Monday, September 13, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: When one of you wants kids and the other doesn't...

SIL recently told us about a friend whose adult son and his wife came to the parents with a big announcement.... no, not THAT announcement. 

They were separating!  

The reason? She wants kids -- and he's decided he doesn't. He admitted he'd always been lukewarm on the subject but... he thought he'd change his mind. (eyeroll -- I'm sure he's been assured that he would by many people...!)  But he's decided he doesn't want to bring a child into a world that's going downhill so fast. 

(Surprisingly, my rather traditional BIL said something to the effect that he was sure a lot of young people are thinking this now, and he can't really blame them...!).  

I didn't say much (I don't know these people at all myself). I just said that, if you KNOW you don't want kids, then fine, don't have kids -- but really, shouldn't they have had this conversation BEFORE they got married??  

Even so -- I've heard of couples (not necessarily married) where the one partner is on the fence but doesn't want to admit it and risk losing the other. Or they're really convinced that when push comes to shove, they'll agree to becoming a parent. Or the other partner just assumes they both want the same thing.  Or, if the other person expresses doubts, is sure that they can get them to change their mind. 

One day, the bombshell is finally dropped that no, they really don't want kids -- and then the other partner is left with a dilemma:  stay with someone they otherwise love and forfeit their chance to have the family they've always wanted and assumed they would have -- or leave and try to find someone else to realize that dream with (or go it alone and pursue single parenthood -- far easier said than done, of course...!)?  All as the biological clock ticks away... 

(Sue Fagalde Lick's blog "Childless by Marriage" is a great resource for those who find themselves living out some of these scenarios, as well as for childless women in step-parenting situations, including ones where the partner who is already a parent does not want any more children.) 

Or (and I'm sure this happens far more often than people admit), the doubting partner goes along with the plan, thinking they will just go ahead and have kids despite their qualms because "that's what people do" and "you'll love them when they're your own"... (right?).  And unfortunately, far too many parents wind up realizing they probably shouldn't have had kids when the kids are already here, and it's far too late for second thoughts.

Listening to this story, I thought about how many "childless by circumstance" and "childless by marriage/relationship" women I've encountered (online and in "real life") over the years with similar stories -- of spending years in relationships that ultimately didn't work out (including a difference of opinion on the "should we have kids" question specifically, as well as other reasons), only to find themselves in their late 30s/early 40s with a narrowing window of (presumed) fertility and an increasing sense of desperation, until the day comes when they realize the family they always took for granted they would have is not going to materialize. This happens a LOT more often than many people realize...!  

I do wish that couples would have a serious and honest conversation on this topic early in their relationship, and be clear about what they want (or at least be clear that they are having serious doubts,  instead of faking enthusiasm while hoping they'll eventually develop the real thing). Men certainly have a lot more flexibility to postpone having children (or to change their minds on this subject) than women do. (And sometimes they do, and wind up having children with a different partner -- which is absolutely heartbreaking to witness when you're the one he told he didn't want them...!)  It's not always possible to meet someone else and have a child with them before your fertile years end, when you've already invested a good chunk of those precious years in another relationship. 


You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here


  1. I know a couple that had the same discussions. They did eventually have 2 kids. The husbands hesitation was "kids can really break your heart & I don't know if I could handle that" As someone who has had 5 miscarriages I assumed that meant he knew someone who lost a child.

  2. Ooof. That's rough. In my first marriage, I was clear I wanted children and my then-husband had said he agreed, but then when I was 28 he told me he changed his mind and wasn't sure. I went back to school for teaching, he continued rampant cheating that I found out about at 29, and I found out that he once said in a forum somewhere "I feel bad that I cheated her out of her chance to be a mother." Which is a) really egotistical and b) WHAT? That was more about the quality of that marriage (poor), but I thank my stars that even though I may have had better chances at a child in my 20s, I didn't have one with him. It does burn my britches that he did go on to have a child with his second wife while I ended up not. But, I ended up with a beautiful marriage.

    I have a lot of younger friends who don't think it's right to bring babies into this world the way it is falling spectacularly apart. I think it is a great betrayal though to have that come up AFTER you've been married, unless it is a sort of gradual growing apart in that area. But even then it would be heartbreaking. Thought-provoking post!

  3. Hmmm. I agree with your eyeroll ... that he'd been reassured he would change his mind.

    My husband and I definitely had these conversations before we got married. I was young (very), and knew I didn't want kids for at least 5-10 years. (I had to say "not for at least a decade" at our wedding, to keep people from nagging me!) The feminist in me absolutely rejected that I should have them straight away. I thought I might be ready at some stage, and I was, but I didn't know if or when I would be, and I was honest about it with my husband. And we grew together anyway.

    I think people who realise that "they probably shouldn't have had kids" are in a self-aware a minority. I.e, I know plenty of parents who never had doubts before or during parenthood, and maybe they should have had!

    I also think there's a (natural) bias amongst the CNBC against the person who has doubts, when it is a partnership, and both have choices. As my sister said to me once, she decided she wanted her husband more than she wanted kids. (She ended up getting both. )

    You might have got me thinking on this.

  4. Eyeroll, indeed! Your point is a good one about men having more time to decide Yes than women do. And that mismatches are just sad -- to have to choose between your romantic love and your desire to be a parent. Ooof.