While weddings are generally thought of as happy times for multiple generations of family to come together and celebrate love, they can be a tricky time for couples who won’t have parents attending the wedding. Illness or finances may keep some parents away from weddings they’d like to attend, and still other parents refuse to attend their child’s wedding because they have strong feelings about the religion, orientation or gender of the person their child is marrying. LGBTQ people in particular are less likely to have support from family, with about 60 percent of same-sex couples reporting family or friends were supportive of their marriage. (This is up from previous years, but still trails straight couples level of family support.) Dealing with parents who can but won’t attend the wedding of their child is not only a difficult emotional trial for the couple, but can present challenges for the wedding vendors and guests. Luckily, wedding traditions can be adapted or scrapped altogether to be sure your love isn’t overshadowed by absent parents.
Whether you or your partner is estranged from parents, here are some alternative ways to celebrate your chosen family when parents won’t attend the wedding.
Spread the word.
Resist the urge to sidestep the fact that one or both of your parents will not be in attendance as you’re planning your ceremony and reception. Your wedding officiant, wedding planner and DJ have all likely experienced this issue and may have helpful tips for how to achieve your wedding vision without a set of parents to support. If the subject of parents is particularly raw for you or your partner, consider handing over this task to a close friend who can speak to the situation with clarity and tact, so that you have one less potentially emotional conversation to get through before your wedding.
Get out in front of finances.
Parents are often expected to shoulder a portion of the financial burden of hosting the wedding and its accoutrement — wedding shower and rehearsal dinner. Knowing that you are missing parents from your support system, don’t feel bad if you want to scale back any portion of your wedding or wedding weekend. Maybe your rehearsal dinner turns into an intimate meal at a friend’s home or your wedding shower becomes one big couples shower to save money for your wedding party. While mothers typically lend a helping hand (and wallet) to plan showers, this is an opportunity to rely on your close friends who are willing and able to fill the gap. Instead of your maid or man of honor planning a shower with your mother or your partner’s mother, perhaps you ask a group of friends to all take on hosting duties so as not to burden any one person too much.
Ask friends to step up.
When your relationship with parents is strained, friends often become your chosen family. Don’t be afraid to honor them during your ceremony and reception to fill space that might otherwise be occupied by walking parents down the aisle or parent-child dances. This could be as simple as asking close friends to read poems about friendship or platonic love; asking friends to sit in the front rows during the ceremony or even staging a best friend’s dance instead of a parent-child dance.
Rely on other close family members.
Just because your parent might not approve of your relationship, that doesn’t mean there might not be others in your family — grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings or cousins — who do support your wedding. Ask your close family members if they’d be comfortable standing in for your parent or parents. For example, a favorite uncle might be a natural to escort you down the aisle if a father isn’t available while a grandparent might have a great time taking a twirl around the dance floor with you at the reception.
But despite the vaccine’s widespread availability and demonstrated effectiveness at preventing the disease, many American adults still don’t want to get the shot. According to data collected by U.S. Census Bureau in late April, 18.2 percent of Americans are hesitant about receiving the vaccine, stating either “definitely not,” “probably not,” or that they’re “unsure” when asked if they will be inoculated. The main reasons cited for this resistance are concern over side effects and lack of trust in the vaccines and the government. And despite the recent FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, reports of vaccination hesitancy aren’t necessarily likely to disintegrate.
But the cost of not getting vaccinated has the effect of keeping the virus in circulation for longer, putting others at risk—particularly more vulnerable populations, like those who are immunocompromised, and those who may not be able to get vaccinated, like children under 12 years old. And when family members are COVID vaccine hesitant, your relationships may also be at risk.
“An issue can arise when you are vaccinated, and family members or friends who are not vaccinated or refuse to get vaccinated would like to see you,” says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a New York City-based neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University. “This situation may affect gatherings because vaccinated people can potentially still get COVID-19. Although symptoms are usually mild, vaccinated individuals want to surround themselves with other vaccinated people since this is considered low-risk.” This is also in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) official recommendations.
Telling a family member they can’t attend a wedding or any other gathering, for that matter, unless they’ve received the vaccine could open the door for a range of unpleasant interactions, spanning from an awkward conversation to a larger rift—and, it may be hard for your loved ones to accept the reality of the situation.
Here, mental health professionals offer their tips to help you navigate talking with family members who are hesitant about getting the COVID vaccine.
1. Decide your boundaries and anticipate your family’s response
Before you have any conversation with you family, first decide where you would like to draw the line for you and your immediate household. Are all gatherings with unvaccinated family members off limits? Do you feel comfy with an outdoor, distanced, or masked get-together? Once you’ve decided on your boundaries, you can share the news with your family.
Naomi Torres-Mackie, PhD, clinical psychology postdoctoral fellow at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York and head of research at the Mental Health Coalition, says that if you plan for an uncomfortable conversation (which is likely), you’ll be better able to stand firm. “This is because in high-tension conversations like this, emotions can run high and feelings can get hurt,” Dr. Torres-Mackie says. “If you are worried about setting a boundary around not seeing family members who are unvaccinated, chances are you might be tempted to ease that boundary because of discomfort.”
Try reminding yourself that the boundaries that you set for yourself are valid and important, and then communicate them to your family with empathy.
2. Stick to a script
“Express both that you cannot see them and that you wish that you could, and if it makes you sad to not be able to see them—share that with them,” says Dr. Torres-Mackie. Another option would be to say: “We would love to see you (or have you attend), but we are going to wait, because it’s important we are not exposed.”
“If an unvaccinated family member or friend responds in a hostile manner, explain to them in a calm manner why it’s important for you to be surrounded by vaccinated people,” says Dr. Hafeez. “Then, offer alternative dates or safe options to see them, whether that is through Zoom, six feet apart at a park, or waiting until further notice from the CDC,” Dr. Hafeez adds.
By framing it this way, you are stating the importance of setting boundaries for everyone’s safety, rather than a lack of “wanting” your family at the event or missing them.
Another script suggestion from Dr. Hafeez: “We both have the right to make certain decisions, and although we may not agree, we need to respect them.” This way, you remind your family that respect is a two-way street.
3. Keep your judgments to yourself
Telling your family that you think they’re being stupid or stubborn (even if you’ve had those thoughts) isn’t productive—and, as Dr. Hafeez points out, is potentially equally insensitive as their actions. “You may not know everything they have been through this year, or there may be other reasons for not getting vaccinated yet, such as having trouble securing an appointment,” she says.
Instead, she advises using a friendly, warm tone of voice and sticking to the “I” language in your script. This keeps the emphasis on your own needs rather than the ways you disagree with their choices, which could help ease potential feelings of rejection.
“What is not helpful is to show judgment about their decision to not get vaccinated, as this will only put them on the defensive and lead to conflict,” says Dr. Torres-Mackie. It’s okay to save your explanation of why vaccines are important for another conversation.
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As a parent coach, I often hear concerns similar to what Joan recently said to me: “My adult daughter Briana knows exactly what to say to make me feel guilty and then I give in to her unreasonable demands. I try to be kind and generous but she makes me feel like I am the worst, most unsupportive parent in the world!”
Before I go further, let me say this: I realize that there are many toxic parents of adult children out there. If you are an adult child of truly toxic parents who traumatized you, I empathize. I also work with many adult children who have been mistreated and abused by parents. And as a parent myself, I’ve made my own share of mistakes and could have done some things better. At the same time, there are countless parents who try their best while falling far short of being perfect.
So, if you happen to be a frustrated adult child, know and reclaim your value. Don’t compromise your worth by riding on a horse named Victim and repeatedly heading to the same rodeo. Don’t blame your parents for your own struggles without also taking a look in the mirror. Ask yourself how you can move toward your own valuable independence. Bottom line: Learn to feel good about knowing your own value as an adult even if your parent(s) did not do the best job of seeing it or expressing it.
Returning now to the opening of this post: Joan’s description of her adult daughter, Briana, (names changed for privacy) is heart-wrenching. She feels vulnerable to her adult daughter’s manipulations. Many of my clients share similar stories with me. They feel sucked into the vortex of guilt-inducing messages such as:
- If you really loved me, you wouldn’t question why I need this!
- You make me feel like the black sheep of this family!
- You’re selfish and never think about anyone but yourself!
- You invalidate me all the time!
- I thought I could count on you but obviously I can’t!
- Fine, I’ll just end up homeless!
As a parent, maybe you can identify with being on the receiving end of toxic, manipulative messages like these. And if you can, you may ask, “So, now what do I do?” I can tell you that Joan learned to respond to these types of manipulations from Briana in a much more emotionally healthier way.
Now, what about you?
If you are sick and tired of the manipulation, here’s a helpful word to empower you: Enough! As in, Enough is enough!
When your adult child tries to engage you through shame with pressuring demands, when your adult child is emotionally abusive, or when your adult child fails to acknowledge your love and/or the positive things you have done, you have to draw the line and say, or at the very least, think, Enough:
- Enough of being a punching bag for misplaced and displaced disappointments and frustrations.
- Enough of beating yourself up for past mistakes you’ve made as a parent.
- Enough of being what I call a SWAT team parent. Stop setting yourself up to be on call to automatically respond to and solve the next manufactured, drama-laden crisis.
- Enough negatively comparing yourself to parents of adult children who do not have the same struggles as your own.
The next time your adult child tries to manipulate you or is hurtful toward you, step back and do the following:
Since marriage equality happened, big, gay love is taking over the world. Which is exactly the way it should be — as far as forward-thinking, equality-minded people are concerned, anyway. Some more conservative parents, on the other hand, might be crying hetero tears into their pillows as they picture their spawn burning in the darkest corners of hell. Or if they’re not staunchly opposed to your sexual orientation, maybe they’re just not sure how to feel. Either way, the truth is that it’s really hard to have parents who don’t support your sexuality. It feels like they’re rejecting the very core of your existence. And no matter how proud and confident you are, it has the power to make you feel like a child who has done something terribly wrong. Plus, it’s lonely and scary to live without parental support.
In fact, almost one-third of LGBTQ young people say their biggest worry is that the people they love will not accept them once they come out. That’s some really difficult and unfair territory to navigate, especially if your parents are everything to you. So how do you handle unsupportive parents? Every situation is different and some people are never safe or comfortable coming out. But if you are, and you don’t get the best reaction, here are some tips to try to help you (and your parents) move toward a healthy, supportive situation.
1. Give them time
While it’s preferable that they go full Oprah-love on you the moment you come out, they could just need time to wrap their brains around things. That’s reasonable. It took me longer to accept that I loved Taylor Swift than it took my mom to accept that I was a lesbian. We all come to the right side of things in our own time and in our own way.
2. Give them the facts
Sure, your "gay lifestyle" may include, well, being gay, but it also includes things like going to work, doing laundry, buying groceries, and watching Netfix. You can still get married (YAY!). You can still give them grandchildren. You can still go to church, in most cases, if that’s what you’re into. Our culture is full of stereotypes ranging from the mildly comical to the downright offensive and you need to shut their imaginations down, STAT. You’re the same person you were before those two little words came out of your mouth.
3. Remind them that there is more to you than sex
So many people immediately want to discuss sex whenever the whole gay thing comes up. Gently remind them that you’re a whole person, and that being gay is not just about sex, and it’s not your only defining characteristic by any means. Don’t let them make the things you may or may not do with your genitals into your whole identity. They don’t need to know what you do in the bedroom any more than you need to know how they get down. If you have to go there, ask them if straight sex is what their whole lives are about. They’ll probably say no.
4. Push but don’t shove
Some people have parents who don’t support their sexuality, but support them as loved ones. If you’re lucky enough to have parents who love you, and want you in their lives, it might be worth it to agree to disagree. You’ll still have moments of anger and sadness when the subject comes up, but you might find being the bigger person is better than having no relationship with your parents at all.
5. Cut your losses
On the same token, if it fills you with heartbreak and anger to have parents who don’t support your sexuality, it’s OK to distance yourself from them or even sever ties. Sometimes it’s the only thing you can do. Your parents don’t get to keep you from living a healthy, happy life — especially when you haven’t done anything wrong. You also have to remember that while you can help them through this process, it’s ultimately not your job to make your sexuality OK for them.
There are several psychological explanations to account for those whose attitudes are firmly anchored in anti-vaccination – the Covid anti-vaxxers.
These are people who discount any form of scientific theories and hard objective evidence concerning the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines, and perceive – without any scientific evidence – the vaccines as unsafe and in many cases injurious to their health.
They postulate conspiracy theories to the exclusion of cross-cultural scientific evidence, which confirms that the Covid vaccine really does save lives.
As psychologists, we know from our research that these people are vulnerable to what’s called a cognitive bias, or the Dunning -Kruger effect. Put simply, it means they overestimate their knowledge of a topic and underestimate how much they don’t really know.
The effect is also accounted for by the individual's ignorance of their own ignorances.
Have you struggled getting through to family members and friends who are anti-vax? Have your say in the comments below
Anti-vaxxers are resistant to being vaccinated for other reasons. Fear is one; the fear of death or fear of the vaccine's effect on their mental and physical health.
Others may believe that the scientific research was conducted far too quickly for it to be validated as legitimate.
Research shows that a certain proportion of the population have anti-government social perceptions that inform their attitude and social behaviour.
The anti-vaxxers claim that they reject scientific methodology accuracy and hard objective research findings and believe in conspiracy theories over facts.
This is where the cognitive bias and the Dunning-Kruger effect accounts for their anti-vax stance.
They have become more susceptible to “conspirational ideation” – the belief that society is being shaped and influenced by sinister government organisations.
They tend to have an overall paranoid and suspicious view on how they perceive society. In their world view, conspiracy theories take precedence and are, to them, a helpful way in understanding the injustices of the world.
Their fervent belief in conspiracy theories helps them to cope with the anxieties and stress of the world they live in.
What interests me as a psychologist is how they make sense out of the vast number of UK patients who have died from coronavirus.
This can be accounted for by anti-vaxxers' individual and collective concepts, their interpretation of the value of medicine, and their distorted understanding of disease.
We know from press reports and research how anti-vaxxers who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and then find themselves in ICU begin to discount and reject their firmly held conspiracy theories – with many begging others to change their mind and get the vaccine.
One of the ways to help change anti-vaxxers' rejection of the vaccine is to allow them to see the devastation of coronavirus in anti-vaxxers who are in ICU and the potential fatalities that might sadly follow.
As I mentioned, some anti-vaxxers see the government as some form of sinister and secretive authoritative organisation that works closely with major pharmaceutical companies to control the masses.
The anti-vaxxers who refuse to be vaccinated seem to be devoid of any form of scientific reasoning in the understanding of disease and public health, and much prefer to anchor their belief in highly suspicious and dubious artificial scientific evidence.
How mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and major depressive disorder can affect family and friends.
How mental illnesses can affect family and friends
It’s difficult to be diagnosed with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and major depressive disorder. It’s also difficult when a loved one is experiencing one of these diseases. When a person is living with a serious mental illness, the whole family may be affected.
Serious mental illnesses often have a biological component. They are not the result of bad parenting, and they probably couldn’t have been prevented by anything that you, as a friend or family member, might have done differently. Even still, after the diagnosis it’s normal to feel a range of powerful—and often unpleasant—emotions.
It’s not abnormal to feel ashamed, or hurt, or embarrassed by a family member whose behaviors can be difficult to understand and deal with. Many people also feel anger at the circumstances and even at the person who has been diagnosed. And though it may not be logical, parents often engage in some degree of self-blame. Such feelings of shame and anger may also go hand-in-hand with feelings of guilt. Grief is also common.
If you are the parent of someone diagnosed with a serious mental illness
Parents, in particular, often have to readjust their hopes or expectations for the future when their child develops a serious mental illness. In the process, you may grieve for the future you thought your child would have. These feelings, though difficult, are totally normal.
Just as it’s important to maintain your own health as you care for a loved one with mental illness, it’s also important to preserve relationships with other family members, including your spouse or partner. If you have a child (whether a minor or an adult) with a serious mental illness, you may find yourself focusing less attention on your other children. Healthy siblings may feel anxiety and frustration at the extra responsibilities they are expected to take on. Try to regularly set aside a little one-on-one time with your other children. Tell them how much you appreciate their help.
Clear, honest communication is crucial for all family members. For example, don’t be afraid to ask both your ill and healthy children how they feel about the changes to the family. Keeping a line of communication open will help things go more smoothly—both at the time of a new diagnosis, and well into the future.
If you are the partner of someone diagnosed with a serious mental illness
Relationships can be wonderful but challenging under the best of circumstances. When one partner has a serious mental illness, the situation can become even more complex. Many times, the partner without a diagnosed disorder will assume more responsibilities, at least for the short term. For a person who is already worried about what is happening with his or her partner, having to spend more time maintaining the household or taking care of the children can be especially hard.
It is important for the couple to keep in mind that most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness improve over time, and that a partner’s attitude and behavior can make an important contribution to recovery. It helps to maintain an accepting and positive attitude, while holding realistic expectations for the partner with serious mental illness. Participating in specialized family therapy for serious mental illnesses can be very useful.
As you adjust to the emotions and stresses of loving someone with a serious mental illness, it’s important to identify sources of support. Often, some of the best support comes from others who are in your shoes. Consider joining a family support group to meet others experiencing similar challenges. To find such a group, ask at your local hospitals or community mental health agency, or contact your local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Participating in family programs, in which you participate in education and treatment sessions with your loved one, can also be beneficial. Family-led programs, many led by trained instructors who themselves have a relative with mental illness, can help families learn how to cope. Furthermore, research has shown that family-based programs can also improve well-being for many people with serious mental illnesses.
When you discover a loved one is ill, it’s often hard to focus your attention on anything else. But it’s important to take care of your own needs. Try to eat healthy meals, get some exercise, and get enough sleep. Making time to do things you enjoy will help you keep your stress levels in check. You’ll be better able to support your loved one if you take steps to maintain your own physical and mental health.
Serious mental illnesses often present logistical challenges as well as emotional ones. Your family member may not be able to work, at least temporarily. You may need to help your loved one locate affordable housing, secure transportation to and from appointments, or figure out how to pay for and pick up medications. Ask your relative’s doctors and mental health professionals if they know of any social services available in your community that may be able to help with these types of day-to-day activities. When possible, reach out to other friends and family members to help ease your responsibilities. You might be surprised how happy they are to lend a hand—if you let them.
It’s normal for the family dynamic to change when one family member is diagnosed with a serious mental illness. It will probably take some time to accept those changes and establish a new routine. It helps to remember that people with serious mental illnesses can live rich, fulfilling lives—and so can you.
Thanks to Shirley M. Glynn, PhD, Karen Kangas, EdD, and Susan Pickett, PhD, for contributing to this article.
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Capgras is a type of delusional misidentification syndrome (DMS) that may present due to any number of neurological diseases or psychiatric disorders. Although the exact prevalence of this disorder is unknown, a 1999 study estimates that it is present in between two and 30 percent of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. This disorder can seriously complicate a dementia patient’s quality of life and their caregivers’ efforts, so it is crucial to spread awareness of this little-known condition.
What is Capgras Syndrome?
“Capgras is a misidentification syndrome characterized by the transient, recurrent, or permanent belief that someone known to a patient has been replaced by an impostor with a strong physical resemblance,” explains Erin Shvetzoff Hennessey, MA, NHA, CPG, and Vice President of Health Dimensions Group. “These delusions are suggested to stem from impairment of the brain’s facial recognition system and are also associated with brain lesions.” There is limited research available on this condition, but it affects those with a variety of neurological and psychological diagnoses, including schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Capgras can be extremely stressful for the person with the syndrome, but it is also very disturbing for those around them. “While dementia caregivers usually anticipate a loved one’s forgetfulness and inability to remember close family members and friends, it can be very painful and confusing when this syndrome causes a different kind of loss of recognition,” laments Shvetzoff Hennessey. A loved one may remember their caregiver, spouse, or other relative—and may even ask for them by name—but they believe that this person is an impostor. Such delusions can make caregiving, family time, and other social experiences extremely painful and confusing.
Reality Orientation Techniques
When interacting with a person who is experiencing Capgras, it is common for caregivers and family members to attempt to correct or explain their delusions. A research article in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal states that, “A defining characteristic of delusions also present in Capgras syndrome is that patients will firmly hold on to their delusional beliefs [even] in the presence of mounting contradictory evidence.”
While some caregivers may continue to correct sufferers and try to convince them that they are merely experiencing delusions, the use of reality orientation techniques for sufferers of memory loss has declined in recent years. “This strategy includes frequent reminders of present time, location and facts based in reality, including deaths, moves or other major life events,” Shvetzoff Hennessey explains. Reality orientation may be logical and appealing for those without Capgras but is often frustrating and upsetting for individuals who are experiencing delusions.
Shvetzoff Hennessey says that reality orientation has largely been replaced by validation therapy, which supports the patient’s delusions rather than correcting or contradicting these very real ideas, thoughts and feelings. Validation techniques have been found to reduce stress and anxiety in both dementia patients and their loved ones.
For some sufferers, neither reality orientation nor validation techniques are successful, leaving both the patient and their loved ones frustrated, lonely and anxious. For these situations, a mixture of several techniques may be needed in order for both parties to enjoy spending time together. “By working with the patient’s care team, including direct care providers, physicians, social work professionals, pharmacists and therapists, techniques and strategies can be developed to relieve the symptoms in the patient, as well as reduce the stress and frustration of loved ones,” advises Shvetzoff Hennessey. “This can include communication techniques, medications, and creative problem-solving methods.”
Interactions and Caregiving
Research shows that time and interactions with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia is valuable for both the patients and their caregivers. However, this delusional condition can make it difficult, if not impossible, for the patient and the believed impostor to interact. Some patients may blatantly refuse to speak or cooperate with the “impostor.” Changing the format, timing and length of visits may help in some cases.
“If the patient does not live with those they do not recognize, these loved ones may have to visit during certain times of the day when the patient is more relaxed,” Shvetzoff Hennessey recommends. “Impostors” may need to visit along with other people that the patient recognizes, or even visit as a stranger, but these options may still allow for interaction.
Shvetzoff Hennessy emphasizes that safety and wellbeing are paramount. “If the patient’s delusions make caregiving, living together and safety challenging, housing changes may be needed to ensure the emotional and physical health of everyone involved.” In such cases, placement in a specialized memory care unit might be the best option.
Care for Yourself, Too
Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers already experience serious emotional and physical strain, and this is only compounded by the development of Capgras syndrome. “It is important for family members and caregivers of sufferers to care for themselves in order to better care for their loved ones,” Shvetzoff Hennessey urges. This self-care can include increased time away from the patient, self-acceptance of limitations and reliance on other support systems including friends, family, and community and healthcare resources.
Interacting with Someone Who Is Suffering from Delusions
Shvetzoff Hennessey offers family caregivers the following tips for interacting with a person who is experiencing Capgras syndrome.
The letters you wrote to “Dear Prudence” this year covered the breadth of the human dilemma, from how to cope with revolting sexual partners (hairy backs, dented breasts, spouses who have blown up like Macy’s parade balloons), to how to manage repellent co-workers (chewers, hummers, snoopers, stinkers), to how to handle reprehensible parents, siblings, children, and other loved ones. But sometimes readers found my responses more noxious than the original problem, resulting in torrents of condemnation and calls for apologies and retractions.
Nothing provoked as much mail—both pro and con—as my suggestion that it’s a good thing for stable, happy couples to have children. The deluge of letters spurred me to write this follow-up article. But the runner-up was my response to the 22-year-old woman who found herself unexpectedly pregnant by her boyfriend of two years, who was worried about how to break the news to her parents. I suggested that she stop fretting about her parents and instead concentrate more on her impending parenthood—and that marrying her boyfriend would be a good first step. The vehemence with which readers denounced my coupling marriage and children made it easy to understand the recent government statistics, which show that nearly 40 percent of children in this country are born to unwed mothers.
A disclaimer: I don’t recommend marriage to all the unexpectedly pregnant women who write, such as those who say that they’re pregnant by the mentally ill drug addict they dated for a month (although if you decide to date such a fellow, I advise abstinence or excellent birth control). But readers let me know that my notion that a young woman in a committed relationship should marry the father of her child-to-be is as passé as serving aspic at the wedding—if there were a wedding.
I was a throwback, they cried. I needed to “come into the 21 st century” because “in this day and age the nuclear family is the minority.” “Marriage and motherhood are two of the biggest steps a woman will ever take, and to take one just because you’re taking the other is ludicrous.” “You’re implying that she should marry him without even knowing if he’s the one.” I even heard from a minister who said he refuses to preside over the weddings of couples who are expecting if they weren’t engaged prior to the pregnancy, because “the child will think he or she is the only reason the parents got married.”
In response, I maintain that children themselves are little throwbacks, since they have a strong aversion to watching their parents search for “the one.” And when a child is eventually old enough to do the math and figures out that mom was pregnant when she married dad, is that really so terrible? Is it worse than knowing that while mom and dad were willing to have sex with each other, they didn’t even love each other enough to commit to being a family?
I also got a big response to the letter from the pregnant woman who said she “can’t stand people, especially mere acquaintances, touching my stomach without invitation,” and responds by recoiling and removing the offender’s hand. When I said there is something sweetly communal about a pat to a pregnant belly, and that the problem is self-limiting, readers asked, “Are you nuts?”
One correspondent wrote, “It’s one thing for your Aunt Millie to pat your tummy, and quite another for some pervert at the bus stop to use pregnancy as an excuse to cop a feel. I know at least two men who admit they are sexually aroused by pregnant women. Both fondle every pregnant woman they see, even complete strangers.” Most of the correspondents sounded as if they would be none too happy about Aunt Millie’s desiccated little claws on their belly—as one observed, “Unwelcome or uninvited physical contact is battery, which is a crime in all states.” Let me affirm that I am opposed to perverts, at bus stops or elsewhere, pawing any part of anybody’s anatomy, pregnant or not.
A minority of readers—okay, one—came to my defense. This writer described how the pregnant woman in her office “treated us to endless sonogram updates and detailed reports of every doctor visit. She did everything but bring in an exam table. But then she yelled at someone for touching her stomach and launched into a diatribe.” The reader went on to say that when she was pregnant about 20 year ago, “before pregnancy became such a big deal, everyone celebrated with me when I felt the first kick, etc. I’m not a touchy-feely person by nature, but it’s a brand new life. How awesome is that?”