Hi, Carolyn! My husband and I recently had our first baby. My husband’s brother and his wife are happily child-free and have shown zero interest in our daughter — they’ve never interacted with her, never ask about her, never respond to the few pictures my husband sends them and have told us outright they “don’t like babies.”
I don’t expect them to act like she is the center of their world, but our extended family is tiny, and we’d hoped our daughter would have a strong relationship with her aunt and uncle.
Am I wrong to think it’s generally polite to feign interest in things that are clearly important to people you love? Do we hope they take an interest when she’s older? Or accept that our once-close relationship has changed for good? My husband is hurt by his brother’s lack of interest, but neither of us can think of a productive way to talk with them about this.
Yes, it’s generally polite for the people who love us to give some minimal level of a damn about the things we care about (see also here, second letter: http://bit.ly/EekAbaby). Yes, people who avoid babies can become more interested as the child grows more interesting, though you don’t become Uncle Awesome by skipping the hard years.
And yes, do accept the relationship has changed, because there was no way it wouldn’t change after adding a child. What I don’t suggest is tacking on the needlessly extreme “for good.” Who knows what’s in store. Maybe you’ll keep drifting apart, maybe you’ll get over this obstacle quickly, maybe you’ll reconnect after peak child-immersion has passed.
I also suggest not letting stand their remark that they “don’t like babies”: “Few people in their right minds ‘like’ babies — we like you two, though, and miss you, and want Baby to know you as she grows up.” Back that up by asking, talking and caring about their lives as well.
Re: Babies: It’s not socially acceptable to say, “I don’t like old people,” or, “I don’t like gay people,” so why is it OK to say, “I don’t like kids”?
These aren’t equivalent at all. Being old or gay is just one facet of the abundance of them that make us who we are, and judging the whole person on these single traits makes the judge, to use your term, “socially unacceptable,” though that’s going easy.
Being a baby, on the other hand, means your menu of behaviors is limited to crying, screaming, pooping, sleeping, upchucking, needing and occasionally dazzling someone with a smile or eye contact. Plus they don’t know when you dodge them.
Re: Babies: Babies are terrible. No one in their right mind likes babies. Once you have a kid, your brain chemistry is rewired to force you to think your baby is amazing. That’s why we give them so much nurturing. The aunt and uncle will be more involved as the baby turns into an actual interesting person, rather than a selfish blob.
Indeed. I’m eternally grateful for the people in my kids’ lives who adored and had a magic touch with babies.
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