Dear Captain Awkward,
My husband and I (cis-woman), are adopting our first child. We came to this decision after we learned that I have a medical condition which will make it difficult, if not impossible, for me to have biological children. We were very excited to tell our families about this decision. And, for the most part, the response has been positive.
However, my husband’s parents have not been as enthusiastic as I had hoped. The week after we announced our plans, they gave me a ton of brochures about in-vitro and fertility treatments, as well as information about embryo adoption. I politely explained that the same condition which makes it difficult for me to conceive makes it more likely that I’ll have a miscarriage. I also explained that we had already submitted the first part of our application, and were committed to adoption.
Explaining all of this seemed to put the issue to rest, until the holidays. While we were visiting them, I accidentally overheard my husband’s mother say some pretty unkind things about me and my body (the same condition which limits my fertility also makes it harder for me to manage my weight), as well as suggesting that my husband should divorce me and find someone who can give him children. She doesn’t know I heard her say this.
In the months since then, my inlaws have insinuated that they don’t (and won’t) consider adopted children to be “real” grandchildren, even asking me point blank why I would want to take care of “someone else’s child”. My mother-in-law also seems particularly concerned that the child that is placed with us will be disabled in some way, going on about how adopted children are often “emotionally damaged” (after which I pointed out that no child comes with any guarantees, and mental, emotional, and/or physical disability are not limited to adopted children).
I’ve asked my husband to talk to them, but he has social anxiety, and confrontation (especially with his parents) is really hard for him. And his family is close-knit. We’re over his parents house for dinner about twice a month. I don’t want to ruin his relationship with his family, but I also don’t want to hear the constant stream of criticism, and, more importantly, I don’t want to subject any potential future child(ren) of mine to that kind of talk. Lately, I’ve started using work as an excuse to skip dinner with them, but that can’t work forever. And I just don’t know what to do anymore.
I hope everything goes wonderfully for you with adopting your first child! That is a big step, and a very exciting one!
Your In-Laws are behaving appallingly and I suggest keeping them out of the loop of any more of your adoption process or decision-making until such time there is an actual human kid in the picture. You have enough on your plate without being the receptacle of all their feelings and anxieties while things are in process. You are not “ruining” their close-knit family in any way. Someone who thinks your husband should divorce you is not your friend and not the source of anything particularly close-knit, right? Your Mother-In-Law has choices about how she deals with all of this, and she’s choosing the jerk path. That’s not on you to fix!
If they ask how things are going with the adoption, you and your husband should come up with a pat answer of “We’ll let you know when there is something to tell. In the meantime, wherever did you find the recipe for this Potato Salad of Changing The Subject?” and repeat it like a broken record.
I also suggest responding to anything rude they along the lines of “Your adopted child won’t be our ‘real’ grandchild” with “Well, that’s pretty sad to hear” or “If that’s how you feel, we’re not gonna force you” or simply “Okay.”
“The child might be emotionally disturbed!!!!” “Okay.”
“We won’t consider it our real grandchild!!!!!” “Okay.”
Don’t waste your energy trying to convince them or giving them a point-by-point argument. It’s actually pretty powerful to let someone know that their displeasure doesn’t affect your course. Their anxieties about adoption are not yours to fix or soothe away. Pivot your attention toward the family members who are supportive and lovely. If people make the choice to treat you poorly, try seeing it as giving you permission to stop worrying about what they think, to stop trying to please them, and to stop spending your precious free time in their company.
In other words, keep skipping those “family” dinners for now, and let your husband deal with his folks. If they bug him or you about why you aren’t around, he can tell them whatever he wants to. “Work” sometimes, but maybe “Well, Ma, she overheard you discussing her like she was defective breeding stock and maybe she’ll come back when you apologize to her.”
“But Husband has anxiety!” you say. Well, I would have anxiety about hanging around people who behave like that too. Anxiety seems like a perfectly reasonable response to their behavior. (Anxiety about what unkind thing is gonna come out of their mouths next. Anxiety about whether they’ll ever get it and stop behaving like jerks who think they are entitled to a certain build and model of grandchild.) He’s gotta figure out some kind of adult relationship with them that he can stand and you can’t really do it for him. Becoming a parent in his own right is a very good time to think about family dynamics, and maybe it’s Therapy Time for him! That doesn’t mean it’s Do More Emotional Labor To Mollify People Who Treat You Badly time for you!
I know that my Yia-Yia was a giant asshole to my mom all through the process of figuring out she was infertile and deciding to adopt, but once there was an actual baby in the picture, I was worshipped like a tiny god and fed like a baby bird from her doting, grandmotherly hands. That may happen with your child, too – babies have a way of disarming people and bringing their shields down. If that doesn’t happen, you’ll be there to shield your child from them, and you’ll learn to be the Mom s/he needs as you go. For now, flex your “Not today, Satan/Mother-in-Law!” muscles on your own behalf and think of it as practice.