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Posted on Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 5 a.m.

Daughter-in-law won't stop harping on decision for a one-child family

By Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

My husband and I had one child, who by all accounts has had a great life. He is married now with a child, and he and his wife -- whom my husband and I both love -- plan to have additional children.

My son has apparently expressed to his wife that he did not enjoy being an only child. He has never said anything to us, I'm sure out of his love and respect for us, plus it is water under the bridge.

His wife, however, often brings up the subject of how "hard" it would be to be an only child. She can't imagine having to spend Christmas with just your parents, remarks how not having someone to play with while growing up is so sad ... you get the idea.

Both my husband and I are from large families and we enjoy them very much, and my daughter-in-law gets along with her siblings famously. I get it, I liked having siblings, but I also know there is no guarantee that siblings will get along or even like each other.

Our reasons for having one child are personal, I shouldn't have to explain them, but I do find myself either defending our position or being offended and hurt. I don't want to cause any kind of rift, but I want the subject closed. Help?

-- "Single" Mom

You do need to speak up, both to prevent that rift you fear (how long before you snap at her?) and as a pre-emptive bit of kindness toward your daughter-in-law. If she were walking around with toilet paper stuck to her shoe, then you wouldn't think twice about calling it to her attention. Her blend of pity and disdain for only-child-hood is the social equivalent of ambulatory TP; she is going to make a fool of herself around someone who isn't as charitable as you are, if she hasn't already.

That's because this has nothing to do with the merits of different family configurations, and everything to do with the arrogance of thinking her size fits all.

In deciding how to approach her, you have two things going for you. The first is your affection for her. Fondness shows, and since you've taken great care to account for it in your letter, I don't doubt you can also account for it when you have this conversation with her. You can even look to the last two paragraphs of your letter for ideas on how to frame your concern with compassion.

Your second advantage is, counterintuitively, her apparent inability to resist hammering this topic around you. The hardest part about a hard conversation is starting it; voila, she's starting it for you.

Here's the argument you made in your letter, tweaked a bit:

"Please be careful how you judge family size: Just as some people have more children than they planned or hoped to, many have fewer. That can make it particularly painful to hear how 'hard' it is for the kids in these families. I thought you'd want to know, because I'm sure you don't mean to hurt people."

Someone who wants a rift will make one. However, as long as you're careful not to escalate, you'll be well-positioned to tend to her feelings -- especially after having finally tended to yours.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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