DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been with my boyfriend for two years now, and I am 34 years old. We have spoken about marriage and children, and I have been quite candid with him in saying that I would rather have children than get married. I don't know if I will be able to spend the rest of my life with Bob, but I do want children, and I think he'd be a great father. Bob seems OK with this, so I have been struggling with finding a way to tell my dad and stepmom that I'm ready for children, but not for marriage. I tried sitting them down, and they immediately began pre-emptively congratulating me on my engagement. How do I start this tricky conversation? -- No Ring, Denver
DEAR NO RING: I remember my father asking me what I thought about having children without being married. My father was a conservative man who worried about social conventions but also about my safety and comfort. He was extremely concerned about how I would manage if, hypothetically, I had a child without having a husband. If your dad and stepmom are anything like my father, good luck trying to convince them of the value of your idea. It could simply be out of their ability to welcome -- even if they ultimately have to accept it.
That said, what you can do is think through your idea very carefully. Plan out what you believe you will need to care for a child without the "guarantee" of an engaged spouse. This includes money, emotional support, child care, etc. Imagine your needs, and talk to other friends who have children to learn what to expect. Determine what Bob will agree to do "forever" for his child, even if you do marry or get involved with someone else -- or vice versa. Make an agreement with him so that you are as sure as you can be about the nature of that commitment.
When you feel that you are responsibly set, tell your parents. Ask for their support and love even if they don't understand. If you are blessed to have a child, your parents' love for the baby will supersede their judgment of your decision.