In most relationships, a major question is whether or not to have children. Usually the couple are in agreement from the start: both either want them or do not. Sometimes, however, this is not so, and the situation needs to be handled with care.
Understanding Your Partner
First, you need to understand why your partner feels this way. Remember, the reasons they give may not be the real reasons. That doesn’t mean they are lying, but we all deceive ourselves from time to time.
What sort of childhood did your partner have? People who had to take care of a parent or sibling sometimes resent their children (especially if they have them too young). Their youth was spent caring for an alcoholic father, or bed-ridden mother, and now they are free: they have their own place, their own money, and the time to enjoy it. But you want them to devote their life to someone else, to give up their freedom all over again. Of course, that may not be how you see it, but it isn’t all about you.
Others have spent years building a career. Women, for example, remind their male partner that it means putting their career on hold. Maybe they have finally reached a position or role they always dreamed of. Once they leave, however, it can be very difficult to regain. A woman who is building a business may also resist the idea. This is especially true of women who would want to be at home, caring for the child for the first few years. Her husband, on the other hand, can continue to build his career.
For many, it is the practical considerations. They don’t want their smart apartment covered in tacky plastic toys, neither do they want sleepless nights, bad smells and general upheaval. Money is another major concern, especially for those who struggled when young, or have spent years saving. Others just don’t like children.
Fear is also common. Many people decide not to have children because the prospect terrifies them. So many dreadful things could happen, from someone drugging their daughter’s drink at a party to their son being stabbed in a fight. To you this may seem madly paranoid or pessimistic, but people’s minds work in different ways. Others decide it would be irresponsible to bring a child into an overcrowded world. In any case, the future often seems bleak, what with global warming and the decline of fossil fuels, etc.
Another common fear, one that people tend to hide, is the pressure a child places on one’s relationship. Your partner has probably discussed parenthood with others, who assured them that it means the end of your marriage.
Dealing With the Situation
First, do not put the matter to one side and think “we’ll figure it out later.” And don’t assume that your partner will change his, or her, mind. (Of course, if you are only in your late teens or early twenties, they may well change their mind – but never assume they will. People do mature, and those in their 30s and 40s are often shocked at how much they’ve altered). As the years pass, your love for one another may deepen. Indeed, you may reach a point where you cannot bear to think of life without them. What will you do if you are also desperate for a child and they haven’t changed their mind?
Once you understand why they don’t want kids you can decide your next move. But you must talk it over. And when you talk, do so in a calm and sensible way. Speak slowly and keep your language clear and simple. And really listen to what they say (and that means really listening, not sitting in silence waiting for them to finish). Your goal should not be to persuade them. Avoid this. You should never pressure someone into having children.
Maybe you could try couples therapy as well. Having a third person there to mediate can be a huge advantage. If that mediator is a parent or close friend, they will inevitably take sides. A therapist won’t. They are trained to be objective and dispassionate, and they have no emotional investment in the situation. They will also offer an outsider’s perspective, observations neither of you had considered.
Some people nag and cajole their partner into agreeing. But if someone doesn’t want kids the consequences are usually disastrous. Having children can be wonderful, but it is also hard. People get through the bad times because they wanted the child in the first place. When your baby is screaming at three in the morning, however, or your son is going through the “terrible twos,” will your partner say “you were the one who wanted him”? Is he, or she, likely to throw it back in your face? If they do, you are sure to become furious, leading to endless rows.
Another warning: never trick your partner into having kids. Some people lie about contraception, missed periods, etc. For a start, that would be immoral. Just because your partner doesn’t want kids that doesn’t mean they are indifferent. And if they found out (or even suspected) you tricked them, it would probably mean the end of the relationship. Even if they never found out, your conscience would eat away at you. And, as has already been pointed out, when people are forced into parenthood they find it especially tough.
If their reason is fairly simple, there may be a way around it. For example, if your wife is worried about giving up her career, maybe you could offer to stay at home while she returns to work. If your partner is scared of losing you, then talk it through. Try to assure them that the two of you can work it out. Children tend to break couples who were already having problems, or who had them without preparing themselves. In spite of what people say, having children needn’t be the end of your relationship. You just need to communicate, share the workload and constantly remember that you are in a relationship of your own, something quite separate from your roles as mum and dad.
It is also important to consider why you want children. Don’t just focus on your partner. Yes, they may be deluding themselves about why they don’t want them, but you may be deluding yourself about why you do! Remember, you are not having a baby but a human being, one who will be in your life for the next 18 years. And you do not have total control over the sort of child it will be. To put it crudely, you never know what you are going to get. Observe any large family and you will be struck by the differences between the siblings: one placid and obedient, the other volatile and rebellious.
Have you always wanted children? Or did you change your mind once your friends starting having them? Often, people fear being left behind: they see images on Facebook and imagine that raising children is one long, sunny vacation. Maybe you love the idea of bringing a new life into the world and watching it grow. Or do you really want someone to care for you when you are old? Fear, whether that is the fear of being left behind or the fear of growing old alone, is not good enough. You may even hope to repair or save your marriage by having a child. Needless to say, this is a big mistake. Children expose the cracks rather than repair them.
The Final Decision
Ultimately, you must know when to quit. If you absolutely do want children and your partner is certain they do not, there can be no compromise. You must decide one way or the other. If you decide to leave, end things in a calm and civilized way. Don’t keep these thoughts to yourself and then suddenly announce that you are leaving. Your partner must know where you stand from the very beginning. Try not to hurt or blame them and, if possible, part without bitterness.
Make it clear that you want children and that you’ll give them time to think it over. Explain that you will respect their decision and that you are not blackmailing or pressuring them. This is how you feel. If they change their mind, you will be overjoyed. But it is their decision and they mustn’t hold it against you if raising children proves harder than they expected. You have given them a way out. If they decide no, then explain that the relationship will have to end. Ask them to take a week or so to think things through (maybe you could go and stay with a friend or sibling in the meantime).
If they decide they don’t want children, and you decide to stay, so be it. You mustn’t hold it against them. You were free to end the relationship, but you decided not to. As the years go by, you mustn’t secretly blame them, or claim that they robbed you of the chance to become a parent. This kind of resentment is toxic.
If you decide to stay with someone who doesn’t want children, there are advantages of course. And you must concentrate on, and celebrate, those advantages. Most obviously, you now have time to work on your relationship.
You are also free to work on your other relationships. A common complaint is that children eat up all your time. People no longer have the opportunity to see old friends, let alone make new ones. Those without children often fear a lonely old age, and that is a reasonable concern (though it must be said that having children guarantees nothing). Without children you and your partner are free to build a network of friends, and to sort the best from the worst. You are also free to explore new creative and intellectual pursuits. By embracing these new opportunities you are less likely to blame your partner for depriving you of kids.
Ultimately there is no simple solution. Every choice involves both advantages and disadvantages. Patience, thoughtfulness and acceptance are the key.