Inside His Head: Who should take our kids if we die?

insidehishead, 500

Dear Inside His Head,

My husband and I are leaving on a big trip soon without the kids. The problem is, we can’t agree on which relatives would take our kids if something happened to us while we were away. We’re leaving soon and need to make a decision. I want my sister to be named guardian (I think she’s the most qualified), but he says his sister should be the one. There’s really no middle ground here. Any advice?

MICHAEL: Sounds like you’re in a pickle. There’s no easy answer to this but I can tell you what I’d do.

Sit down with your husband and make a list of the most important things you want for your kids as they grow up.

I’m not talking about material things.

I mean things like a good education and treating people the same no matter what their background or life choices. Focus on what it is you think will make them the people that you want them to be. Then talk about each of your sisters and determine which of them you feel would be most likely to accomplish your wishes.

Don’t forget that these things don’t happen in a vacuum. If one of your sisters already has four kids and the other only has one then that could make a difference.  Don’t be too quick to judge each other’s choices. Most likely either one would do their best to follow your wishes.

Just make sure they know what those wishes are by writing them down.

GRAY: It sounds like you’re both too personally invested to make a decision. It’s likely both sisters are equally qualified or there wouldn’t be a debate, so the real argument becomes about your opinion instead of who’s passing muster.

And, really, what‘s “qualified” to you may be different from your husband’s.

First, I would open the conversation up to your respective families (or at least the family members you trust). It may yield some surprising insights or considerations you have not thought about. Who knows, if you haven’t mentioned it to your respective sisters already, you may discover one would hate being named guardian. Similarly, you may have someone you hadn’t considered suddenly become a viable choice.

 Next I would get your kids input (assuming they’re old enough to have input). I mean, if something happens to then this is the last decision you’ll be making for them and arguably the most important in their lives. Even if they have no say, it could be wise to include them in the conversation so they’ll at least understand what’s could happen.

Finally I’d suggest that you put emphasis on the potential guardian’s personality and ability to love over their financial means or living conditions. If you’re taken away from them they’re going to need all the love they can get and no degree of money can make up for losses like that.

Hopefully these steps will help some and make your family realize that no matter who gets chosen, they’re all still there to support and help raise your children…let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.

MAVERICK: Well, since you say there is no middle ground, I don’t know how I can provide any advice, since by definition, you are at an impasse.

It makes sense that you are both championing members of your respective families. Unless you have an unhealthy family dynamic that you can actually recognize it seems natural to favor your blood relatives over in-laws, all things being equal. You know your family better and assuming what you know is positive, you’d want that for your child if you were gone.

But are all things really equal?

I suggest you both write down on a hunk of paper the qualities and qualifications of the two prospective guardians and exchange lists and then discuss the pros and cons of your choices.

As you do, frankly consider these issues:

First, ask if the person you are championing would really willingly take your kids. I mean without reservation, not just accepting the role of surrogate parent out of guilt. This is a key consideration. If your choice isn’t willing to take on the responsibility of raising your children with full commitment the end result will be disastrous.

Can your choice financially take on the addition to your children into their family? Look at this one with cold logic; it’s a vital issue.

Will your children fit in with the rest of the prospective guardian’s immediate family? What is the family dynamic like and do you approve of it? Are there other kids in the equation, so your children will not only be getting surrogate parents but surrogate siblings as well? How do you think that would work?

It’s also important to consider what the spouse is like. Would you want your children to grow up under his or her influence? Are they even capable of parenting and loving your children? How do they do with their own kids? Would you like your children to grow up like your brother-in-law or sister-in-law?

Kick around the notion of whether the selected guardian really understands who your children are at their core. Do they realize who your children are as people? What they love? Who they could turn out to be? Does the prospective guardian have the willingness and ability to nurture what makes your children unique? Will they raise your children with your and their best interest at heart?

Talk all this stuff out with your husband and be willing to listen to what he has to say.

If, in the end, you can’t make an informed decision, flip a coin, ask your child who they’d like to live with, or fight a duel to the death. I suggest a battle of wits using iocane powder.

In the end, you have to make sure your preference is really in the best interest of your child or more in the interest of keeping the family peace. You will be gone, but your child will have to live with your choice for the rest of their life, so don’t let family politics or dynamics sway you.

Choose wisely.