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September 4, 2011

Am I asking him to give up too much?

I was flipping through the September 2011 issue of RedBook the other day and noticed a Q&A advice column that rubbed me the wrong way. (What, did you think we only read Cosmo?)

In the "It's Complicated" section, Karen Karbo, so-called "advice guru" answered the following reader letter:
Am I asking him to give up too much?
I'm divorced and have three kids. Two years ago, I met a guy seven years younger than me. I've fallen hard for him, and my kids adore him. But I can't have any more children -- I had to have a hysterectomy. He says he wants kids, but he also says he wants to stay with me. Is it wrong for me to continue this relationship? --L.R., 33, Alabama
In a word? No. Let's say, for the sake of argument, you let him go so he can find someone with whom he can have children. There are uncertainties all along the way: What if he doesn't meet anyone? What if he does, and she can't get pregnant? What if they have kids but are miserable together? Yes, having biological children of your own is one of life's great experiences, but it's not the only one. You and he could adopt or create a bigger family in other ways. Now, if he decides he needs to leave because of this issue, cross that bridge when you come to it. But it's not your job to make the decision for him.
As a single parent, I found Karbo's advice to be extremely problematic. The main issue is that both 'L.R.' and Karbo are framing the entire issue in terms of what is fair to him. Both are ignoring two more pressing questions is this fair to L.R.? and most important, is this fair to the kids? I think it is extremely selfish of both L.R. and her boyfriend to continue this relationship - and continue to allow her children to grow more and more attached to this man - without knowing if they have a viable future.

I have dated plenty of men who I knew were not going to be in my life for the long haul, sometimes because they said they didn't want kids or because I just knew we just didn't have long term potential. In these cases, I was always very cautious about my daughter having too much contact with these guys, for fear that she would get attached to someone who I knew wasn't going to be around forever. (Now, obviously, I can't ever truly know that a guy will be around forever, but at least I can protect her in the cases when I know they won't be.)

There are more than two people in L.R.'s relationship - in addition to the two adults, there are three children to think of. (Oh god, think of the children, I feel like a member of the OMM.) It seems like this guy really does want to be with L.R., but he also knows that he wants to have kids, something L.R. can't physically do. So he is the one who has to make a decision... sooner rather than later. It's not about whether L.R. is asking her boyfriend to "give up too much". It's about whether he is going to decide in a few years that he's giving up too much. He needs to be willing to make a decision once and for all and spare her (and her kids) the inevitable heartbreak.

Now of course, we all know that there are plenty of ways to build a family. There is adoption, foster parenting, surrogacy, etc. - all options that are potentially viable solutions for L.R. And while I don't know the ages of L.R.'s children, but there's a pretty good chance that this guy would also be completely satisfied being a step-parent to her kids. Karbo is right that there are a lot of uncertainties - he might never have kids with or without L.R. - but the real issue isn't whether L.R. should "let him go". Rather, it is whether he feels the need to go (or might feel the need sometime in the future). It is not L.R.'s job to make the decision for him, but as a responsible parent she should demand that he makes the decision for himself, now.

This is not a "cross that bridge when you come to it" kind of issue. They've already been together two years and her kids already adore him. How many more years of her life is L.R. supposed to waste on a man who may wake up one day and decide he wants to make babies with someone else? How much more attached is L.R. supposed to let her kids get to a man who might just abandon them someday so he can "have biological children of his own"?

I'm not saying that this is automatically a dealbreaker, but this is a conversation that should've been had earlier in their relationship and needs to continue being had until they come up with an answer. It's not something you just ignore and hope it goes away. That's not fair to anyone in this scenario.

Related posts:
(What is it with magazines telling women to just sit back and ignore this kind of thing?)


    Mistress Kay said...

    I'm REALLY impressed! I read this in Redbook a couple weeks back (yes, I read it too), and I thought the advice was good, but I hadn't even thought about the children at stake as well. Love your reply to it.

    Yandie, Goddess of Pickles. said...

    Bingo! I'm in a similar situation to L.R.. I have two kids, have had a tubal ligation so I can't have any more kids.. plus I don't really WANT to have more kids (step-kids are a different thing.. I don't want to raise more babies but I'm okay with guys who already have kids). It's something I usually bring up pretty early in a relationship, because I don't want my kids getting attached to someone who won't be around long-term.

    You're spot on.. this isn't whether she thinks she's asking too much, it's whether it's a dealbreaker for him.. and he needs to figure that out ASAP.

    Kristin said...

    Wow, well said oh Slutopia Queen. I think your advice was a hell of a lot better than the Redbook advice.

    Barnmaven said...

    How many women leave their own needs behind worrying about whether they're doing the right thing for a boyfriend/partner/husband? It drives me crazy. You are spot on with this critique.

    When I finally emerged from my self-imposed dry spell following my divorce, I thought very long and hard about what my next relationship might be like, and I knew that at a minimum I must be very up front about my non-negotiables. Like: You will not meet my children until I think I would like to marry you. Like: I am not having any more children, period, so if you want some, tell me about it now so I can find someone else to date. Like: I gave up my needs for years to someone who treated me like shit, so this time around I will be making a priority of my needs. I will respect yours too, but you will respect mine as well or I'm not interested in you.

    I can't believe its taken me so long to find this blog. You women are awesome.