Am I changing my mind or wasting his time?
February 2, 2009 3:16 PM   Subscribe

My partner wants kids, but I've always been opposed to the idea. He's making me question that, though. How do I know if it's a real change of heart?

I have said since I was a teenager that I didn't want kids. Helping care for a sibling and years of babysitting grounded the idea but there's been plenty of social science research on happiness that made me feel comfortable with my choice. It has made relationships challenging in the past, but I've never been with someone who made me question my commitment to no kids and early retirement with my life partner.

Enter the new boyfriend. He wants children. He knows I don't. (I presented my position to him as being based in part on a pathological fear of pregnancy and childbirth, which is totally true: don't let your daughters watch Alien at a young age, folks.) We've been dating for a few months, and for the first time I find myself thinking that our kids would be pretty awesome. This has never, ever been the case with previous guys, even those I was with for years, or who I would have sacrificed almost anything for. At this point the idea of raising kids no longer sounds bad, and actually a little cool, although I still get squeamish a little about the birth stuff and frightened myself with the avidity with which I read a recent article about surrogates.

This sudden 180 is freaking me out. All those fatuous jerks who told me I would change my mind ... were they right? Or is this just a passing thing? Some things that might be affecting my judgment:

1. I'm a woman in my late twenties.

2. He would be a great father. Part of my reluctance relates to a lack of confidence in my own ability to parent, and many of my prior partners had personality problems (anger management issues, for example) that I would never want to inflict on a child. No worries about that here.

3. Our kids would have a good chance of being gorgeous and brilliant, which wouldn't have been the case with some previous partners. (Children in general: Still not appealing.)

Am I just in the grip of "I want to have his baybeez" infatuation in a way that never reared its head before? Is my biological clock trying to run the show? Most of the reasons not to have kids are still valid (expense, invasiveness of pregnancy, etc.). I think I could be perfectly happy if I never have kids. But what if I could be happy with them? How can you tell a genuine conversion from hormone intoxication?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
If you are worried about pregnancy but you think you can handle raising a child, would you consider adoption? Obviously this doesn't give the child your and your partner's good looks but that's not a given anyway.
posted by mkb at 3:22 PM on February 2, 2009

Look, there is very little appeal to other people's kids. They are often snot-nosed brats that could use a great deal of discipline. OPKs are effective birth control devices.

Your kids are a different matter entirely. Your kids will be gorgeous and brilliant and will behave themselves at all times. Your kids will be shining beacons to the world with monuments erected in their names.

You have a built-in bias towards your own (potential) offspring which is important and necessary. I think you are recognizing that bias and how this particular mate can bring some interesting genetic recombination.

We recognize (sometimes unconsciously) how a partner will measure up in the genetic race but also as a partner in child-rearing. Women tend seek safety and security, especially when it comes to building a family. They look for men who can provide homes (nests!) and show other safety/security related abilities.

I think your genes are telling you that you found a good match. Go for it.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:28 PM on February 2, 2009 [8 favorites]

This doesn't really speak to your particular situation, but this thread is full of tales of the late-20s biological clock kicking in. So you're not alone.
posted by twoporedomain at 3:31 PM on February 2, 2009

I'm a man, but I went from being actively disinterested in having kids (although I never flatly rejected the possibility) to being tentatively interested to being certain I wanted kids (this turned out to be just kid but that's another story).

I don't think there's a better story than wait and see. My experience with other people is that if they were not really interested momentary spikes of interest would not persist, while genuine changes of heart would just get more certain.

The obvious further complication that may be clouding your judgment is that you clearly think this guy is especially great and likely if one of you doesn't change your attitude about this issue it's going to be a dealbreaker. Persisting while you sort this out may be a ticket to greater heartbreak, but that's relationships.

When I say I felt, after a point, certain about being a parent isn't an overstatement. This is not to say I was without apprehension or fear that I was self-deluded but at the same time I knew this had become something that was going to happen. I'd wish this on anyone who aims to have kids because it is a truly difficult, sacrifice-involving, fundamentally life-altering choice.
posted by nanojath at 3:35 PM on February 2, 2009

Can you borrow or babysit an infant from a relative or friend? A little hands-on time will do wonders to see if you've had a change of heart or are still repulsed.

Personally, I don't think I've ever met a woman who has been tepid on this subject. Most have adamant feelings one way or the other, which is the way it should be given the nature of the commitment.
posted by mosk at 3:36 PM on February 2, 2009

I briefly dated a gal seven years ago who wanted kids. I did, and still do, not. But she was really cool, and I found myself thinking I wanted kids, to please her. Then I realized that this wasn't healthy - when we broke up very shortly later, I realized that I was debasing my principles for nookie.
posted by notsnot at 3:38 PM on February 2, 2009

I said for 34 years that I didn't want children ever. Eww. Pregnancy and childbirth - scary. Other people's kids - scary and I didn't know to relate to them, didn't understand the appeal. Parenting lifestyle - stressful, limiting, you appear to turn into a cult member, etc.

My partner had always wanted kids too, but had said he was OK with giving up on that for our relationship. At 34, I looked around at our friends, many of whom had had kids within the previous 5 years. It appeared to my surprise that with one exception, they had not turned into the mommy cult members that I despised (and secretly feared turning into myself). Pregnancy was still scary, but also science-experiment interesting. Other people's kids still weren't very interesting, but I thought it was probably true that its different for your own. Parent lifestyle still appeared to be stressful and limiting, but I figured that this was one of those things where YOU decide how limiting it is, and that if you still want to travel the world, then it can be done (budget allowing). I also decided that at 34, if I was going to do this, I had better hurry and decide, before my body made the choice for me.

So to cut a long story short, I decided that it would be fun to try. I like to think that I went into it eyes open, and came to the decision rationally, but there's really no way of knowing how much of a decision is made rationally, and how much is made by your hormones, with your brain making up rationalisations afterwards. In the end though, I am happy as a mom. I admit to being a partial cult-member, but I only share mommy-talk and kid photos with other people who I know are interested. Yes, I have a lot less free time, but in exchange I get to spend time with the most fun person ever.

This is one of things where your life just takes a fork, and whichever way you go, you can have a happy and fulfilling life, and each fork is different but equal. I have a lot of friends and co-workers who have babies/toddlers, and the only person I know who appears to be an unhappy parent, is the one who is definitely a control freak type, and she couldn't let go of that after the baby was born. If you are a control freak type person who likes to have every detail of every day nailed down, and know exactly what to expect, then you either need to be able to let go of that, or don't be a parent.

It's a scary step for certain, since you can't turn back or change your mind, but I think if you go in open-minded, and you have a partner who is equally excited and willing to do half the work, then it will work out. Since your partner sounds good, then I think you have that covered. Good luck either way!
posted by Joh at 3:53 PM on February 2, 2009 [4 favorites]

I've always felt that if you are undecided pick the option that has the least potential for harm. When you have a kid that is a helpless human being you are resposible for for at least the next eighteen years. For me that is a decision that I will enter into with absolutly no doubts or reservations; I will be 100% convinced that being a parent is something I want to do for the rest of my life or I won't do it at all. IMHO There is just too much at stake.

I realize this means I may never have children but thankfully I am married to an amazing woman who doesn't consider kids/no kids to be a deal breaker either way. (sorry mosk)
posted by Bango Skank at 3:54 PM on February 2, 2009 [7 favorites]

Personally, I don't think I've ever met a woman who has been tepid on this subject. Most have adamant feelings one way or the other, which is the way it should be given the nature of the commitment.

Most women I've known feel ambivalent about it, so there's another datapoint.

Anyway, I'd say the true test of whether you want to have kids is NOT whether you think babies are cute. What about 5-year olds? What about 13-year olds? Do you think it would be cool to shape another real person's mind, heart, and future? That to me seems much more important than your feelings about childbirth (you can always adopt) or about the cuteness of babies.
posted by footnote at 3:57 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wait. Ruminate. If you're just now turning around, you should be years away from acting on this. I have a 12 week old baby and I can state with authority that babies are assholes. We are all born Republicans, demanding what's good for us and immediately, whether it's good for anyone else.

That said, my daughter is the single most amazing thing that has happened to my life and I go to bed every night with a smile on my face. But you need to be sure that you want a child so badly that the negatives won't matter. And everyone glosses over or jokes away the negatives.

It sounds like you're going to get to a place where you're ready. I'd bet on it. But you need to wait until this isn't a question, but a problem to be solved ("I want to have a baby but I don't have one yet"). When you feel better equipped to handle the issues (expense being the big one) you'll know for sure.

As for the trauma of pregnancy, my wife's pregnancy was difficult. But she knew that this is what she wanted. It hasn't been three calendar months and it's a distant memory. (FWIW, the delivery was very easy so it was easy to move past nine months of awful once she was holding the baby.)

No one can answer this question because it's deeply personal. Five years ago I wondered if I'd ever be a parent. But the right person can solidify your thoughts. Tough as it is, wait it out and see if it passes or grows stronger. You've got time-- my wife and I are mid-30s.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:09 PM on February 2, 2009 [5 favorites]

I have no kids. I have a partner whose babies I want to have (or, with whom I want to adopt) in the future. Before, I was tepid on the idea. I went back and forth between thinking I hated kids and never wanted any, and thinking that I'd probably end up having kids just because that's what everyone in my social circle and cultural background seems to do. Babies were cute, but then again, misbehaving 10-year-olds and bratty teenagers were decidedly not cute. So: tepid. Then, I met my now-fiance and found myself thinking not so much about general pros and cons of having children (pro: cute babies, con: college tuition) but about the family he and I will make together--I want to have kids with him. So, I don't know if that helps you, but that's been my experience.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:10 PM on February 2, 2009

Oh, hi, me.

When my husband and I first got together, I told him about how I wasn't sure I ever wanted kids. I knew it was possible I'd change my mind, but I knew it wouldn't be soon. I told him, "at least eight years," honestly expecting that number to stay the same year after year. To my great surprise, four years later, "at least four years" sound just about exactly right. I'm actually getting closer to wanting kids! WTF.

My reasons are the same as yours, for both my hesitation and my changing feelings. Honestly, if men could have babies! Seriously, that would be so awesome.

We've been married over a year now, and so I'm starting to get some pressure from my mom and other female relatives. And that too has forced me to think about it more. What I've decided for now is: when and if I'm ever ready, I'll know. I've made a firm decision to let no one's schedule or opinion matter other than mine (and my husband's, of course, but mostly mine). It's made me feel more empowered about it, in a culture where we're constantly told it's what we want and if we don't, we'll change our minds. But don't wait too long! Screw that. Screw everyone but me. It's my call.

So, you're starting to think about it, but you don't want one NOW, right? If you listen to your gut, it's a little more like "maybe someday" than "any day now." That's the sense I get. Basically, I think if it's just infatuation, your gut will eventually tell you that by moving back into your earlier, hesitant state. If it's for real, it'll start telling you more about being ready now.

Meantime, he sounds like a good guy. Just make sure he's cool with the fact that you're not sure about kids yet.
posted by lampoil at 4:19 PM on February 2, 2009

I was someone who never wanted kids. But then I married, biology took over, and I wanted them to the tune of three. (They are adults now.)

It is eminently true that one's own kids are exponentially more appealing and fascinating and likeable, etc etc. than other people's. Let me be specific-I spent most of the first pregnancy worrying about having to change ICKYDIAPERS OH NOES POOP AND PEE AND ALL THAT GROSSNESS and then when I had the baby realizing that changing my own child was a much different experience.

I don't know whether or not you truly are starting to want children, but I did want you to know that it is quite possible you do.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:31 PM on February 2, 2009

Me too. I never wanted kids. I met my husband when I was 27, and told him that. After about a year of dating I started to casually think about what our kid would be like. Then we started talking about getting married, and for whatever reason, my mind put a kid in there too.

I wasn't scared about pregnancy/childbirth though (I fall into the "interesting science experiment" mindset) just you know, the next 18 years.

We have a 5 month old now, and she is amazing. Other people's babies still don't interest me that much but this one, she's pretty cool. We have agreed all along though, right from when we got married, that we only wanted one, so that may have made it easier for me. I couldn't imagine having more than one, and still can't.
posted by gaspode at 4:36 PM on February 2, 2009

WOW! Are you me? Because every word you've written rings VERY true.

I've found the internal debate to be especially difficult given that, as a late-twenty-something, my child-bearing years are necessarily time-limited.

However, I have managed to quell the self-doubt and sense of temporal urgency by telling myself that I need to be fully, one-hundred percent committed to the decision to have children. It would be irresponsible to act on my (newfound) urges before reaching that point. Even if I reach that point of commitment when I'm past child-bearing years, I can always adopt.

Although the urge to reproduce is natural, I feel intellectually that it would be better for society and the planet if I (and others) chose adoption or childlessness rather than introducing new humans into the world. That helps cement the fact that any decision on this subject isn't looming quite as large as the biological clock would suggest.
posted by Pomo at 4:42 PM on February 2, 2009

This happens to a lot of people. While obviously you shouldn't jump into it immediately because you're having these strange (to you) feelings, you also shouldn't dismiss the feelings because they go against what you used to think you were all about. Not to trivialize it, and obviously the situations are very different, but it's somewhat analogical to the pre-puberty kid who insists he/she doesn't want anything to do with dating and all that yucky stuff. Then puberty kicks in and all that goes out the window. We grow and change, and sometimes it takes us by surprise.

And yeah, your own kids won't be like anybody else's.
posted by languagehat at 4:57 PM on February 2, 2009

I won't try to interpret what you're feeling. But, I also had a fear of pregnancy and childbirth. The pregnancy was actually kind of fun - it ended up being a really special time of anticipation and closeness between me and my husband. I liked it a lot. As for the birth, it was a snap. It did not begin to resemble anything I'd envisioned or heard about. It was seriously easy and really exciting to meet this baby of ours.

If being a parent begins to appeal to you, think about it and don't worry about changing your mind from before. So what? Do what feels right to you now and don't think you have to cling to some vow your younger less-experienced self might have made. Be open minded to the possibility of change. And if you decide not to, you've at least given it the serious thought that a decision like this merits.

I'm telling ya, pregnancy and childbirth don't have to be horrible. Tune out anyone who wants to tell you a horror story about their experience. It can be the most wonderful thing in the world.
posted by Kangaroo at 4:59 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another story here about not wanting kids, then changing my mind and having them when the right partner came along. In my case, in retrospect, it was about trust--about not believing until I was there that I'd ever find someone I trusted enough to join me in taking the one truly irrevocable leap.

The thing that really leapt out at me about this post was this: there's been plenty of social science research on happiness that made me feel comfortable with my choice. Before I had kids, I would have agreed about happiness being the primary gauge of a good life, but afterwards...Suffice to say that happiness is part of that, but there's a whole lot more too. Service, legacy, lots of other existential crap.
posted by Sublimity at 5:24 PM on February 2, 2009

Without the obvious “It’s one of those things that only you can answer” (which is true of course), your life would likely be happy and content either way. My young children are my greatest joys but also my greatest angst. Now that they’re a little older (preschool age), things are getting a little better. I initially didn’t want children but then thought “that’s just what people do” and I really looked forward to it. My pregnancy wasn’t that bad but the labor was horrendous. I don’t mention that to deter you, but rather to be factual. I can’t stand it when people say “Oh you forget all the pain when they place the baby in your arms.” Um….no. That was 5 years ago, and I will never, ever go through labor again. But everybody is different, obviously. I had complications you just can’t predict. Our son had horrible colic, didn’t sleep even remotely through the night until he was 2, and was incredibly stubborn toddler. Life was tough. But now those sacrifices seem like a very small price to pay for the person he’s turning into and what he’s added to our life.

Our second child was through adoption (Vietnam – now closed to Int’l Adoption), and the experience was very different. The child’s personality and YOUR personality makes a huge different. Our DD from adoption was relatively an “easy” baby; our bio son was very challenging. Not that that’s bad, but I guess I’m a little more on the uptight side, and it was hard for me. I’m saying this not deter you, but if you do decide to have children, keep an open mind. It bugs me that it’s a practically a social taboo for a mom to say anything other than “It just keeps getting better and better each day!”
posted by texas_blissful at 5:26 PM on February 2, 2009

I love kids, wanted several, had one. You might have gorgeous, smart, healthy babies. You might have funny-looking kids, you might have a child with Cystic Fibrosis, Cerebral Palsy, autism, and/or any number of other problems. Be prepared to love a child who's imperfect.

Pregnancy and childbirth are pretty safe, and breastfeeding was wonderful.

If you have them, you'll love them; the hormones and social conditioning make that quite certain. They are very lovable. There is no shortage of children to populate the world. It's okay to not have kids. it's okay to have kids, if you really want to. Be wary of someone pressuring you to have kids.
posted by theora55 at 5:47 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Am I just in the grip of "I want to have his baybeez" infatuation in a way that never reared its head before? Is my biological clock trying to run the show?

Well.. yes and yes.
But if there was no way to trick intelligent people into going through with it we'd all be screwed, right?

I'd be comforted by the fact this isn't a "I must have babies and I must have them Now!" thing and more of a "There's just something about this man that gives the whole thing an actual appeal."

Definitely think it over though. Definitely don't do it if You don't want to.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 5:58 PM on February 2, 2009

The thing about wanting children is, people really expect you to have a solid opinion about the matter. Especially if you're a woman. Over and over we hear the story of "I never wanted children, but then I found the right person and now I have 30 amaaazing kids". I doubt we would hear this story as much if there wasn't an underlying (but STRONG) pressure from society and family to raise children.

Because someone is always waiting to prey on people with ambivalent feelings toward raising children. Someone is always ready to swoop down to try to win you over to their side -- and frankly, that side is usually pro-parenthood. They chose parenthood, and they want you to do it, too. Or, you're selfish for even considering anything different than parenthood. Or, your baby might CURE CANCER!! Or "accidents happen! (wink wink)" This is hard to bear if you're sure you don't want children, so ambivalent people have it even harder. They may feel that they have to defend themselves, and they end up adopting progressively more strident stances against having children, just because they're being hassled in a million different ways to join the parent club. Later, they feel as though they don't have the option to change their mind, because of all the annoying assholes who insisted they would. This may be where you have found yourself.

But let's cut a certain amount of crap here: People find it really hard to label their life decisions about childbearing as a mistake. No matter what the decision was. They don't think of themselves as having "made mistakes". Simply, people are very good at justifying to themselves the life they have. And you know, there is not a damned thing wrong with that. Different life paths have different rewards, that are just as valid either way. (The problems arise when people start to believe that the people who made the other decision are just deluding themselves, and pull that "I was like you once" crap.)

I'm poorly trying to communicate this: I think you should sit on this idea, and wait it out for a little while. nanojath has the right idea here. But you shouldn't angst. Let yourself figure out what you want. But whatever decision you do end up making, the very fact that you're human means you'll probably find the beauty in it, and will likely end up saying when you're old, that you wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Because that's what we usually do.
posted by Coatlicue at 6:02 PM on February 2, 2009 [14 favorites]

This was pretty much me and now our 3+ week old daughter is snoozing beside me. Best and scariest decision we ever made.

This sudden 180 is freaking me out. All those fatuous jerks who told me I would change my mind ... were they right?

This is so not important, but when we decided to try to have a kid, I was all "oh MAN, I don't want Those People to be RIGHT and rub it in my face!" The thing is, those people usually end up being too happy for you to remember they should be rubbing it in your face.
posted by stefnet at 6:59 PM on February 2, 2009

Maybe you should make a list of all the things you enjoy in your life now that you would have to give up if you had a baby.

Also, how would having a baby change your relationship? How would you want it to change your relationship?
posted by anniecat at 7:46 PM on February 2, 2009

Just a voice from the other side. I, too, have never entertained the idea of having kids. I felt so very strongly about it, that I had a tubal at 21 after a lot of begging and pleading with doctors. Fast forward a decade and I'm dating a very lovely man, who is up front about wanting to have kids. I started thinking about it, very hard and despite the fact that I knew it couldn't really happen for me...I started to want it. For a while. Shortly after I admitted that I might want kids, we began discussing having them in some form (adoption or reversal of my surgery) and marriage. After a few months of discussion, I started having wicked panic attacks in my sleep. Finally, I realized that I was being pushed in a direction that I just could not go. Thankfully, I couldn't easily change my mind about having kids and give into the hormones and his requests so I'm still child free and remain commited to the idea that I'm just not a mom. And there's nothing wrong with that.

We've split up and I'm now with someone who makes no illusions about wanting kids. And it's much nicer, much less pressure to change who I am to fit into a mold of who my significant other might want.

I suggest waiting. At least for a while. If those urges just don't go away, then think about it. But this is a huge decision and not one to be taken lightly.
posted by teleri025 at 8:16 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another anecdote: I have never wanted kids; I met a guy who was completely awesome and far and away much better for me than any guy I'd previously been with; he sorta thought that he might want kids, and is good with them; and I started to think that maybe having kids would be ok, or even great, if I could have them with *him*.

And then the feeling faded, and I knew I still don't want kids. He's still the most awesome guy in the world, and we're happily married. And I know that if there were any accidents, we'd do a pretty good job of raising some lovely kids, with the support of our families. But the feeling that we ought to do it faded, in a natural and undramatic way. We've set some other goals for our lives that we're pursuing instead, because neither of us is the kind of person who can just do the routine of job/mortgage/go see a movie.

If you fall in love with a great person, it's natural to review your decisions to see if they're still the same, because at least one aspect of your life has changed hugely. But it hasn't necessarily been as big a shift as it feels like at first.

In the end, my advice is the same as a lot of others in this thread: wait and see. The feeling will either grow or fade, and you're not in too much of a hurry yet.
posted by harriet vane at 1:35 AM on February 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I second everyone on the "wait and see." Would you want kids if he wasn't in the picture? Or are you just kinda wanting them because you know you'll have to break up with him if you don't make yourself want kids?

Also, keep in mind that since you're the woman, you will be doing most of the work (at the very least, the breastfeeding is all you) to have a kid. I'd make sure I really wanted one before I went there.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:32 AM on February 3, 2009

I think I may have written this question in my sleep. I, too, was adamant about never having children. Then I met my husband. I also had (still have) nagging feelings of being an inadequate parent, but he gave me confidence that we can do it together.

I'm currently waiting to take a pregnancy test in a couple days. You can do it.
posted by chiababe at 12:00 PM on February 3, 2009

+1 on "wait until you're damned sure"; having a kid (or in the other direction, getting sterilized, for that matter) isn't something you can just try for a year or two and then say "oops, I don't like this". I had a vasectomy, but that followed many solid years of being unwaveringly childfree; the affirmative decision to have children should follow from just as much confidence.
posted by korpios at 9:20 PM on February 6, 2009

In case you are still on the fence --

It is not weird to be suddenly changing your mind about this. I thought for a long time that I didn't want kids, but with my last boyfriend, suddenly reconsidered that. I mused about how suddenly I wanted kids to some friends, and also fretted about what this 180 meant -- and one of my friends said that her mother had told her "I didn't think I wanted kids until I actually met a man I wanted to have them with."

That could be a big part of what's making you reconsider now -- the possibility that "oh, wait, this guy could be part of the picture. Huh."

But it's still a big, big decision - one you should both talk about. Right now it looks like you're at least opening to the idea, rather than having completely made up your mind. It is grounds for discussion, at least.

Hoping this answer isn't coming way late. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:12 PM on September 29, 2009

I think your fear is something you need to face before you decide. I would suggest counseling and spending some time learning about the birthing process. You might also want to take a child development course so you know what you are in for. Also something to consider are the ways a baby will change your life for better and worse. I will say that I am glad I had a child and my life would be so lonely without her. Being a parent is the hardest job I have ever loved.

There is nothing more amazing than being in love and creating a child from that love. I hope you decide to do it.

Good Luck
posted by gypseefire at 10:20 PM on September 29, 2009

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