Care and Feeding

My Son Wants a Sibling. Would It Be Crazy to Honor His Request?

A baby looks out over the top of a crib.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Yuricazac/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,

I am the sole parent to a 7-year-old boy who was conceived artificially with donor sperm. I had planned to have at least one more child with the same donor, but the second insemination was unsuccessful, and the third ended in a miscarriage late in the first trimester when my son was 3. I decided to go back to school and get my master’s degree after that miscarriage, and I put growing my family on hold. The older my son got, the less likely it seemed that I would try again.

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However, my son really wants a sibling. He talks about it a lot. I always thought he would make an excellent big brother, as he is really great with younger kids—he loves interacting with them and teaching them things and shows incredible patience and generosity. I am turning 41 this year so I have been hesitant to try IUI again due to my age—and I am unsure I want to do the infant stage again after being out of it for so long.

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Last spring, my son came home from school and excitedly asked me if I knew about adoption, saying that there are kids who don’t have a family and need one. He said he thought we could be a family for a kid who didn’t have one of their own, and then he would have a little brother or sister. I thought this was sweet and told him I’d think about it. He has brought it up multiple times since then, even asking if we could “go to the adoption place and meet the kids who need adopting.” After going on vacation with a friend of mine and her kids, he was even more intent on wanting a brother or sister, as she had a child his age and one younger than him. I admit, it was sweet watching him watch over the little child and playing with both children. At times he pretended they were all siblings and it made me sad for him.

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I always thought I would have two children and had resigned myself to just one. The feeling that our family is incomplete doesn’t come from me feeling it, but from watching him be an only child. Is it wrong to pursue adoption knowing that my son’s desire for a sibling is the catalyst? I’ve spoken to him about how older children who need families often remember their first families and have been through a lot of loss and sadness, so it might be hard for them to join our family. But that just makes him want to welcome one into our home even more because he says we will love them and give them a good home. I know that we will, and when I think about it, I am excited about the prospect of adding to our family. But I still have this little voice telling me that I am not doing it for the right reasons. How do I proceed? What questions do I need to ask myself? What else do I need to make clear to my son?

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— Searching for the Right Reasons

Dear Searching,

If these are the wrong reasons, it seems like nothing less than Mother Teresa-level altruism can be considered the right ones. I am not an adoptive parent myself, but I see nothing in your letter that gives me pause. I understand that you might be feeling self-conscious that it was your child’s idea and zeal, rather than yours, that was the catalyst for this decision point, but I don’t think that matters. If you had a partner who suggested adoption, would you feel bad or insufficient for agreeing to it? I doubt it—especially if you were excited about the prospect, which you say you are. Of course, your son has no clue what goes into adoption or parenting in general and will not be responsible for any of those duties, but I think it’s OK if his desires carry some weight in your family. If your concerns stem more from the fact that you’re not pining for the second child for the child’s sake, but rather for your son’s, I would again give yourself some grace. I know several people who had a second biological kid primarily so they wouldn’t be raising an only child—so your rationale is really nothing new in the parenting world. As long as you are excited and prepared to welcome a new child with love and respect, I think you can let go of these doubts. As they say, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

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The one thing I would suggest is enrolling yourself and your son in some pre-adoption workshops or information sessions so that you both can fully understand what it would be like to welcome a new child into the family. Prepare your son for the possibility that he and your adoptive child may not get along or that the child could have major heath or emotional needs that will divert your attention away from your biological son. The more you can arm yourselves with knowledge now, the more prepared you both will be to finally grow your family. Good luck!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are expecting twins (our first children) around the turn of the year. I am not particularly close with anyone in my family because of my mother’s physical and emotional abuse until I moved out when I was 20 years. I see family around once a year and would be happy to not see my mother at all. We haven’t ever had a healthy relationship; I’ve spent decades (literally) in therapy to address the trauma she caused, and I’ve all but cut contact with her except for major life events (engagement, marriage, pregnancy, death of a pet). I have zero regular contact with her (she does text, but I try not to answer, or keep it brief if it requires a response). This strategy has worked well for my mental health.

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My mother is, of course, desperate to play a role in my pregnancy and to act her part as grandmother (these will not be her first grandchildren, thankfully). I, of course, would like her to stay 1,000 miles away. However, I worry that telling her she’s not a welcome presence and that she shouldn’t expect to see her grandchildren more than one or two times per year will result in her bullying everyone else in the family to ostracize me. They know she’s a manipulative, abusive liar, but they don’t seem willing to rock the boat and find themselves “on her bad side.” And while, as I stated, I’m not super close with the rest of the family, I would like to maintain the relationships I have so that my children can know their relatives.

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How can I approach this? It seems like the answer might be having a frank conversation with my mother about the abuse I suffered at her hands and telling her that I have no interest in rebuilding a relationship. But I’m not sure that would be worth the instability to my mental health—not at any time, but especially not as I enter the third-trimester in a high-risk multiples pregnancy. As it is, I’m hoping my strategy of mostly ignoring her eventually helps her get the hint. Any other suggestions?

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— Happily Motherless

Dear Motherless,

I highly doubt that “mostly ignoring her” will result in your mother getting the hint. I think parents who behave as you describe don’t typically think they have done anything wrong and are thus unlikely to pick up these kinds of signals.

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Without knowing your or your family members, it’s hard to advise you on specifically what to do. If you are truly concerned about the toll this could take on your mental health, then I would suggest you just stay the course for now. But use this time to think about what life may be like once the babies are here. Ask yourself several questions. Are the relationships with the extended family good enough to outweigh the negatives of keeping your mother in your life? Is this likely to stay the same once you have young children? Are there things she could do as a grandma that would undo some of your pain and resentment? Are there things she could do that would sever the relationship for good? Perhaps most important: is her presence in your life likely to negatively affect you such that your kids (when they are older) notice or it impacts your parenting? You suggest that cutting your mom out of your life could cause you mental instability no matter when you were to do it, but I think you need to ask whether her continued presence is causing similar instability, just of a different sort.

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I’m not trying to convince you to cut her out. But I do think you should remember that your job as a parent is to establish a safe and stable life for your children—and your mental and emotional health is part of that equation. Do not be afraid to act in your own interests if you determine you need to do so, because in this case your interests are their interests. Finally, if you aren’t currently continuing your therapy, please get yourself back in. Becoming a new parent is hard even without family drama, and any support you can give yourself will be worth it. Wishing you well.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

How do I get my husband’s family to see the effect their anxiety is having on me and protect myself from it? I always knew they were anxious people with little interest in acknowledging it, but since having our second baby, I’m feeling it more and more, and I won’t let it go ignored. For context, I am very independent and only ask for help when I really need it, whereas they lean on each other for even simple tasks. What I before would’ve described as closeness now seems more like codependency to me.

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Things started intensifying in the last six weeks of my pregnancy. All of a sudden, my husband was uncomfortable with me doing anything on my own (going to doctor appointments, getting groceries, taking my dog and first child for a walk at the local park). He either wanted to come with me or have his mother (who lives five minutes away and is retired, so is very available) accompany me. We talked about his nervousness about something happening and the fact that my doctor wasn’t uncomfortable with me doing any of those things as long as I felt good, etc. For a week or two, that worked—then I saw it flare right back up as his mother started wondering out loud whether it was really a good idea for me to still be doing so much. His father has also made comments, agreeing that he’d never have let his wife do that much when she was pregnant, etc.

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Fast forward to the new baby arriving and my husband returning to work after six weeks of paternity leave. Someone additional is always at our house to “support” me. I hate it. My house should be a place I am comfortable, but I very rarely am anymore. I feel smothered, babysat, and untrusted. My husband says everyone is trying to be helpful and that they want to feel like they’re doing something useful for us. I said that instead of FEELING helpful by doing what they want, his family should instead actually BE helpful by accepting the suggestions I’ve made of how to help (picking up our groceries for us, dropping off a dinner, giving space).

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I can genuinely feel this affecting my mental health but feel like if I brought that up to my husband, he (and his family it would inevitably be shared with) would decide that means I need more support, not for them to take a step back. I used to feel like he and I were a team, but lately it just seems that anything I say about his family and the incompatibility of their support I’m feeling pushes him away from me and closer to them. How do I approach this to get us united again?

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— Smothered

Dear Smothered,

Get thee to a marriage counselor. Your last two sentences hit the nail on the head—he isn’t acting as your partner, he’s acting like his parents’. If the one-on-one conversations with you aren’t sticking, I think your best bet is to get outside perspective and guidance from a “higher power.” And though I use that term facetiously, I think in your husband’s case it might be rather accurate as to what he needs. It sounds like he wants an authority figure to tell him what to do or think. His parents have served that role for several years, so even though you are (one would think) the authority on what you need, he’s not capable of hearing that when his parents are saying the opposite.

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Meanwhile, I would find ways to disrupt your in-laws’ patterns on your own. Be in spaces they cannot follow you, like by signing up for a mommy and me class where guests aren’t allowed. Take a couple weeks where you are gone from the house for extended periods of time with the baby and see if that causes them to stop coming around unannounced (since you literally aren’t there). Corral their hovering tendencies by assigning them a specific day that they come over each week to help. When they are there, either make them lists of things to help with, or just hand over the baby and go have some time to yourself. If your husband is nervous about any of this, try to get him to agree to a limited “trial period” so that it feels less risky to him.

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All of this maybe sounds really annoying when what you really want to do is sit at home in your pajamas with your baby and no one bothering you. I feel that. Unfortunately, since your requests to that effect have gone unheeded, a more active disruption is probably your best hope at demonstrating that the sky won’t fall if you run out to TJ Maxx with the baby in tow.

Dear Care and Feeding,

We recently moved from the Midwest to the East Coast. To minimize the disruption, we wanted our four-year-old son to go to a Montessori daycare, as he had been very happy in his original Montessori. Of the three schools available, only one had spaces available, and we began the admission process. This application process was way more involved than we expected, and generally seemed more like applying for an Ivy League college than daycare for a 4-year-old. Once he was accepted, there followed many more forms and a very conservative phase-in schedule, as well as lots of rules and regulations.

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This week, week three, we have had a few incidents that have made us question whether this school is a good fit. First, he came home having not eaten his Reese’s peanut butter cup that he chose as his “dessert” at lunch, saying that it wasn’t allowed. His previous school had not been nut-free, but this one is. The rule is fine, but instead of the teacher dropping us a note, she sent him home with the message. I wish she’d told us herself; I am lucky he delivered the message.

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He went to school in a baby Yoda shirt, and he came home saying they are not allowed to wear clothes with characters on them. Today we got stuck in traffic due to an impromptu road closure and arrived one minute late (the drop off window is 8:30 - 8:45), and he was written up in his attendance as tardy! Who cares if a 4-year- old is late? This is clearly down to his parents and not him.

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At what point should we rethink this? All these points alone don’t seem that bad, but they are adding up to a pretty clinical, authoritarian regime. Interested in your take.

— Going Full Montessori

Dear GFM,

As you’re finding out, not all Montessori schools are created equal. Montessori isn’t a trademarked term, so schools can name themselves a Montessori school without actually adhering to all the tenets of Maria Montessori’s methods. Also, even if a school has received Montessori certification, schools vary in how they put Montessori methods into practice.

Selecting a daycare is about both the fit for the student and fit for the parents. It sounds like you are chaffing against the school’s policies—or at the very least you have some skepticism about them. I would suggest asking for a meeting with school administration to better understand the reasons behind their rules. This background may help you determine whether this school feels like the community you want for yourself and your son. You don’t say anything about how these first few weeks have been going for him. What does he say about the school? Is there a way to observe classes to see whether the rigidity you’ve observed permeates into the classrooms? If he’s thriving in the space, you may just need to give yourself time to adjust. But I might suggest touring the other local daycares as a comparison and getting on a few waitlists, just in case. You can always decline any spots that open up if you come around to liking your current school, but if your nagging feeling doesn’t go away, you’ll be one step closer to an exit strategy. Good luck!

—Allison

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My husband and I had a lovely baby girl this summer. She has different hair and eye color than we do, but otherwise looks very much like our child. She does have one fairly distinct feature that we don’t share: the shape of her eyes. We have now gotten multiple comments about her “insert racist comment here” eyes. How should I respond?

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