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The question

Two years ago, my father died suddenly at the age of 60. It was extremely traumatic for my family and I miss him every day. Some days, I am even upset about the things he will miss: walking me down the aisle at my wedding, meeting his grandchildren and so on. My future mother-in-law, whom I have always been extremely fond of, recently became a grandmother for the first time. Ever since, every time my boyfriend and I see her, she makes reference to "having more grandchildren before I die." This causes a strong grief reaction for me and, if I'm being honest, makes me a little angry, too. I absolutely want kids and so does my boyfriend. But we're not ready yet, and putting it that way makes me want to curl up into a ball and cry because my dad did die, and this is a painful reminder. I don't want to hurt her feelings or upset her but I want to put an end to this line of conversation. I know she wants more grandchildren, and I get that – but I wish she would stop asking in such a way as to be a constant reminder of my father's death. How can I address this tactfully?

The answer

First, I'd like to say, sorry about your dad.

I only hope my kids mourn my loss long after I'm gone and continue to miss me "every day" as you do your father. That's touching! Second, I have no direct experience with pressure from in-laws to have kids – but plenty from my wife. I never wanted kids. Like David Foster Wallace or Philip Roth, I wanted to eschew fatherhood to concentrate on my work.

But Pam came along. She wanted kids; I wanted her. But still I dragged my heels. Finally, when she turned 30, after two years of cohabitation, she issued an ultimatum: "Agree now to fertilize my ovaries within the next three years, or, much as I love you, I'm going to have to ask you to pack your bags and hit the bricks so I can find another donor – oops, I mean suitor."

Resistance was futile. Mother Nature was speaking to her ("It … is time: Tonight by the light of a harvest moon, bury your diaphragm in the backyard and make all his drinks doubles") and through her. Now we have three kids – and I couldn't be more thrilled.

But I'm glad no one else was getting all up in our business about it. And I'm sorry, you say you like your future mother-in-law, but it sounds to me like she's being a bit of an a) busybody, b) drama queen, c) pain in the (sound of car horn honking).

"I just want more grandchildren before I die." Please. She already has a grandchild, I'm sure she knows you plan to have kids some day – and you aren't even married yet! As to the nuts and bolts of how to handle her, why not start out by attempting to parry her grand-progeny-related thrusts with quips, playful banter, and badinage. Like: "Believe me, when that 'blessed event' occurs, you'll be the first to know – and the first we call to babysit."

If that works, you're welcome. If not – if she refuses to be parried, or parries back with when-might-that-be type banter of her own – then you have my permission to take it up a notch.

Gently explain (or reiterate) that you want to have kids, but aren't ready yet. Maybe something like: "I appreciate you want more grandchildren. We want kids, too. But we want to make absolutely sure we're ready for them when we do, so we can be the best parents we can be." Maybe toss in a reference to your father at this point, like: "I only wish my father were around to see them when they come."

One hopes she would back off at that point. If not – and some people can be relentless, I know – you have no choice but to turn to your fiancé and say: "Uh, honey? Could you take care of this?"

It's his mother, after all. He needs to tell her that, while he understands her urge for more grandchildren, her point has been duly registered and you'll take it from here – and that her badgering, and approach, is not only hurting your feelings but literally causing you grief.

Could cause some short-term friction. But in the long run will be beneficial to all parties involved, I believe:

It'll be good practice for your fiancé. Sounds like running interference between you and your mother-in-law may be a skill he needs to develop for the future, if she's coming on so strong before you're even married.

It insulates you from her a bit, gives you a buffer and teaches her that sometimes if she wants something from you to go through "proper channels," i.e. her son.

It'll help ease her out of an unfortunate tendency some people acquire, at whatever age, to say the same things over and over again, to badger and nag.

The truly forceful person makes his or her point once, and moves on.

What am I supposed to do now?

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