I have an ethical/philosophical dilemma. I am engaged to a widower, and I’m excited to start our life together and raise his young son. However, I recently learned that he impregnated a woman he’d been seeing before me.
He told me because, contrary to what he’d assumed, the woman had the baby. He wants to pay whatever child support is required by law and have nothing else to do with the child. It’s hard for me to reconcile that with how wonderful he is with his son. I know this is a child he didn’t want with a woman he was never serious about.
The modern woman in me says that, in this day of birth control and abortion, a woman who has a baby against the wishes of the man makes a choice that shouldn’t beholden the man to a thing. But my Jewish conscience says this is a child—a gift!—who has done nothing wrong.
Selfishly, I don’t want this to interfere with the life we have together. But (again that damn conscience!) then I ask myself if I don’t have an obligation to help him see his way clear to a commitment to this child? And I ask myself if his/our son will someday find out and what he will think. I am just so torn! Please help!
First and foremost, you sound like a lovely woman with a huge heart. I am so inspired by your generosity and the fact that you want to include this other child in your new life.
Second and just-as-important-but-my-mom-taught-me-to-start-with-the-nice-stuff, Dayenu! Enough. You’re about to hitch your fins to a father, a young son, and I’m guessing a small cache of LEGOs and light sabers. This is plenty to deal with.
This other child’s role in your life is not your decision; it’s your fiancé’s. He is the one who impregnated this woman, and he is the one who is choosing to be fiscally responsible. This is part of your marriage deal now.
Hear me out. I’m not saying that you just wait by the hearth singing “Stand By Your Man.” This new child is obviously affecting your growing family. So here are some things I think you can and should talk to him about:
-How does he feel about this woman giving birth to a child he helped create?
-How do you feel about this woman giving birth?
-Does he ever intend to see this kid?
-Why or why not?
-What exactly are his financial responsibilities to this child? (This is an important answer to have in writing so that everyone can be on the same page.)
Speaking of writing, before my dear friend Baba passed away a few years ago—yes, she is undoubtedly partying hard with David Bowie as we speak—she wrote a letter to her husband’s future lovers.
It was brilliant, exquisite, hilarious, and I will try to sum it up because it needs to be published in full one day so her family can make lots of money and we can fund new research and finally cure cancer.
You can have five horns and a leprechaun named Myrna, but the only thing I demand is that you are an amazing step-mom to my little girl. This is not a request. This is a requirement. If you are anything less than effusively loving and compassionate I WILL HAUNT YOU FROM THE OTHER SIDE.
Flummoxed, you have a new son who needs all your love and attention right now. Building this new home and new life together will be an amazing, exhilarating, and I’m sure at times terrifying experience. This is where your heart needs to focus. Right here.
I know this is probably the most obnoxious part of my answer. Be here now sounds like the hit single from every down-dogging monk this side of the Himalayas. And it’s something I fail at constantly—especially when I’m with my children. Gefiltes are not required to prove fiscal or emotional stability before spawning, and it shows.
I have a nasty habit of hosting playdates for my kiddos and then siding with the guest whenever there’s a fight. I also let the guests drink from the purple cup, or eat the biggest bowl of popcorn, or even cheat at UNO. I don’t know exactly why I do this, but I think it’s a combo platter of:
1. wanting to be the cool mom
2. trying to teach my kids how great it feels to be selfless
3. fear of true intimacy with my offspring
Ugh, that last one made my dill curdle.
Just a few days ago, when my 5-year-old was in a monster meltdown, I told him, “You can ruin your day if you want to, but Annie and I are still going to have fun playing mermaids.”
The tears literally sprung from my son’s eyes. His friend Annie was pretty stunned, too. I wasn’t teaching anybody how to be cool or compassionate. I was just trying to distract myself from the tantruming kid whose butt I still need to check even if he says he wiped.
You see, when I concentrate on making other kids happy, I don’t get too scared or precious about my own. Though I count to three and practice deep-breath-time-out combos, I go into silent tornadoes of anxiety when my kids get upset—spinning out all kinds of scary scenarios about their health and well-being.
So the other day, instead of facing these fears head-on or holding my tearful boy, I opened my arms to Annie, because she was a nice, pigtailed diversion.
Flummoxed, I’m not accusing you of doing this, but I will say that I think your concern about this other child sounds similar. I found a quote that I’d like you and I both to pin to the refrigerator:
May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.
And if you send me your address, I’ll mail you a picture to go with it. Most likely, an autographed picture of my 5-year-old’s design for a “squiggamajigger” (which can turn toothpaste into diamonds).
Flummoxed, you have an amazing opportunity to create a new family. Go out and enjoy it. When you do the horah, make sure to look at your new husband and your new son dancing too. Embrace your role as wife and mom. And I promise, you will feel your heart grow in every direction.
With love and schmaltz,
Have a question for Gefilte? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might just get an answer.