My sister is pregnant. Again. She just bought a home (in the burbs), but is deep in debt. The house needs all kinds of renovations, and both she and her husband work two jobs. My nephew, who is 1.5 years old, is woefully underdeveloped. He hates to leave his mother’s arms, so doesn't walk very well and is a bit underweight. And he doesn't say a peep.
I could not be more different from my sis. I live downtown with my boyfriend and we're saving marriage for after we've travelled and are debt-free. I can't imagine responsibly having a child until I’m more stable, say in my mid- to late 30s. So when my sister told me the news, I asked questions like, ‘Are you sure this is the right time?’ ‘What about the health risks?’ (She has high blood pressure.) She hung up on me. I don’t think she’s looking at the reality of the situation, but I feel terrible about not being more supportive. What should I do?
Uh, how about … be more supportive?
Now, before I continue, I want to say that I work hard to make Damage Control a judgment-free zone. When someone does me the honour of writing in and saying, “Dear Dave, I made a mistake,” I try to be like: “We all do, it's confusing down here.” And only then: “Here's what I think you should do.”
But I do make an exception when someone doesn't really seem to understand how or where they're screwing up, or that they're even screwing up in the first place – which certainly seems to be the case here.
So here we go: First of all, we parents don't say a toddler is “1.5 years old.” We say “18 months.” And for an 18-month-old to be quiet, a little unsteady on his pins and attached to his mother sounds pretty normal to me – even rather ideal.
You say he's “a little underweight.” And obviously that would be a cause for concern. But why do I get the feeling if he gained a few pounds, you'd start saying he's “tragically obese”?
In any case, “woefully underdeveloped” sounds like pure histrionics and way out of line. Everyone loves to fill the air with opinions about parenting – until they have kids themselves. That tends to shuts them up.
But it's not just your sister's parenting you appear to pooh-pooh. It's everything: the fact that she lives in the suburbs, the way she and her husband manage their finances, the state of their home, the state of her health, even how hard they work.
If they had a dog, you'd probably say they don't wash it often enough.
Need I add that when someone announces they're pregnant it's a little late to be urging planned parenthood and birth control – the exact wrong time, in fact.
I'm not surprised she hung up on you.
Sister, at the very minimum, you need to step back, let your sister live her life and worry more about your own.
I'm happy for you that you and your downtown boyfriend plan to travel the world, emerging just in time for him to fertilize your perfectly ripened ovaries in an atmosphere of maturity, good parenting, low blood pressure and debt-free fiscal responsibility. (“Debt-free.” Sigh: Wouldn't that be nice? I've heard of people who are debt-free, but never met one personally. I'm beginning to suspect they're a myth, like the Yeti or Ogopogo.)
But have you ever heard the old Yiddish saying: “Man plans, God laughs”? What if one or both of you lose your jobs? What if, after all of your globetrotting, you find you can no longer afford your downtown rent and lifestyle?
What if, during your travels, your boyfriend falls for a topless Penelope Cruz look-alike on a beach in Ibiza, and *poof* disappears? And you decide to cope with your loss by drinking excessively and noshing on family-sized bags of high-sodium chips?
You may find yourself 38, single, broke, in debt, your biological clock ticking madly as you e-date one doofus after another – and with blood pressure through the roof.
And you know what you'll need then? A supportive family. Particularly a sister who will listen to your woes, set you up with a decent dude, maybe slip you a little cheddar.
And that's what your sister needs now. A little support to get her through what is obviously a slightly rocky time in her life. And you're not giving it to her.
So stop criticizing, eschew the pooh-poohing and pitch in. Offer to babysit, bring over a frozen lasagna, roll up your sleeves and help fix up the place.
Whatever it takes. You have, I can tell, plenty of time and unused energy on your hands. Put it to good use!
David Eddie is the author of Chump Change, Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad and Damage Control, the book.
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