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Choosing a guardian for your child
Q: My husband and I are discussing the all-important question of “Who will raise our son if something happens to us?”.

Obviously, I chose my family and he chose his. How in the world can we come to some agreement? We've both come to the point where neither of us will budge on our decisions.

My husband doesn't think my family should raise our son because my sister lives at home with her 9-year-old son who has Asberger's. My family caters to him and he's got the “run of the house.” He's overweight and eats only what he wants.

I can see my husband’s point, because my nephew needs to be disciplined and never is, and I wouldn’t want our son to be like that, either.

I don't want his family to raise our son, because I know my family will take good care of him and will love him to no limits…I just don't know if his family would do the same. I appreciate any help you can give us!
A: I think you are very prudent to be thinking about this. Most of us do a Scarlet O’Hara on such topics—“Oh, I’ll think about that tomorrow.” First, let me say that it’s not obvious that he would choose his family and you would choose yours. I’ve known situations in which one partner has voiced the opinion, “I certainly wouldn’t want my family to take care of our children if anything happened to us.”

So it seems to me the first step is for the two of you to sit down at a time when you are relaxed and not likely to be interrupted and to talk about it. Actually, I recommend you go out to dinner at a nice restaurant and have your discussion there—in that setting, neither of you is likely to raise your voice or start crying. Ask your husband to give his reasons why he thinks it should be his family; then you do the same thing. I would even write down the points both of you bring up so you can look at them later and come to a decision.

Things that need to be considered are the ability to give love and nurture (the strong point you mention), health and physical ability of the grandparents, living arrangements and amount of space available, likely stimulation for learning and development, and espoused values. A decision, backed up by some kind of written statement, should consider all these characteristics.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what do the two sets of grandparents think about this? Would they both be willing to take your son? Talk is cheap; continued long-term care is quite another matter. One of the cliches we hear from grandparents is, “Grandchildren are wonderful; you can have them all day but they go home at night.” So, whatever you do, make certain you consider their inclinations and feelings. And do your best not to shut either family totally out of the arrangement.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education