Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I are expecting our first baby. We don’t have the means to pay for some of the things we would like for the baby, like a high-end stroller, though we can afford to buy secondhand or to settle for items that are more affordable when new. My husband’s parents are deceased; my parents are alive. And my parents have a lot of money and would like to buy things for the baby. But I do not want to accept more than a small gift from them, because in my experience, anything I accept beyond the smallest of gifts from them comes with too many strings attached.
They are very controlling, and they seem to feel that big-ticket purchases buy them the right to control my life. My husband says to swallow my pride and accept everything they offer because this is not all about me. My point of view is that it’s just not worth it, since we can provide the basics on our own and remain independent from my parents. What do you think?
—No Strings Attached Mom
I think, first of all, that you are the expert, not your husband, when it comes to dealing with your parents. It’s all well and good for him to tell you to swallow your pride, but “pride” is his interpretation of what this is about. I think he’s failing at empathy—but I also think there may be more to this than meets the eye. There may be a bit of “sure, your parents are difficult, but just try having no parents” in the mix of his feelings (and lack of feelings) about this situation.
I also think that navigating a relationship that comes with strings attached is no picnic, and if you have figured out a way to manage your parents’ behavior that allows you to keep them in your life without their taking it over, I applaud you. Stick to your guns. What you seem to have pulled off is extremely difficult (your husband has no idea).
Finally: if you and your husband were in a perilous financial situation—if this were a choice between a roof over your heads or not, or adequate health care, or anything else that would profoundly affect the safety and well-being of your child—I would tell you to think hard about whether there might be a way to protect yourself from your parents’ intrusiveness while availing yourself of their help. But thankfully you are not in dire straits. You do not have to do anything of the kind. Assure your husband that your child-to-be will be just fine without the bells and whistles of the highest-ticket brand-new baby items. (And don’t tell him I said so, but I think he’s being greedy, which is decidedly unattractive. I hope he gets over this quickly, before he has a chance to demonstrate and teach it to his child.)
More Advice From Slate
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I was really nervous about the prospect of fatherhood and wasn’t the kindest. After denying the pregnancy was even real, I asked her to abort and said if she didn’t I hoped she miscarried. She had a rough pregnancy health-wise and says she felt very alone. Now, five years later, I love my child dearly and deeply regret my reaction during the first trimester, but my wife will not move past it. She says it deeply hurt her, and she doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to get over it despite my explaining the fear that caused my reaction. I want another child, but she’s afraid of my reacting in the same way. She thinks I am a great father to our existing child. How can I convince her it will be different this time around?