A few years ago, my ex-husband Matt's parents threw us an engagement party at their house. My former future mother-in-law and I stood side by side in the kitchen prepping for the guests. (Well, I think I was just pouring myself some wine while I awkwardly watched her chop vegetables.) It was an idyllic scene, the two most important women in one man's life, coming together over food and wine. (Okay, I was the only one with the wine.) Sort of semi-casually, her knife hand holding the neck of a celery stalk hostage, she said to me, "So, I think we should talk about how you and Matt don't plan to have children."
I braced myself, expecting she'd take a blender, turn it on and hold my hand over it threatening, "Tell me again. Tell me one more time that you're not giving me grandchildren. I dare you." I figured she'd at the very least say something like, "You're a horrible, soulless, morally barren woman who is stealing a future-family from me and my son!"
Instead she said very simply, "I support that decision. I participated in the Women's Movement so that women could have more choices in life and this is one of those choices." I felt relieved. She worked full time and raised two kids but she didn't try to make me feel like I needed to do the same.
But what would a conversation with your mother-in-law be without a little nugget of guilt that she gets to leave on your pillow before she turns down your metaphorical marital bed?
"Still, I can't say that it isn't a little bit sad to think that I'll never see your children," she continued. "And I know that you two would make great parents if that's what you wanted."***
When we were married, Matt and I often told people that we were a family, just the two of us. That sentiment felt secure and it was true. We were legally a family. But people who had kids usually just looked at us with pity—the kind of pity I reserve for people who are folding and unfolding strollers and clumsily going through airport security.
I knew that people stared at us and thought, But you can't have a two person family. What if one of you falls off of a boat when you're on vacation? Then what? A family of one? What good is a family of one? If you're the only one in your family then who do you blame for all of your mistakes? No, it's YOUR fault that I dropped the carton of orange juice that I was drinking from while standing in front of the open refrigerator because you walked into the kitchen on your tip-toes. You KNOW that when you try to walk quietly it scares me more than if you just walked normally. Also, I had a bad day at work and I blame you because if it wasn't for you, I'd have more free time to meet the heir to an oil empire and if HE married me—I'd never have to work again! I'm not feeling good about myself but I'm too afraid to look within so I'm just going to fixate on the fact that your toothbrush is on the top of our toilet tank.