Daily Press (Sunday)

Misunderst­anding with son’s fiancée

- Email tellme@washpost. com or write “Tell Me About It” c/o The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My daughter-in-law-to-be, “Jennifer,” has been cool to me and I’ve wondered why. My son said he hadn’t noticed anything. I think I figured it out and it’s all a misunderst­anding.

I always thought Jennifer was divorced from the father of her 5-year-old, but just found out she never was married.

I think she overheard me talking with my sister at a recent party about a 20-year-old girl we know who is having a baby. We agreed it was a shame that thoughtles­s, careless people procreate without intention, without marriage and without adequate income when it is so easy to prevent. — Misunderst­ood

Dear Misunderst­ood:

Any consequenc­es with Jennifer are just collateral damage from views that have settled into smugness.

You were talking with someone else in mind, yes, not Jennifer, but that’s a distinctio­n without a difference. You were judging women who take the exact path Jennifer took as “thoughtles­s, careless people.” You weren’t not talking about her, for sure. She’s right to feel stung and wary of you.

If you grow your empathy reserves enough to recognize that not all lives sort neatly into “right” or “wrong” boxes; that perfectly lovely people can stumble; that they can carry themselves responsibl­y, morally and even admirably through the consequenc­es; all while making choices radically different from the ones you’d make — then I suspect Jennifer will sense the change.

But if you also decide, after some hard, internal work, to tell Jennifer you admire her as a mom and are grateful she’s in your son’s life, then that might help your case.

Re: Misunderst­ood:

writer has a point.

It actually IS “a shame.” Saying so is not being judgmental, it’s expressing common sense and, frankly, the rock-bottom standards we should expect. I know from decades of personal experience that where there’s a will, there’s a way to not procreate. Maybe if we attached more stigma to thoughtles­s, careless reproducti­on, people would think twice before doing it. — Anonymous

Actually, no, the writer does not have a point. And I’ve even said myself, over and over, that the time to have a baby is when people want a child and are prepared to care for one. That can be true at the same time it’s true that stigmatizi­ng women is judgmental.

An individual choice does not track one-to-one with a societal outcome. So talking about a Jennifer or a Whoever as being irresponsi­ble is very different from saying generally that it’s better for people to procreate with intention.

When the individual choice is made, then it’s time to shut up the judgy voice and root for the humans involved.

Education and empowermen­t work: less sex, more contracept­ion. Shame brings secrecy, ignorance, risk.

Dear Anonymous:


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