Care and Feeding

I Think My Partner’s Reason for Suddenly Wanting Kids Might Be Racist

We’d originally agreed not to have children, but now he’s saying our genes are too “smart” not to pass on.

A couple sits on a couch.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 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,

When my partner and I met several years ago, he agreed with me that it would be irresponsible to have children given the state of the world, particularly with respect to climate change. I’ve only become more convinced of this as we’ve watched extreme weather events literally burn down part of our state. But several of our friends have had babies recently—something that I don’t approve of, but whatever—and I feel like he’s starting to change his mind. Recently, he asked me if I ever thought that the world would be better with more people like us in it and told me that it would be “dysgenic” for us to not have babies because we’re both “smart.” Although I always scored very high on standardized tests, I do not believe they are valid measures of anything, and I found this whole line of conversation bizarre and probably racist. Frankly, I thought he was too enlightened to believe such things. I’m currently staying with a friend while I try to decide what to do. Should I break up with him and, if not, how do I make him come to his senses?

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— Not Breeding

Dear Not Breeding,

You’ve got two different issues percolating here, neither of which—I hate to say it—bodes particularly well for your relationship. When I met my husband, neither of us thought we would have a child, either, for a mix of complicated reasons that included climate change.
We ended up having one—just one, as Bill McKibben suggests—and while I sometimes despair for what she might experience, and for her potential negative impact on the world, I don’t generally regret it. There are a million futures she might have, and nothing is set in stone.

I think part of the reason the “should I have a kid because of climate?” question gets so fraught is that nobody is ever 100 percent having, or not having, a kid because of climate. There are all kinds of other factors that go into the decision—both obvious ones, and more subconscious and personal ones. Take the argument that you shouldn’t have a child because that child might suffer a lot in the future from the chaos climate change is causing. (This is the most persuasive climate-related anti-reproductive argument to me, and the one I still think about constantly.) Your embrace of that particular argument might come about because you had very little security in your life, and don’t want that for your child. Or, perhaps you had very little security in your life, and are relatively happy regardless, so you may dismiss that argument as irrelevant. It’s never just an isolated act of risk assessment; it’s a risk assessment plus.

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All of which is to say, you’re in a mess here. Your boyfriend’s stated reason for changing his mind strikes me as A) indeed a little bit racist—or at the very least, the kind of thing a person who loves the movie Idiocracy might say to sound smart (red flag!) and B) a sign that either he’s now come to think about the question differently, or that his climate-related reasons for not wanting to reproduce were never the same as yours to begin with.

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You might be able to talk him out of the first stance, by explaining to him that to your ears, this line of argument is upsettingly aligned with some very bad history, and the whole thing sounds alarming, coming out of his mouth. (Though if he’s actually using the word “dysgenic,” he may already know about all that, and think it’s just fine! Which is, obviously, no good.) But it honestly sounds to me that he was never as serious about the no-kids thing as you—a person who writes with such certainty that you don’t “approve” (!) of your friends’ babies—were. That fact, on its own, may be a dealbreaker.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I need help figuring out how to navigate my job with my direct boss after coming back from maternity leave. I feel she has been slightly cold to me, and I’m not sure why since we actually worked very well together before I was on leave for three months. An example, I put in PTO for a week vacation that my in-laws had planned for my husband and son, and I put it in advance (a month). She didn’t acknowledge it or anything, yet I saw her approve other co-workers PTO via our email calendar. The week before the vacation, I sent her a message reminding her and wanted to let her know, and she responded that she basically saw the request, got distracted, and felt it was “too soon” to be taking a week off with my family, but then ended the response with a passive-aggressive note like, “But we’ll make it work out!” She’s an older lady who has no children, so I was hoping to give her the benefit of a doubt that she didn’t understand how overwhelming it is for a new mom, but I still see some of the shade, and it’s made me more withdrawn when I am normally a vibrant, outgoing coworker. Should I just let it go or update my resume?

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— Shaded New Mom

Dear Shaded,

I’m not sure how long it’s been since you came back from maternity leave, but unless your job has an explicit policy (“no vacations for X weeks after maternity leave”), you aren’t doing anything wrong here. I assume that you have everything reasonably nailed down for the week when you’ll be gone. I bet you do—you sound like you’re very aware of how your re-entry to the workforce is going. I remember being hyper-conscious of every deadline in the fifth trimester, for this very reason.

No, it’s your boss who is handling this unprofessionally. It’s not great to just not approve PTO, and not say anything about it until prompted, and just let the request sit there. It’s very (as you say) passive-aggressive, and actively works against what should be her goal, which would be to shepherd you, her trusted employee who’s worked well in the position in the past, through this period of time when you might be feeling shaky about coming back to work.

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If she was truly worried about your ability to take a week, and really needed to persuade you out of it, she should have talked to you about it much earlier, when you requested the vacation time, and she should have taken a much more collaborative approach. Now she has bought herself the worst of both worlds: You’re going to take the week, and you’re going to come back feeling uncertain and confused about work.

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Give it a couple months after you come back from your vacation. Wait and see how she reacts when your baby has those inevitable periods of illness that require you to stay home, or you need to take them to a pediatrician’s appointment. Be watchful, and a little guarded! And yes—update your resume, just in case.

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· If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am the younger of two siblings. We both live in the same city, about 1,000 miles from our parents, who are in their 70s. Recently, we were all having a phone conversation, and our mom alluded to moving to our city and living with my sibling. I was prepared to laugh like it was a joke, but I was shocked to see my sibling agree. It turns out they have been talking about this for two years without bringing me into the conversation. I understand that if my sibling wants to take on this responsibility, it’s not really up to me since they won’t be living in my house. But I can’t help but feel hurt.

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Isn’t the arrangement of what is essentially end-of-life care for our parents a conversation I should be a part of? Not to mention that in other conversations I’ve had with my sibling, they have mentioned that they don’t REALLY want to do this but feel resigned. It’s like they are being steamrolled by my parents and feel they have to comply because they are the older sibling. I hate to refer to this as a burden, because I know elder care is a very underappreciated task without a lot of resources outside of family. Every time I talk to my parents about it, they change the subject or get defensive. They are not yet unable to care for themselves, and I feel they are only trying to push this because they miss us, which is lovely but not, in my opinion, a good enough reason to bring such upheaval to my sibling’s life. How do I get them all to have a real conversation with me about this?

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— Forgotten

Dear Forgotten,

There are lists and guides online for how to start such a conversation, all advocating taking measures like: speaking in person if you can; having each person write down and bring into the conversation a statement about what matters to them when they think about the end of their/their parents’ lives; using a checklist to have parents answer questions about how comfortable they currently are doing daily activities like housekeeping and laundry and bill-paying and car maintenance. Everyone says that this will take more than one conversation, and that you may need to be persistent.

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A lot of those lists and guides feel a little irrelevant here, because your parents seem to still be able to live independently. Experts do advise that you start having these conversations before something serious happens to force the issue, so you may want to do so, despite your parents’ relative good health.

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In this specific case, it seems important to me that the whole family talk about it, not just your parents and your sibling. You will be involved, no matter what, whether or not your sibling ends up merging households with them! They will be in your city, they will be your parents, and you will want to help your sibling out. If they live together, you will have some small or large amount of guilt about it, no doubt, and will want to help in ways that need to be determined by all of you. Then there’s money to consider. You all need to talk, and you should probably do it soon. Be persistent, and make it happen!

Dear Care and Feeding,

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My only child and son is 12, and I know there’s a lot of activism about teaching our sons to be better, but I don’t want to reinforce presumptions that he would be heterosexual because, even if he knows my wife and I are liberal and accepting, it would be hard to come out regardless. Even if we say that lessons about consent, respecting boundaries, etc. applies whether you’re dating men or women, I doubt my son would be unaware that I’m giving this advice because of how women, and not men, are treated. How do I not be heteronormative but also not fail to pass on important lessons to my son?

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— Don’t Want to Be Homophobic

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Dear Don’t Want to Be Homophobic,

In 2014, in the course of one of our endless rounds of conversation around sexual assault on campus, former Slate writer Amanda Hess interviewed Heather Corinna, of the kids’ sex-ed site Scarleteen, on the topic of talking to kids about consent. I liked what she had to say about this question about heteronormativity. Her answer aligned with the way that we talk about consent with younger kids, which is less about sexual activity and more about the general idea of bodily autonomy. Corinna suggested when we talk about consent with sexually active (or almost-sexually-active) teenagers, we tend to only talk about respecting girls’ bodies, and kind of elide the question of consent for boys. But, as she told Hess, “I think people are much better served when the message is this: ‘People need to ask for each other’s permission with sex.’”

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I know you said that you worry that your son might, in some sense, see through this answer, realizing that you aren’t really talking about both genders. I think maybe the problem lies with expanding your own definition of what consent and bodily autonomy means. There’s sexual assault where a girl or woman is the victim of a man, yes—but there’s also sexual assault of men, and physical bullying of men, and situations where it’s just assumed men will want to have sex (even if they don’t), and so on and so on. If you think about consent in this expanded way, you may find the conversation comes more naturally, and more gender-neutrally, next time.

Rebecca

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