Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: My spouse and I are hoping you can settle one of our disputes. I dread visiting my in-laws because they constantly ask us when we’re going to have kids. We’ve been married for nearly three years but are still quite young and do not expect to have children in the foreseeable future. My spouse’s brother has already decided that he and his wife are not having kids, so the in-laws seem particularly anxious that we do.
My in-laws have also started insisting that I pick up on their native language, possibly out of fear that our kids will only speak English. Carolyn, my spouse and I are from completely different cultures and my native tongue is nothing close to his (think Chinese and Greek)! I’ve told my spouse many times that this makes me uncomfortable, but spouse is pretty non-confrontational and simply chooses to ignore these comments when they come up. I’m not sure how to proceed. I would like spouse to ask them to stop with the baby talk, but spouse thinks we should just ignore it, given the fact that we only see them once a month. Any advice?
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“Only” once a month – that’s a lot of reminders that you’re expected to live in a way that pleases your in-laws.
On the baby issue, since your spouse (I’ll use “he” for simplicity’s sake) doesn’t want to speak up, then presumably he’s OK with your speaking for yourself? “I appreciate that you urgently want grandchildren, but we have no immediate plans for children. I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to have false hopes.”
Of course, you have to expect this to be heard not through your cultural filters, but through theirs, and so:
If he doesn’t want you to do this — i.e., if he wants you to default to his way of handling his parents – then does he also plan to default to your way of dealing with your parents? Or is he expecting his way, even though what is comfortable to him translates to a pebble in your shoe (irritating now, agony over time)?
And, is one of you learning Greek while the other learns Chinese, or are you choosing, mindfully, to live fully in the language you have in common? If it’s the latter, does he expect you to ignore his parents’ entreaties forever — or does he know from experience they’ll eventually drop them? Or has he not yet looked at this situation through your eyes at all?
I could keep typing out scenarios and trade-offs here, but presumably you already get the point: You’re talking about one point of conflict, but the chances of keeping this conflict fully isolated to a single issue are slim to nonexistent.
You come from different cultures, and whatever bargains you’ve struck between you to reconcile those differences aren’t expansive enough to cover all of the areas touched by your lives together. Your deals don’t extend to the in-laws.
It’s time for a broader conversation about this, with a mediator of some kind if needed. Clear up your priorities on serving marriage vs. parents. Think of it as a tune-up: You’ve driven this marriage for a while and you’re seeing where it needs adjustments. Nothing unusual there.
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