No Grandchild, Sorry!
August 12, 2010 2:17 AM   Subscribe

How do I handle the demand, "Give me a grandchild?"

Husband and I (heading towards our 40s) have no children. We are not planning on having any children.

My mom wants grandchildren very badly. (I have siblings that will probably give them to her...not just in the near future.) Every time I see her, she basically tells me I'm nuts and I need to have a child because having children was the only thing she felt was worthwhile.

She says I'm getting too old, better do it soon. I tell her if I ever even think about having a child (which I don't), I'd adopt anyways...and then she goes ballistic and then our conversation ends. (So I guess it's not just having a child that is important to her, but it has to be borne of my own blood.)

How do I keep her off my back about having children? I really feel like this is threatening to become a sore spot in our already not-always-the-best relationship. I do want to be on good terms with her, but her insistence is getting annoying. Shall I just accept that she's going to be stubborn about this, and humor her for the rest of our lives? Any tips appreciated.
posted by The ____ of Justice to Human Relations (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Say no, and don't justify it to her.

If shes pushes, explain that it is your decision, but do not explain the reasons for your decision. It's not up for discussion.
posted by devnull at 2:21 AM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'd tell her to go fuck herself, but that's just me. YMMV.
posted by trondant at 2:22 AM on August 12, 2010 [10 favorites]

Best answer: As mother with children... my immediate response for advice to you was to say "Fuck off." Of course, if you say that to your mother, it may not end well. As far as I can tell, when people ask/tell you unreasonable things, the best recourse is to repeat a non-inflammatory, but realistic statement. "Thanks for advice. Not really interested."
I want grandkids!
Thanks for advice. Not really interested.
But I want them now, and if you don't give them to me, you're totally twisted as a human being.
Thanks for advice. Not really interested.
posted by b33j at 2:24 AM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

My buddies father offered $10,000 to the first of his kids that produced a child. So maybe you can swing a deal with your mom...
posted by WhiteWhale at 2:33 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You can only control your behaviour, not hers; so you can't force her to stop asking, but you can stop answering. Pick a stock phrase -- "we do not plan to have children" -- and stick with it. If she starts to really go over the top, tell her "I don't want to continue discussing this issue. If you keep talking about it, I'm going to leave". Then, if/when she does keep it up, follow through: leave the room, say goodbye and hang up the phone, etc. Repeat as necessary.

It can be really, really scary to establish such firm boundaries, especially when it comes to dealing with one's parents, but it's better for you than getting angry/upset when she brings grandchildren up over and over again. It is ultimately her choice and her fault if she harms your relationship because she can't respect what you do and do not want to discuss with her.

I've found that, with people who are really aggressive about whether or not you plan to have children, it's best to avoid caveats like "maybe we'll change our minds" or "maybe we'll adopt someday". These things are fine in a friendly discussion, but when one person is itching for a fight, they'll use anything you give them as ammunition. Do not engage.
posted by neushoorn at 2:47 AM on August 12, 2010 [10 favorites]

Tell her you've already gotten your tubes tied. It ain't happening and she should bother someone else.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 2:50 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

When she says, "give me a grandchild", I'd say, quietly and coldly and as often as necessary, "give me a mother who understands that I don't want to be a mother!".

And if that doesn't work, take trondant's advice.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:56 AM on August 12, 2010 [21 favorites]

Essentially, I'd say "Mind your own business and don't try to control my life; I'm an adult and I will make my own decisions." Except I'd adjust it to the level of politeness/impatience you judge to be appropriate.
posted by Decani at 2:57 AM on August 12, 2010

Best answer: Like many douchie parent dilemmas, you need to retrain them. This means terminating any conversation about you having children immediately, and irrevocably. Hang up, leave the room, drive away, whatever. They need you more than you need them, trust me. She'll learn.


mum: blah blah grandchildren.
you: We are not having children. I don't want to talk about this any more with you again. If you bring it up I will leave.
mum: blah blah grandchildren
you: I am going now *hang up, walk out, etc etc*.

In our family the four children have employed this strategy for a variety of reasons in a variety of ways for over twenty years; it has worked every time without fail. The interim period is a bastard - get used to complaints, threats, entreaties, and round the world guilt trips, but it's sooooooooooooooooo worth it. Good luck.
posted by smoke at 3:05 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Don't engage. Right now you're trying to negotiate with her on something which is entirely your business and not at all hers. There are plenty of issues on which you should give equal respect to everyone's opinions and try to find a middle ground. This isn't one of them. Your mother can have her opinion, but you and your husband are the only people who get to decide whether or not you have kids. Since you won't change your mind and you can't change your mother's mind, why not just remove this subject from your conversational repertoire?

"Mom, I'm not going to discuss this with you."

"It's not up for discussion. Let's talk about something else."

"I've told you, we're not going to have this discussion."

"Okay, I think I'd better go. Let's catch up next week and talk about something else."

You might have to leave or hang up a couple of times before she gets the message. But eventually, she'll learn that she can have a better relationship with you if she refrains from demanding grandchildren in your presence.
posted by embrangled at 3:06 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

How do I handle the demand, "Give me a grandchild?"

You first.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:48 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Something to consider: I had 3 kids, my sister has none (nor does she want to have any), and our mom did the same thing to her.

So after years of trying to tell our mom (a product of the 50's stay-at-home mentality where a woman's greatest worth was found in raising children and taking care of her family) that it just wasn't going to happen and she wanted her to respect boundaries and stop bugging her, etc., my sister decided to finally tell my mom that she would talk to her about the subject just once, and then it had to be over.

My mom explained that the reason she was always bugging my sister to procreate was because she felt my sister's decision to remain childless was criticism of my mom's parenting skills; that she herself was a bad mom because she created a daughter who was rejecting my mom's standards of happiness; and also, that somehow my mom was such a bad mother (thus failing in her only one important role) that she messed up my sister's head by making her think that motherhood was a horrible experience.

I'm not saying this is how your mom feels, but it was an eye-opener to discover that some women feel this way.
posted by dzaz at 3:49 AM on August 12, 2010 [20 favorites]

Every time I see her, she basically tells me I'm nuts and I need to have a child .

Have you ever been the to initiate the conversation? That might help. Call her up and tell her that you don't want to have children, that you are not planning on having children, that you won't be having children. Tell her that you love her and that you want to have a good relationship with her but that she needs to stop asking you to do something you're not going to do.

If you're the one to start the conversation you can control the framing. She'll be listening to you rather than to her own demand. You might get through.

Maybe you've done this, but if not I'd give it a shot.
posted by alms at 3:52 AM on August 12, 2010

Best answer: I think you've gotten generally good advice here about setting firm boundaries, "retraining" your mom by refusing to discuss it, etc.

But I'm also feeling a wave of hostility towards the hypothetical interfering mom-- GRAR HOW DARE YOU!! GO FUCK YOURSELF, etc. I think a few years ago, I would have had a similar response if told of this situation. But when I had a kid myself, I was completely blindsided by the total (hormonal?) reorientation of my priorities, the total love I feel for my kid, the magic of having a new life around and all the sacrifices I feel gladly compelled to make for it. It's not rational and wouldn't be at all fair, but I can see missing that bitterly when my kid is grown up-- heck, I miss the baby phase already, and she's only 1-1/2. It sucks (will suck?) to have had a child, and loved that child, and then not to have a child anymore, and that's regardless of how awesome the adult is who's turned up in the child's place. All the more so if she hasn't always been the best mom, because having grandchildren (irrationally, I admit) seems to represent a kind of do-over for the mistakes you made in raising your own kids.

I guess what I'm saying is, I hope it'll never come to that, and I certainly don't intend to drive her crazy about it, but especially if the rest of my life doesn't go so great between now and then, I can see myself someday slipping up and pestering my daughter for grandchildren. I'm not saying it's right or that you should let it happen, but when you feel especially angry at your mom for doing this, you might read this essay. And have a little compassion. Child-nostalgia, and the corresponding grandchild-lust, is one of the many things that suck about being a parent.
posted by Bardolph at 3:58 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you above the idea of lying to her? It's frustrating to be quizzed on such an important personal matter, only to be met with responses varying from dismissive, incredulous disbelief, to being told, essentially, that the decision is not your own. Ultimately, some women feel that motherhood is such an integral part of our identity as women, that no amount of reasoning will sway them -- in their mind, we are simply wrong, and it becomes their job prove it to us.

"I'm/we're infertile. We've intentionally deflected your attempts to discuss this as we worked to come to grips with it ourselves, and I apologize for that. We know that this news will be as disappointing for you as it has been for us. We've looked into adoption, and the time, cost, and (most importantly) risk involved make this an impossibility for us. We've come to terms with the fact that parenthood isn't in the cards for us, and we hope you find the same peace with our situation."
posted by biggity at 4:50 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Tell her to give you sisters and brothers, and then you'll help her nag them to give her grandchildren...
posted by Salamandrous at 5:20 AM on August 12, 2010

biggity: "I'm/we're infertile. "

I am not above lying but that's gross. Don't do that. It also doesn't stop the people who are convinced that they need you to be parents. Unless you want to spend the next ten years having traded the "when are you having a baby?" conversation for the "have you tried adoption/a donor/a surrogate/fostering/acupuncture/a vacation/IUI/IVF/this tea my friend suggests" then do not, not, not take this advice.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:32 AM on August 12, 2010 [9 favorites]

Say it's up to God how, when and how many.
posted by watercarrier at 5:50 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

My parents have not demanded that I provide them with grandchildren, but they did once ask me why I have not had children, to which I replied (in complete honesty) that I have enough trouble taking care of myself and do not wish to assume responsibility for anyone else. We have not discussed the matter since then. Whether your own mother would actually be interested in your reasons for remaining childless, I don't know. The risk of giving people reasons is that they can then reject the reasons as inadequate. But sometimes people will understand your reasons.

Parents often believe that their children owe them a debt, because of the great investment of time, money, and effort that goes into raising children. Consequently they feel that they are free to make any kind of demands that they like, in repayment of that debt. The logical flaw in this belief is that children do not ask to be born, nor do they enter into any agreement with their parents concerning repayment for the favor of being raised by their parents. Parents invent their own agreements which they then impose unilaterally on their children. During childhood this makes a certain amount of sense, since children are not competent to make their own decisions, but as an adult you obviously do get to make your own decisions. It is entirely up to you to decide what, if anything, you may owe your parents, regardless of what they may think about it.
posted by grizzled at 5:52 AM on August 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

"Mom, I love you. You were a great parent, who raised a daughter who is strong and successful and independent and self-confident enough to make her own decisions. I would do nearly anything for you, but entering a twenty-plus-year commitment that eats up all of my free time, spending money and energy just so you can have grandchildren is beyond the pale. My husband and I have discussed this at length, and it is our decision that we do not wish to have children."

Let her say her piece.

"Mom, I've told you what my decision is. If it changes, I will let you know. Until I do that, I will see any attempt to cajole me into changing my mind as a personal attack on me, and I will end the conversation."

If she starts up again:

"Good-bye, mom. I'll call you tomorrow. I love you."
posted by Etrigan at 5:53 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

DarlingBri: Gross? Not as far as I am concerned, and certainly not as gross as the aggressive, manipulative behavior illustrated. As for continued harassment -- that has not been my experience. I have a genuine fertility-compromising condition that became public knowledge when it required surgery, and the questions about my plans for parenthood (from those in the know, anyway) very abruptly stopped.
posted by biggity at 5:54 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

dzazz has it, at least as far as your mom's motivation is concerned. Your having kids would validate her choices. It's the same way with my in-laws and my wife's choice to go back to school with kids still at home, while my MIL never went to college and has always been a SAH mom. I think your best bet is to regularly let her know she did a good job raising you, whether or not she actually did.
posted by monkeymadness at 6:00 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

N-thing dzazz. It's not about YOU so much as about control and validation. She wants to feel that she still exerts an influence on your life. And, more than that, she wants YOUR choices to provide HER with validation. Upon reflecting on her life, the choices she's made may not always seem like they were the best, most fulfilling, etc. But there may be some warped parental logic at play - "If The ____ of Justice follows in my footsteps, I am totally vindicated!"

Lawyers press their kids to be lawyers, engineers press their kids to be engineers. Christians and Muslims want Christian and Muslim kids. Dads go all mushy when their babies look like them. There is a gloriously long and fucked-up tradition of parents convincing themselves that "if Mini-Me takes after me, SURELY I cannot be a sack of crap!" 'Tis the way of the world.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:37 AM on August 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: "Egg Salad!" "Exoskeleton!" "A million pounds!" "Combine harvester!"

Whenever she ask you why you're not having kids, reply with a silly word. When she asks why you're doing that, say, "I'm not having this conversation with you any more. Elephantiasis!"

I tried this on my grandmother, and it worked. (I also managed to get her to stop talking about my weight by telling her that I was going to become the fattest woman in the world and then give her friends discount tickets to my stage show.)
posted by hot soup girl at 6:39 AM on August 12, 2010 [21 favorites]

Like dzaz, what jumped out at me was her thought that having children was the only thing she felt was worthwhile. That speaks to me of a genuine underlying concern for you that she's expressing in an incredibly annoying way, as well as an anxiety about her own life choices and that you might be rejecting her.

So I wonder if you can say something like, "Mom, you did such a good job raising me and showed me so MANY ways to make my life worthwhile, like all the [church volunteer work] that you did really drove home to me [the importance of helping others] which is why I've [chosen a career in social work]. I'm really looking forward to being an auntie one day, but I find the meaning in my life by [helping disabled adults find jobs]." But if there's something SHE did or some trait that SHE has that really made an impact on how you find meaning in your life, telling her that might help you get through to her about this. Even if it's not the whole story of your finding-meaning-in-life, it sounds like she really needs to hear that you are happy and have meaning, and that what she did and how she raised you helped you find it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:17 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: smoke writes "Like many douchie parent dilemmas, you need to retrain them. This means terminating any conversation about you having children immediately, and irrevocably. Hang up, leave the room, drive away, whatever. They need you more than you need them, trust me. She'll learn.


"mum: blah blah grandchildren.
"you: We are not having children. I don't want to talk about this any more with you again. If you bring it up I will leave.
"mum: blah blah grandchildren
"you: I am going now *hang up, walk out, etc etc*."

I suggest implementing this strategy by saying something like "We're going to get started right away" and then grabbing your husband and leaving the room for someplace private.
posted by Mitheral at 7:39 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

As people are saying above, this is in large part a question of re-training your mother, teaching her through repetition that you are absolutely not going to engage on this issue. But you must take the long view --- and I mean the loooooooooooooooong view --- on the re-training. She's your mother; she's known you longer than you've known yourself. It's going to take long, patient, consistent work on your part to change the dynamic established between you two.

But you can do it, and it's so worth the time and effort! Here's what worked for me on an equally sticky subject:

Make a clear, unambiguous, civil statement that this subject is not open for discussion. Me, I didn't even discuss my decision, because it's no one's business but yours and your partner's. You might feel more inclined to inform her one last time of your choices and your reasons. That's your call.

So, you make your clear statement, then you stick to it. Stick to it every single time. If she brings up the subject, you remind her that it's not something you'll discuss, and move on to something more neutral. She'll probably wave off your refusal the first few times, but stick to it. Stay as civil as you can, but be very clear in your refusal, and don't apologize. You have nothing to apologize for.

If she simply won't let go of the subject, explain that you will not discuss it or accept advice on this topic, and that if she persists, you're going to have to [leave/ask her to leave]. If necessary, politely [leave/ask her to leave].

Follow this drill every single time [subject] comes up. Remember, this is training. Training requires consistency. If once you slip and let her draw you into a discussion, you've taught her that persistence pays off and she gets to talk about the off-limits subject if she just keeps pestering you. Don't train her to believe that.

It takes kindness, patience, and persistence, but I successfully re-trained my mother in a surprisingly short time. Rarely, she slips and remarks upon [subject], but always catches herself and apologizes to me. That's right: she apologizes to me, because she understands now that [subject] is none of her business and that by raising it, she's hurting my feelings and prying into private concerns.

If anything, my clear and civil insistence on these boundaries has helped our relationship, because we have fewer stressful conversations and fewer explosions of frustration. We;re much more relaxed when we talk now, because no one is waiting for The Subject to come up and ruin the conversation.
posted by Elsa at 8:04 AM on August 12, 2010

Here's your script:
"I've had a mini-laparotomy and husband's had a vasectomy, just to be on the safe side." We won't be getting pregnant, now or in the near or far future. So stop nagging."
Oh, and no need to add any drippy "I love you, mom"s. That's beside the point, and there's nothing lovable anyway about her persistent nagging.
posted by BostonTerrier at 8:06 AM on August 12, 2010

I would at least try to have a real conversation about it - once. As in, you bring it up, tell her that your decisions are not a reflection of her decisions, etc. Reassure her that you feel confident that one of your siblings will provide her with grandchildren.

Then, I might mention birth control. Like, especially if you or your partner has been permanently sterilized, I would tell her that.

Then, I'd totally do the boundary setting, no more discussing this, goodbye mom thing.
posted by Leta at 8:12 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you should have the conversation, once. Invite her to say her whole piece, then you say yours (it would probably be most compassionate to actually give your reasons for not wanting kids, as an olive-branch of intimacy, rather than just "well, thanks, but it's none of your business"), and then in future, when she brings it up again, you can say, "We've talked about this, Mom. I don't want to talk about it anymore"; and then, when she persists, "How's Aunt Gertrude?" and then "Love you; talk to you tomorrow, Mom."
posted by palliser at 9:26 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Previously.
posted by bryon at 9:32 AM on August 12, 2010

biggity, I also don't think lying about infertility is a great idea. Maybe the OP would get lucky and the questions would stop, but the danger is that it reframes the issue from not wanting kids to being unable to have them. And the mom will read into the latter as being unable to have kids but wanting kids. That could lead to a whole bunch of continued questioning, from what the specific infertility problem is to treatments they've tried or will try to other options like surrogacy, sperm/egg donation, adopotion, etc.
posted by 6550 at 9:44 AM on August 12, 2010

Smoke has it.

If you don't approve of your mother's nagging but you grudgingly accept it, she has no reason to change her behavior.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:07 AM on August 12, 2010

Sheesh on me. While I was typing my response, you marked Smoke as a best answer :)
posted by 2oh1 at 11:08 AM on August 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, everyone. I appreciate all of them, even the "FU" ones, which certainly captures my annoyance with her. (At one point she even tried the old armchair psychologist routine with me and said, "You know what it is? You're TERRIFIED of having a baby, that's what this is about". It was a sadly desperate attempt on her part.)

I also appreciate the empathy here. She's kinda crazy about how she asks for stuff, and after a lifetime of this I've gotten used to it (she used to be waaaay worse), so it's nice to hear I'm not the only one who would find this annoying/grating/WTF-territory.

I've highlighted those that will probably be how I deal with it. Either the "not up for discussion" route or "COMBINE HARVESTER!!!" (which I love, love, love, by the way.)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:18 AM on August 12, 2010

Response by poster: Oh--and thanks for the perspective Bardolph. I do recognize there are strong emotional, biological, and humanistic reasons for passing on ones' genes. I realize there childbearing/raising is an experience like no other, so I do try and give her some leeway for feeling as strongly as she does.

And just to clarify--my mom was never a homemaker. She was always first and foremost a career woman, and as she approaches her later years she has told us she can't believe she made that particular there's some personal stuff going on here that is getting mixed up in the "having babies is the best thing ever" attitude.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:31 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

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