimme

Dear Gimme,

I am not going to scold you for handing out lots of presents during this wretched last year (I’m sure I would have gone that route, too, if we’d been through such a thing during my own only child’s childhood) but let’s be real: you say what you’re doing isn’t getting through, but what you’ve been doing is the opposite of what you’re now telling him. And we all know that children learn from what we do, not from what we say.

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And if the answer to “Did you get me anything?” is yes two out of every ten times he asks the question, you’re definitely reinforcing his conviction that new things are not that special and are for every day. So I’d say you have two choices. Either cut it out—no more random gifts for a while! He has plenty of stuff at this point (probably way too much) and can wait until his next birthday or major holiday for his next new toy from you (my guess is the doting grandparents will keep giving him stuff anyway, but that’s between him and them)—or, if that thought is unbearable to you, accept that this is now the dynamic. I don’t think he’s greedy, by the way: I think he’s just responding in a reasonable way to a practice that has been pretty well established (i.e., you’ve trained him to expect new toys for no reason), although his habit of actually asking what you have for him is a developmental phase. His genuine disappointment (the eight out of ten times he asks and the answer is no) isn’t something to worry about. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s good for him: it’s healthy to learn how to deal with disappointment.

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But listen: I also don’t think you’re a failure as a parent if you can’t bring yourself to hold firm with a no-toys-except-on-special-occasions rule right now. My guess is that you are still reeling and shaken from this last year. If it makes you feel better to indulge your 4-year-old—or, more importantly, if it makes you feel worse than you are already feeling to say (cheerfully, matter of factly), “Nope, sorry, I’ve got nothing”—then for heaven’s sake just keep the presents coming (but keep them small and, like, mostly symbolic, OK? For a 4-year-old, a small plastic dinosaur is plenty exciting). Meanwhile, make sure you are showing love in many other ways (my own theory is that it’s not lots of little gifts that make a child grow up to be a greedy person; it’s unmet fundamental needs for things that, you know, money can’t buy). Make sure to model gratitude in your own behavior (rather than just teaching your child to say thank you). And if you can find opportunities to talk, in an age-appropriate way, about how this last year has been unusual, take them. Most of all—don’t be so hard on yourself.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m the adult daughter of a very loving, stubborn woman who has a hard time with boundaries. In high school and early college I struggled with intense anxiety and depression for which I refused to cooperate with a therapist (I’ve grown out of my anti-therapy attitude), and I leaned on my mother a lot for support. I was a dedicated—perhaps too dedicated—student and struggled to make and keep friends until college. When I was younger, it was most often my mother and my younger brother with whom I spent my leisure time. And Mom would often say how grateful she was that she and I were so close and that my teenage years weren’t rough for us the way they are for so many other mothers and daughters. When I got down about my lack of friends, she would say that she was my friend. It’s not the same thing, I think we can all agree, but she would be hurt whenever I said so.

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Now I’m in my mid-twenties, and we’ve had a rough time the past few years. I graduated from college (out of state), started my first serious, long-term relationship, got my own place (also out of state) for work, and made good friends my own age where I live, two hours away from Mom, who would frequently call to tell me how much she missed me, complaining that she didn’t understand what she’d done “wrong,” and accusing me of caring more for my friends/partner than her. This blew up into a big fight recently and now she’s saying she’s in mourning for our old relationship but resigned to just being my mom if that’s all I want. I’m not sure what’s so bad about just being my mom, or how to explain that our old relationship hasn’t died—though it’s certainly taken a beating. She doesn’t think it’s “normal” to be less close to your mom in your twenties and thinks I’m conforming to some expectation of society or my friends. Is there any way to get through to her on this? Or can you provide me some perspective that might help me navigate it?

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—When Mom Wants to be BFFs

Dear When,

I shall say this with much tenderness in my heart for your mom, who is clearly suffering, but this is not your problem to solve. My heart goes out to you for trying to take this on—for being so determined to “get through” to Mom (you can’t; you won’t)—and because it’s also clear that you love her and appreciate her and wish so much that being “just” your mom would be sufficient for her.

Your mom is going to have to figure this out on her own. She is going to need help, for sure—but not from you. A good therapist would be a godsend in this situation. It will help too if she has friends who have healthy relationships with their adult children. It will help if she has friends, period. I hope she does, or has it in her to seek some out. And not just friends, but interesting and absorbing activities—passions—that have nothing to do with being your mother. In other words: she needs to get a life.

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As I say, I feel tenderly toward her, however much she’s driving you crazy. My daughter and I were very close throughout her childhood, and I felt it keenly when she became far more invested in friends than in me. But I knew it was what was supposed to happen, and I was highly and constantly conscious of not confusing my need for closeness with hers—or with what’s developmentally appropriate. I stepped back and let her live her life (and when she went out of state for college, I threw myself wholeheartedly into some consuming new activities that not only helped to fill that psychic space—because, yes, even when she was in high school we were closer than many other mother-daughter pairs—but also enriched and enlarged my life in ways I couldn’t have predicted).

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Your mother has mistaken her role, unquestionably. I hope she can come to a place within herself where she appreciates “just” being your mom and is wholly delighted for you and the happy life you are living. But the only part in this you need to play is to tell her, firmly and honestly, that she is not your best friend—she is your mother, which is a plenty important role, just as it is. Do not engage with her when she complains, accuses, or otherwise tries to undermine you. You’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. If you have to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t talk to you when you’re being like this. I love you, Mom, but I’m going to hang up now,” then so be it. Things will probably get rockier for a while, but it’s up to her, not you, to pave smooth the road to her own happiness.

—Michelle

More Advice From Slate

I am white, and my husband is Korean. We have two daughters who are 12 and 15. My mother-in-law recently started commenting on how nice our older daughter looked. But then, she started telling my younger daughter that she needed to start losing weight, and if she was in Korea, she would have taken her to get her eyelids and nose “fixed” much earlier “because when you do it now it won’t look as natural.” What should I do?

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