Babies or no babies?
January 31, 2012 1:01 AM   Subscribe

Is kids vs. no kids always a dealbreaker?

Let me preface this by saying I am very young (25) and my boyfriend is 26. We've been dating about 6 months (4 of which have been long distance), and overall, things are really good. The long distance sucks but we are managing, and the longer I'm with him, the more committed and sure I feel about him. We do have one reoccurring issue we disagree on that comes up every couple months, but that's neither here nor there.

What I'm curious about is the topic of kids. I have never felt like I've wanted them, and I feel like most of my friends KNOW (and have known for a long time) that they do. My aunt and uncle are married and childless, and they travel, go out all the time, etc, and that's sort of the lifestyle I envision myself being happy with. I wouldn't say I am absolutely opposed to the idea of ever changing my mind, but when I tell my friends I don't want them and they say "oh, you will!" it annoys me. I just like my freedom, I want to travel a lot, I am not a very maternal or kid-oriented person in general and I don't want to tie my identity around being a mother.

My boyfriend does want kids, and I feel like the longer we are dating, the more he wants them! I didn't think much of it but for some reason he mentioned it today and then said "oh we better not talk about it" (because we don't agree) and it got me thinking. At first when we met his attitude seemed to be "yes, I want them but I have some serious reservations so I'm not sure" and when I asked him today what percent he wants kids he said 90%! I'd say I'm about 75% against having them.

Is it silly to be thinking about this 6 months into a relationship when we are both in our mid-20s? I know he doesn't want to get married for at least 5 more years and I agree, so he wouldn't want them til his mid-30s I'm guessing (haven't actually asked). Have any women out there really not wanted kids and changed their minds? Or men who wanted kids and changed theirs? If I don't want them now, should I give it more time? He said he doesn't want to be 30 and have to break up with me to find a woman to have kids with, because it will be late by then.

Opinions, please? Am I getting way ahead of myself? Thanks!
posted by queens86 to Human Relations (57 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't sound like he's all that committed and sure about you. Your question seems to be about whether this would be a dealbreaker for you. Consider instead: is this a dealbreaker for him? As in, if everything else was great, would he break up with you over you not wanting kids?

He said he doesn't want to be 30 and have to break up with me to find a woman to have kids with, because it will be late by then.

Well then. Seems like it is then.

You might also consider, even if you want kids, whether you want to have them with someone who has that sort of attitude.
posted by yohko at 1:27 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, didn't mean to make it sound like that! That was said in a really light-hearted conversation that wasn't really centered around kids at all, we were just out at dinner together. I honestly don't know if it came down to it if he thinks he'd break up with me over not having kids-- I don't think he really knows the answer to that. I guess I could ask.
posted by queens86 at 1:30 AM on January 31, 2012

In my opinion, kids vs. no kids is a dealbreaker, but it doesn't have to be an immediate end, particularly in your 20s.

Yes, people can change their opinions on whether or not they want kids, but you can't rely on that happening. Or not happening. So you either need to be prepared for the situation to change to be come untenable, accept the relationship may not last forever, or get out now.

I met my partner twelve years ago and, due to my vociferous anti-child stance, discussed children very early on - we were older than you are now, but not much. She, at the time, said she didn't want kids either but being aware that her "biological clock" may, out of her own control, start ticking at any time, I said openly and honestly that if she ever did change her mind, we would part as amicably as possible so she could have the children she desired with someone else.

To this date, nothing had changed. But the fact that we were open about our thoughts on the matter early, and open to the possibility that things may change in the future, I trust we would have handled a seismic shift in a mature and reasonable manner.
posted by benzo8 at 1:36 AM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's probably not a deal breaker *right now* but I don't see a positive outcome for this relationship so perhaps it's best to cut your losses.

Maybe you might want kids later. Probably not. You're totally entitled to change your mind or stick to your current feelings. But how you feel right now is probably influencing a lot of your decisions and approach to life. When you start thinking about your career, places to live/visit, saving money, etc., I really think the decision to have or not have kids will influence your choices.

And I think that will make for an incompatible relationship with someone who ultimately wants something else.

Secondly, spending however many years together because neither of you want to marry for 5 years? Well that seems really unfair to each other as it sounds like you're ok with breaking up somewhere down the line but not now. You're each waiting to see if the other will change your minds and if neither of you do, there's a good possibility of resentment building up.
posted by like_neon at 1:39 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are:

1. currently looking for a long term partner and,
2. he is looking for a long term partner and,
3. he's 90% yes on kids and you're,
4. 75% no on kids,

then yes, it's probably an eventual dealbreaker. but for him, since there is something he wants that you probably don't. Yes, you can date, if you're dating casually, but at some point if you're both about finding a partner to commit to, he's going to ask again.

It's also not necessarily a deal breaker right now - I mean, you don't sound like you are both at the you're the one phase yet. I think you get to date, but when he asks you if you've changed your mind, and really wants to know, if you haven't, it just helps to be honest, so you can let each other make an informed decision about continuing the relationship.

But you have to wait til that point. It is annoying having a bunch of people tell you, "oh, you'll want one", like a kid is some special jelly donut at the state fair or something. But I do think it's fair for you to stay with each other as long as it is positive and enjoyable, or as long as you aren't at the 'where is this going' conversation, where the answer is, in different directions.
posted by anitanita at 1:42 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Definite dealbreaker, that you have to discuss and resolve early in the relationship. But you don't have to break up — that's sort of up to him. Just be clear about the situation, and make sure he knows that he can't expect that you'll ever change your mind. Leave the decision of how important it is to him, up to him.
posted by FrereKhan at 1:46 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't really see that you have anything to worry about. If the genders were reversed, sure, maybe, because women have a much more limited window within which to have kids than men do. But even then, cripes, you're in your twenties! You have lots and lots of time at this point; he of course has near-infinite time.

Kids/No-kids is definitely a dealbreaker for most people, but you are not anywhere close to that decision. I mean, at six months, you two have not yet begun to explore each other's irritating sides. There are plenty of potential dealbreakers that could crop up in any relationship, and you can't know until you get there how they'll play out for you. Why hash out this one, and why now?

From here, it sounds like you are in a long-distance relationship and missing your boyfriend, and free-floating anxiety about that is just seeking something, anything, on which to feed.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 2:03 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

That was said in a really light-hearted conversation that wasn't really centered around kids at all

Oh dear. That he brought it up in a conversation that wasn't even about kids... When people say "Believe what people tell you about themselves", this is exactly the sort of thing they are talking about.

You certainly don't have to preemptively break up with him, but you mention you are long-distance. If you are committed and he's going to split when he hits a certain age, that might be something you'd prefer to discover before you do something like move someplace to live together, or take a job near him, or even spend all your weekends and travel budget on him.
posted by yohko at 2:07 AM on January 31, 2012 [16 favorites]

I'm nthing the deal-breaker thing, because it has been for me, and in a positive way to be honest. Possibly not a deal-breaker RIGHT THIS SECOND, but it seems like it will be in due time. I'm 27, my fiance is 30, and we're very set in our childfree stance because we discussed it quite early in our relationship. I'd had 3 serious relationships before meeting my fiance and all 3 men cited my childfree stance as being a major reason we wouldn't work out. It's a deal-breaking thing for me, but I've been 100% positive on not wanting children since I was about 14. You very well may change your mind in 5 years, and it's totally fine.

What I'm curious about is the topic of kids. I have never felt like I've wanted them, and I feel like most of my friends KNOW (and have known for a long time) that they do. My aunt and uncle are married and childless, and they travel, go out all the time, etc, and that's sort of the lifestyle I envision myself being happy with. I wouldn't say I am absolutely opposed to the idea of ever changing my mind, but when I tell my friends I don't want them and they say "oh, you will!" it annoys me. I just like my freedom, I want to travel a lot, I am not a very maternal or kid-oriented person in general and I don't want to tie my identity around being a mother.

Off-topic, but this reads exactly like my friends as well. I could do without the "you'll change your mind!" comments. =P
posted by PeppahCat at 2:25 AM on January 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

Have any women out there really not wanted kids and changed their minds?

When I was your age I was probably 75% not wanting kids. I was a little more maaaaybe someday than you sound like you are, but I definitely did not want any in the immediate future when I was 25. When I turned 28 it was like a switch flipped and the old biological clock when bananas (it helped that a couple of my friends had really cute babies around that time). Had a kid when I was 31. The kiddo is awesome, but my husband and I are really happy that we had our twenties to enjoy being relatively responsibility free and have fun. So it's entirely possible for your mind to change, but like others have said, that may not be enough to overcome the issue.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 2:32 AM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Have any women out there really not wanted kids and changed their minds?

I personally know of many. Someone I'm very close to swore to it vehemently and her husband broke off his previous relationship because he didn't want kids, and got a vasectomy. Five years later and a lot of IVF money, they are expecting a baby in April. It happens more than you think, though I can totally appreciate how infuriating it is when people nod sagely and say they know you better than you know yourself, it's a bit of a dick move to be honest.
posted by smoke at 2:41 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

My husband wanted kids (due to societal pressure, not actual feelings) and ended up not wanting them (when he actually thought about it). I was the same, I thought you had to have kids so I thought I'd adopt (I've never, EVER wanted to give birth) when I was 40 just to get it out of the way.

Whatever happens in this, don't let people dictate how you feel right now and don't cave in to pressure.

I recommend the book Childfree and Lovin' It!
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 2:52 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I haven't changed my mind but I have experienced how this might happen for fairly ambivalent types. I've been around 80% no kids since I was a teenager and remain so now at the ripe old age of 36. I was never militant, it just was just never on the agenda.

The only time this feeling waivered was not long after I turned 30 and most of my friends started their families. It probably hit an all time low of about 50-50 two years ago when my best friends finally spawned. I really had to check-in with myself at at that point. I don't know if this was hormonal or circumstantial or both but things were weird for about six months. Then it recalibrated by itself and I'm back to where I was before. Had I been in a relationship with someone who very much wanted kids I may have gone for it then, but as I'd actively avoided children-wanting partners it wasn't an issue. People have stopped with the 'You'll change your mind!' now. It's pretty clear that I love kids but I'm quite happy not being a mum, I think I carry the awesome aunt gene ;).

Basically, it's ok to not be sure you have time to change your mind, and you really can go with gut feelings on this. Just be honest. As the child-wanter the ball is in his court to decide whether or not it's a deal breaker for him right now.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:02 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I didn't want kids. I was never completely sure, but I was maybe 90% against having kids. I hated the assumption that I would someday change my mind because I would be taken over by hormones. I have a lot of siblings I grew up taking care of and I learned that childcare is tedious and boring. I also thought (and still think) it's sexist bullshit to assert that all women are desperate to incubate babies, so if they think otherwise they must be deluded. Things slowly changed over 10+ years and I'm now pregnant.

What changed for me was that my partner gradually talked me into it, in a non-pressuring way. He was always sure he wanted kids, but also committed to me and would stay with me even if I never wanted kids. I think that commitment is crucial to have the space to change your mind without feeling coerced. Over the years I saw him interact with friends' kids and saw how much he loved it and thought he would be a great dad. I also figured out a lot about how the history of abuse in my family had affected me, for example I feared that I might be an abusive parent. Working through that was a big factor in my shift to wanting kids.

I think that if my partner had thought of kids/no kids as a dealbreaker and pressured me with an ultimatum, I wouldn't have changed my mind.
posted by medusa at 3:24 AM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've got female friends that started down the not wanting kids route, and stayed there. It's implied upthread, but you may never change your mind. I'm going to assume that you don't want kids (and won't change your mind) in my answer.

I'm 42, childless and I always wanted kids. The other half doesn't want any more (she has two by another relationship), and after doing the math I've decided that I wouldn't pursue children either with her or with anyone else. There's a few things I though when trying to answer your questions:

1) Even though men stay fertile for ever, that doesn't mean that they want kids when they're too old to look after them or watch them grow up. I'm at the point now where even if the opportunity presented itself, I'm not sure if I'd take it. Even though I want to be a father, I think it'd be desperately unfair to be an old father.

2) The question of me wanting kids and g/f not wanting kids rears up in the oddest situations. Even though I've told her that staying with her is more of a priority than having children, she still feels incredibly guilty that she's deprived me of this thing I wanted. This will come up on odd occasions, and it has been a source of conflict. It's easy to say "You should listen to what he has to say, and believe him", but the truth is different. Both of you have to deal with how that decision makes both of you feel. Not just him.

3) You're young still, and you're in a long distance relationship. If things did break up between you, he probably would be able to find someone else, and he may be able to find the same happiness he has with you & children. There are many potential partners for each of us. Child v childness does not have to be a dealbreaker, but in your situation, I think it may actually be one. You may also have to be the one to break the deal. This is hard for me to say, because if the g/f did it to me, I would be heartbroken. And very, very angry. But she's got as much stake in my childlessness as I do (well, maybe slightly less), and I don't agree that somehow it should all be my decision as to whether I make this sacrifice or not.

Talk to him, show him this thread, work through every aspect of it. Be realistic and honest to each other about it. This is a huge decision for both of you. It's a decision that has more to do with how you two are together than it is about generic rules. This situation is different every time it gets played out in the world, and the correct things to do in this situation are various and highly situation specific.

When you make your decision, follow through on that decision. If you break up with him, do it properly.
posted by seanyboy at 3:46 AM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think it's a dealbreaker, honestly.

But before deciding for sure, you should each explore that area of uncertainty in your feelings. Is your 25% that is not against because under certain circumstances you would have them?

For instance, I am 90% sure I won't want kids, but the 10% is because if I suddenly became wealthy enough to afford a full-time nanny and/or my husband were willing to be the full-time childcare person and/or I got pregnant accidentally and felt hormonal mothering instincts coming on, I might think about it. Also, if my husband, who is also pretty sure he doesn't want kids, changed his mind, I might at least start considering it. (But that is a different situation from yours, since we have been married for 10 years and I know he's perfect for me in every other way).

So what's your 25% about? What's his 10% where he might consider not having them? That's something you need to discuss if you want to see if you can stay together.
posted by lollusc at 3:47 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Have any women out there really not wanted kids and changed their minds?"

Yes. And I waited until the last second to change my mind. I ONLY changed my mind because I ended up in a wonderful marriage. Not ever knowing this kind of stability before, I couldn't picture even wanting my own child(ren).

I ADORE my almost 10 month old Son. Ditto his Dad!

But you know what?

It's difficult and scary and a lot of marriages fail after children come into the picture because, OMG, everything changes. Everything.

I know that people who aren't prepared or don't really want children have them anyway. I think those people are fools and maybe worse. It's a HUGE responsibility. I had a shitty childhood, so I know how important being a great parent is to a child who is depending on you for their well-being.

To sum up, only the quality of the relationship I enjoy with my husband changed my mind about having children. Hormones never swayed me.

Upon preview, everything Medusa said above is true for me, too, except my husband I and I have been together for a shorter period of time. I'm 41, BTW.
posted by jbenben at 3:48 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm 29 and I didn't want children - there's a certain militancy about 'childfree' that I don't like, but I have no maternal instinct and find babies quite confusing to the point that if someone brings one into the office I avoid it as I don't want to seem rude for not holding the baby or even understanding why everyone else makes a fuss. (Bring a kitten in, though, and you'd have to check my handbag on the way out.) Then other stuff intervened which means that having children is probably off the cards entirely for me. My partner is not overly interested in having children but if he was I would feel that I wasn't being fair in being someone that could 'provide' them - but I would be less fair to both of us if I pretended it was something I wanted nad was able to give.

On the other hand, I have a friend who almost spilt up with her partner because having kids was something she really really wanted, and he was less keen. She's at an age where she has to think about this stuff because there's only so long left.

It's not very easy to compromise on something that's such a big life choice.
posted by mippy at 4:06 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

The worst case scenario is that your love for him convinces you to have a kid that you don't actually want. It's for this reason that I can't endorse these kinds of dating situations in a "well, we'll see" kind of way.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:22 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have any women out there really not wanted kids and changed their minds?

When I was in college I was 75% sure I'd never have kids. I was just completely uninterested in and slightly annoyed by them. I was studying to become a speech pathologist and while all my friends in the major wanted to work with preschoolers and elementary-aged kids, I was hoping to land a job in a high school.

Now I'm in my early thirties, married, and have two kids. I still work at a high school and prefer that. But I adore my children and my husband and I couldn't imagine my life any other way.

So yes, it is possible that you'll change your mind someday...but I wouldn't count on it happening.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:36 AM on January 31, 2012

"Have any women out there really not wanted kids and changed their minds?"

Yes. And I waited until the last second to change my mind. I ONLY changed my mind because I ended up in a wonderful marriage. Not ever knowing this kind of stability before, I couldn't picture even wanting my own child(ren).

jbenben describes my experience exactly. Prior to my husband, I had no desire to have kids. This idea was further enforced by the fact that my prior dysfunctional relationships were simply not suitable for a child. In other words, I think I knew deep down that co-parenting with those guys would be a nightmare.

Then, my husband and I got together (we had been best friends for 7 years prior) and I knew he wanted children** and surprise, surprise, my late 30's self really wanted to have one with him too! We now have a 2.5 year old son who I adore as much as I adore my sweet husband.

I am 42 years old.

**While we were just friends, my husband dated a woman who did not want kids. They broke up in large part due to the fact that it was a deal breaker for him.
posted by murrey at 4:37 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't know - it seems like there's a tidal wave of "figure out your dealbreakers early on because they are deep-seated, immutable and essential to your character; then break up even if you're happy and move on to search for the partner who's optimal out to three decimal places" on these here internets. I blame Dan Savage, mostly.

I'd say that it's silly to break up a very new relationship when you're both so young over whether you theoretically want theoretical kids. If your boyfriend doesn't even want to get married for, like, five years, there's no harm in hanging fire for a year or so and seeing whether either of you change your minds, or just enjoying a happy relationship. I had no plans on getting lifetime-partner-level serious with anyone in my mid-twenties; hardly any of my friends are still with the people they were with at 25.
posted by Frowner at 5:03 AM on January 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

It is (and should) be a dealbreaker. People who want kids and knows what having children entails, should have them. People who don't want kids, and know what having children entails, should not have them.

I have known relationships where one person "caves" to the other, and resentment always builds, for feeling like they went along with something huge and life-changing, they didn't want for themselves.

Some people experience a "switch" in their late 20's, and some do not. My sister never wanted kids, and in her late 20's, suddenly felt this big, overpowering need to babymake. Me, I'm almost 32. Never wanted kids (when I realized what having kids entailed, not just some "idea" of what people are supposed or expected to do). I still do not want kids. Ever. I love kids and am a great aunt, but there are no take-backs when you have kids, and it's for the rest of your entire life, all the time, 24/7. 365 days a year, forever.

Having kids is a major, major life decision, and thus a major, major dealbreaker.
posted by raztaj at 5:29 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, it's not only a dealbreaker, it's the Ultimate Dealbreaker. It's probably the #1 thing that dooms relationships.

A few things I've noticed:

(a) it is far more likely that someone goes from not wanting kids to wanting kids than the other way around. People who have wanted kids forever usually don't change their minds unless life circumstances don't work out for them, they come down with a disease, they don't find a partner until they're too old, stuff like that. So if we're playing Kid Chicken in a relationship, it's probably you who is going to have to cave in/change your mind. If you're waiting on him to change his, it probably won't work.

(b) It is far easier for him to find someone to have kids with than it is for you to find someone who doesn't want to have kids. If you don't change your mind and break up, it is probably not as bad of a situation if the genders were reversed, so having him wait it out isn't as bad. He'll easily be able to find a future mom at age 30. But statistically speaking, most people do have them eventually. Finding a childfree guy for yourself will be trickier, but possibly a better match for you in the long run because you won't feel like you have this dealbreaker anvil hanging over your head.

(c) If you cave in and have kids, YOU are going to be the one who has to do most of the work of taking care of them. Not him. It's your body incubating the baby, it's you who has to do the breastfeeding, it's you who takes the career/financial hit, etc., etc. I always feel like I need to point that out when the woman is the one who doesn't want kids: it is a bigger deal for you to cave in than it would be for a guy who doesn't want kids to cave in.

Yes, you guys are currently in the young enough period of life where you could try to keep the relationship going for awhile and see if someone changes their mind. It's easier for him to wait and find a future mom after you, so it may not be as bad of an issue for him to spend a few years on you, waiting for you to change your mind. But that's still not a guarantee that you will. If you've never been the maternal type, and Twue Wuv doesn't somehow magically sway you and the biological clock doesn't kick in in the next 3-4 years, then...yeah, you're probably going to need to break up. During which you will get even more attached to each other and it will be more agonizing. Sometimes the waiting game works for people. Sometimes it doesn't. It makes things kind of uncomfortable while you wait, though. And the pressure is on you to cave in more than it is for him since everyone assumes you'll change your mind.

Does that mean you need to break up now? I don't think it's the worst idea ever. At the very least, given the circumstances I wouldn't really recommend your giving up your job/life and moving to live with him and other things like that. But right now, technically speaking, the both of you can afford to spend a few years playing Kid Chicken while you wait to see if you change your mind. But I'd suggest a "plan for the worst, hope for the best" kind of approach. Assume you won't change your mind, rather than assuming you will, marrying the dude, and then having a Liz Gilbert-style freakout when the time comes and you just can't bring yourself to do it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:49 AM on January 31, 2012 [9 favorites]

I never really wanted kids, in a low-key "why would I want to change my life" kind of way, and yeah, I did end up changing my mind. And yeah, it was because of my husband who very much wanted a child.

But note that is a child. One.

After much reflection we decided to have one kid (unless we conceived twins) and only one. This sort of decision about your family building, I found to my surprise, is still pretty controversial. We had a lot more disapproving pushback from family and friends than when we were child-free. "oh you CAN'T deprive her of a sibling!" kind of thing. Which frankly, I found a little offensive, because I'm an only child and was completely happy growing up.

But anyway, we wanted one kid because we still pretty much maintain our pre-kid lifestyle for many things. We still live in an apartment, which I like. We still take vacations (my daughter, age three, is a bit of a world traveller), we still eat out, albeit for early dinners and bloody marys with brunch rather than long drunken evenings at the restaurant. Maybe that sounds shallow that I didn't want to give those things up for a kid (because being a mother is supposed to be completely fulfilling in and of itself?) but I didn't. Helps that kid is awesome and rolls with whatever we want to do.

Anyway, yes, you may change your mind but that can be OK. Not changing your mind is also OK. I personally think that you do have time, but if 3-5 years down the track you're still at an impasse, then you might need to rethink things.
posted by gaspode at 5:56 AM on January 31, 2012 [11 favorites]

It's a definitely a dealbreaker. But I was also staunchly childfree when I was 25 and had been for my entire life. I started to change my mind around 33. Now I'm almost 35 and I'm 75% sure that I want kids. Hopefully I'll get to 100% before time runs out. Heh.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:03 AM on January 31, 2012

I never really actively wanted kids, but somehow always saw my older-self with grown children. I wanted to say that, having kids doesn't mean not living the lifestyle you've discussed. Kids are portable and they get used to whatever kind of lifestyle you bring them too, so if you want to travel and go out, travel and go out with your kid. It can be more expensive, of course, to do it that way, but it doesn't have to mean the end of all fun. It's also easy to see it as the end of all fun when you're 25; it might be less like that when you're 30 - for me it was less like that after we saw some parents whose parenting style was "the kid fits into our existing life" rather than "OMG EVERYTHING CHANGES WHEN YOU HAVE KIDS."

having said all that: if you're 100% no kids, and he's pretty sure he wants kids, it's a dealbreaker. If you're 50% and he's 50%, maybe not a dealbreaker, and no reason to break the deal right this minute. Things change. Relax and have fun.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:05 AM on January 31, 2012

I know at least two couples that have been happily together for decades despite initially one of them wanting kids and the other not wanting them or being unable to have them.

Whether it's a dealbreaker is something for you to decide.

Like many things in life you can't always get everything you want, and you make your choice.

If the person you're with is "the one" as far as you're concerned, maybe you'll choose to be with them regardless. If not, you're young and you'll meet other people probably.

The one thing that's a bad idea is to go in thinking "maybe I can change their mind".
posted by philipy at 6:05 AM on January 31, 2012

I guess you could change your mind about kids. I never did. Never doubted myself in that. Am glad, regularly, that I do not have kids. Am, ahem, quietly proud of myself for having the self control not to punch someone in the throat during "you don't really know what you want; you'll change your mind" attacks from friends and family.

In the context of your situation, sounds like you and bf are starting to have "is this serious" conversations. If you continue gauging seriousness and making plans, the offspring issue may, in fact, be a deal-breaker.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:13 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you were 35 and 36 this might be a deal breaker, but it certainly isn't right now for three main reasons:

1. The 'deal' you have is not to get married now and sanctify child bearing. You are 25, and even if you were 100% in favour of having kids, you probably wouldn't start for 5 years.

2. After only 6 months together, you can hardly be expected to decide whether this is the one anyway.

3. Either of you could easily change your minds, or horror-of-horrors, you could conceive by accident. I have friends who married both as committed no-kids people, and who five years later are happily expecting their first. Anything can happen, and you shouldn't kill a good relationship based on something speculative.
posted by roofus at 6:28 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have any women out there really not wanted kids and changed their minds?

Oh sure. I was 100% positive I didn't want kids (so much so that my husband and I were investigating vasectomy; hard to get when you're 25) and then I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. We discussed our options (we're both staunchly pro-choice) and ended up saying, "Why not?" so we had our first kid. We liked him so much we had another three years later and I cannot imagine my life without them. Then again, if we'd never had them, I'm sure I couldn't imagine my life with them.

On the other side of the coin, I know a couple who desperately wanted kids but couldn't conceive and for whatever reason didn't opt for adoption and they seemed really, really sad for a while there. It looks as if they've come out on the other side (it helps that most of their close friends have kids and they have nieces and nephews) and are going to be okay being childless.

I also have a very good friend who put aside her desire to have children because the man she wanted to marry didn't want them at all, for sure, no question about it. She's battling severe depression because she feels like she missed out on something she really wanted (she's 43 now). She's built up a resentment for her husband, even though she knows it's not fair because she knew what she was giving up to marry him, or she thought she did anyway. She's working through it and I hope she ends up okay.

There aren't any hard and fast answers, unfortunately. Maybe your biological clock will kick in, maybe it won't. Maybe he'll decide he doesn't really want kids after all or maybe he'll realize that it's super important to him that he does have kids. Is this a dealbreaker for the two of you? Only you and he can answer that, and if you're getting serious about the relationship, maybe it's time to have that difficult talk.
posted by cooker girl at 6:45 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not always a deal breaker, but it should be for you.

It wouldn't be a deal breaker if you were looking for someone to date short-term and you did not care how it turned out long term.

Your post suggests you're not looking for that. You want to find someone to settle down with. That's fantastic. It also means you need to cast people aside if there is a major characteristic they have that is incompatible. Kids/no kids is very major.
posted by massysett at 7:08 AM on January 31, 2012

To tell you the truth, my three female friends who were most adamant about not having kids all changed their minds. Mind you, they are still not the types to be crushed if they never have kids; but they all would like to now. They changed their minds in a gradual sort of way, in their 30s.
posted by yarly at 7:26 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depends on whether you want to date to get married, or date to have fun. If you want to date to get married, yes, it's a deal-breaker. It's the most important decision in your life, and the one least capable of being compromised on in a marriage. If you're just dating to have fun, then have fun and break up with him when you're ready to date more seriously, if you haven't changed your mind by that point.
posted by Dasein at 7:28 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with a lot of what's been said above:
1. Kids v no kids is probably the biggest dealbreaker in a relationship;
2. People can change their minds on this;
3. But don't go into/stay in a relationship counting on that;
4. And definitely don't go along with the other person's wishes just to preserve the relationship.

Now, I think that you can have a relationship that doesn't progress to marriage (or other permanent arrangement) and still count it as worthwhile: you can have fun together and grow as people through the relationship even if it doesn't last forever. And you're young enough that whether you do eventually change your mind, you've got plenty of time left on your biological clock.

But being in a long-distance relationship is another matter: if you acknowledge that it has a definite sell-by date attached to it and you're not enjoying the benefit of each others' company, what are you getting out of it?
posted by adamrice at 7:42 AM on January 31, 2012

Have any women out there really not wanted kids and changed their minds?

Yes; me. I never really liked children all that much. I never enjoyed babysitting when I was a teenager. When I got older I never was one to coo over babies brought into the workplace. When asked if I wanted to hold them, I agreed so as not to be rude, but really I had no desire to cuddle their little darlings. If you asked me I would have said I had no maternal leanings at all.

When my now-husband and I were first dating I made it clear that I didn't want kids. He made it equally clear that he did. Probably stupidly, we ignored the issue because we loved each other so much. We worked, went to law school, lived our life. Then in our late 30's we started talking about it again, and decided to give it a shot. I don't think it had anything to do with my biological clock ticking because I would have been perfectly happy if it didn't happen.

We ended up having our first daughter when I was 39 and our second when I was 41. I love them more than I could ever have imagined and I can't even think what life would be like without them. I still feel basically the same about other people's children, though.

So, it probably should have been a deal breaker, but I'm very glad it wasn't for either of us. The difference with our situation I think was that even if we had never had children we would both have been happy just being a couple. Unfortunately it doesn't sound like that's the case with your boyfriend.
posted by Bresciabouvier at 7:57 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

As someone who had always wanted kids, I would have broken it off immediately with someone who didn't want kids.

My youngest sister, when she first started dating her husband, said to him on their third date, "Do you want to have kids some day? 'Cause I'm not going to waste my time or your time if you don't." And he did. And two years later they were married and now they're working on the baby making.

If this isn't a deal breaker for you, it almost certainly will be for HIM. And it should be. If he wants kids, it isn't fair to string him on with the possibility that you may some day in some indeterminate future could probably might maybe sort of want kids. Especially if he has his own time line in place. I wanted my first kid before I was 30 for a lot of reasons.

Now I am 30, and I have two kids. I may want a third some day. My husband is on the fence about a third. That's okay. What wouldn't have been okay for me --- as someone who wanted kids -- was if he never wanted kids and never told me.

All this to say, it isn't fair to your guy to lead him on about kids. Or to hope you'll change your mind some day. What if you don't? What if he doesn't? That's not the type of resentment either of you wants building in a long term relationship.
posted by zizzle at 8:01 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the maternal instinct is a bit over emphasized. My wife is a wonderful mother to our children but she didn't have an instinct prior to having children.
posted by dgran at 8:26 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Having or not having kid is an enormous life decision. Possibly the biggest one, and one that has repercussions for literally generations. But only the two of you can decide whether it's a deal breaker. It would be for me, and would have been at your age, too, but then I spent a lot of my 20s single for stupid reasons like that, and ended up having a kid by myself in my early 30s.

Among my close women friends, there are several who never wanted children. Three are more or less out of their child bearing years (mid-forties), so the point is now moot. I never thought for a moment that any of them would change their minds. One is younger, but partnered with someone who also doesn't want kids, and I'd been shocked if either of them changed their minds. I have another friend who, as some of us started to have kids, would say that she didn't think she'd make a very good mom, was pretty sure she'd never have kids, etc. She was also paired with a man who didn't want kids, which reinforced that. They eventually split, and in the last year or so she met someone new, and just before Christmas she had a baby at 42. I don't think she was ever 100% against having kids, though. She was certainly more open to at least considering it at as option than the other four.

Among my men friends, lots of them said they'd never have kids, and many of them do now. A couple always wanted kids and don't have them. In my experience, men are more likely to change from not wanting to wanting kids. YMMV.

I also have some friends who always wanted kids and now don't have them, but to a one, it's because events conspired to make it difficult or impossible. Some are devastated and still trying, others who wanted them and didn't get them are happy and enjoy the benefits of life sans enfants. But in all those cases, it was both partners wanting kids as opposed to one wanting kids but not having them because the other did not.
posted by looli at 8:38 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it silly to be thinking about this 6 months into a relationship when we are both in our mid-20s?

posted by Ironmouth at 8:40 AM on January 31, 2012

It's not always a dealbreaker. I wanted kids, my wife didn't....and that basically went on until she decided about 8 years in to our relationship she wanted them. We had our first 15 months ago when I was 33 and she was 32.

What worked for us was understanding that no matter what it has to be a 100% decision on both sides, so I had to be prepared for her to never get to that 100% place, and she had to be prepared for me to change my mind and move from that 100% place. No matter what we both had to be prepared to be in the relationship one way or the other. For my part I love the hell out of her, she is what I want. I love her with or without kids.
posted by iamabot at 9:03 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, we just talked about it a bit, and he said he has no idea if he'd break up with me in the future if I never ever wanted kids, and that he doesn't know what he wants. He said a baby is a huge decision and a lot of money and he knows he's definitely not ready to make a decision yet, and if or when he'd be able to.

I feel like he waffles on the issue--when we met he was more "whatever" about it, then seemed more into it, and then when I asked him he sounds like he doesn't know. So I guess it will work itself out one way or the other-- if we were both 100% on our positions, then it would be different.
posted by queens86 at 9:15 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know a couple of women who have gone from "HA! Babies? Oh dear me no" to "I need to be pregnant RIGHT NOW," seemingly overnight. I know women who have soared into their forties relieved that they never conceived. I know women who thought they'd want kids in their twenties who never got around to having them and that was OK.

But the thing about kids is: you can't compromise. You can't have kids part-time, or just a little bit, or have your partner be the only parent. It's one of the few things where it really does have to be one way or the other, 100%. I have a friend who spent the last 2 years of a 7 year relationship in agonizing couples counseling with his girlfriend, trying to work out how they would go on when he wanted kids and she didn't. They ended up in a horrible breakup, made more horrible by the fact that they still loved each other desperately but just couldn't go on. It was an awful situation, just about the worst outcome possible.
posted by KathrynT at 9:49 AM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've been there. I always knew I wanted kids, my ex... wasn't sure. Until he was. And he didn't.

That was after we were married.

It wasn't just a deal-breaker, it was the catalyst for total personal apocalypse. "Divorce" doesn't really do it justice. My entire world imploded. It wasn't just a loss of the past that I had with my ex, it was a loss of our future and any future children I'd hoped for. The English language lacks words describing that kind of emotional hell.

The minute one of you does know how you want to proceed and if the other doesn't agree? Move on for both of your sakes. It sounds so detached to say this as an outsider, but honestly, if one of you is dead set in one direction and the other can't join them... it's not going to end well so it might as well end quickly.

I learned from this experience and not two months into dating my husband, I asked if he wanted kids. He indicated that he did and we left it at that and three years later, we had a pretty awesome baby.
posted by sonika at 10:02 AM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

For me, it's only a dealbreaker if one person feels strongly in the opposite direction of the other's wishes. I'm in my late twenties and have never wanted children, and don't anticipate changing my mind for various reasons. Because I feel pretty strongly about it, and am always honest about it, I would not date someone who was 100% sure that they did want children in the future. But my current boyfriend is unsure and that's fine for us, for now. It's possible that he might change his mind - heck, it's possible that I might change my mind -- and if we end up on the same or different pages in the future doesn't really have bearing on my decision to be in this relationship right now.

But I think that it's different if you are the person who wants kids, somehow. I think that there's much more freedom to say "no" than there is to say "yes" (although much more backlash) but I'm not sure how to articulate that before lunch.
posted by sm1tten at 10:08 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

it is far more likely that someone goes from not wanting kids to wanting kids than the other way around. People who have wanted kids forever usually don't change their minds unless life circumstances don't work out for them, they come down with a disease, they don't find a partner until they're too old, stuff like that. So if we're playing Kid Chicken in a relationship, it's probably you who is going to have to cave in/change your mind. If you're waiting on him to change his, it probably won't work.

Yes, just chiming back in to second this. When my ex and I were going through round ten-thousand of "BABIES! CRISIS!" he asked me why *I* couldn't be the one to change my mind. And I wished that I could. I desperately wished I could change my mind, but I was also the one weeping at the idea of never having a baby - I literally grieved for the children I wouldn't have. It was awful and I would have absolutely changed my mind if it were possible. I tried, and ended up driving myself insane.

The best illustration of this was the "What do you want on your tombstone?" game at a party. Everyone had a joking answer but when it came around to me... I just bit my lip and turned away. My ex looked at me and said "What?" My answer... "Beloved Mother." That was a tense silence right there.

If I could have turned it off to stay with him, I would have. Absolutely, but wanting a kid was all I wanted. Ever. I couldn't turn that off. Some people can, but some can't. I think in general it's easier to talk yourself into having something than giving it up - even if it's just giving up the *hope* of it.
posted by sonika at 10:16 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I always thought it was a dealbreaker until I met my boyfriend.

I told him from the very beginning-- even when we were just friends, before we dated-- that I was 99% sure I never wanted biological children. I made it really clear that, barring a case of the the crazy, uncontrollable baby fever some women seem to get overnight, I would never have children, and that I would not change my mind. I repeated this to him at relevant times, making sure to add, "If children are really important to you, I'm not the right woman for you, and we should break up."

He said he'd like children BUT it was not a dealbreaker because "no one gets everything he wants" from one relationship. He also has said: "It's certainly nothing I'd ever leave you over, and who knows, maybe I'll change my mind about it completely over time." Now that we've been together for a couple of years he's even more ok with not having children, even though we are soon going to be taking the next step and all that.

He's the most stubborn person in the world, so when he makes compromises I feel confident that he makes them in good faith. Given his nature, I could never pressure or persuade him to give up... oh, anything he really wanted (I've tried, no dice). Also, he's very analytical, so I know he has thought about this quite a lot. To him, loving me, even if it involves certain challenges or issues, is more important and worthwhile than the hypothetical family he could create with any other woman. We're both hard to match people for various reasons, so we both know the odds of finding another partner as compatible are slim, and children are secondary to that for him.

So yes, in rare cases, I think it can be worked out.
posted by devymetal at 11:20 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am a woman who, when I married my husband, spoke of future kids as "IF we ever have kids" and my husband always firmly said "WHEN we have kids". That is, he wanted them and and I was leaning towards not having them. (Gee, I guess we should have discussed that a bit more before we got married.) Eight years later we had our first child, and I was still sort of ambivalent about it, until our son popped out, and then I wondered why on earth I'd waited eight years to have kids. So I think you can not be entirely sure that the upheaval in your life is worth it, and then find out that it is. That is why all your smug friends say, "Oh, but you will!" because for me, it is absolutely the most stupendous thing I have ever been a part of in my life, and I didn't realize that until after I did it. So now I have three rugrats and three future college tuitions and I'll probably never get to visit Europe again. Ah well.
posted by molasses at 11:33 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think I've read that
  • 80% of women end up having children
  • when you ask younger women (age 20-ish) about 80% of them say that they would like to have children eventually
  • about half of those who don't want kids at age 20, end up having them
  • which implies that about 1 in 8 want kids at age 20, but don't end up having them (through choice or otherwise)
I'm not putting money on those statistics being accurate. But, I think it's probably true that, on average, you are more likely to change you mind than he is.

OTOH, that doesn't mean that you will change your mind. Many people don't. And if you don't change your mind, he will eventually have to choose between being with you, and having children. And faced with that type of choice, I think more people choose having children, than being with a particular partner they love.

That's the sense in which it's a dealbreaker. Because you should only have children if you really want them.

And, the people pointing out that you have the most to lose in a practical sense by having children are absolutely right. It's really, really hard work to go against norms about the division of parenting in any major way. Most new parents don't have the spare energy.
posted by plonkee at 11:37 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, could be a dealbreaker. When one person is so sure "yes" and the other is ambivalent, leaning toward "no" or a definite "no," it can't help but cause friction. Think of all the things in your future life together that would need to be negotiated if you decided to have kids. It's a major decision! It affects everything. I think if you were both ambivalent "maybes" then it could work out.

My story: husband and I got married fairly young. Neither of us wanted kids. Ever! After being together for 10 years we thought... maybe. And it took us awhile to really decide "yes." And now we have a 1-year-old and I don't regret any of that time leading up to her but do sort of wish we had started earlier. She's awesome! And awesome in a way that I just had no idea about. Lots of parents tried to tell me but there is just nothing like your own.

But! It's a big deal this having of kids. And if my husband and I hadn't been on the same page, I don't see how we could have been in a long-term relationship together. How would you stand up to the pressure over the years? I think this isn't your decision, though. Carefully think about your feelings and tell your boyfriend. He needs to decide if this is a dealbreaker.
posted by amanda at 1:09 PM on January 31, 2012

It's not something there's a "meet you halfway" point on, is the thing. You either have children or you don't.

I think Dasein's point bears repeating---are you looking for a lifetime partner right now, or for a boyfriend? I would never have married a man who wanted kids (and probably not a woman who wanted kids, though parenting was less of a turnoff to me than giving birth so who knows), but I dated lots of folks who are now happy parents with others back in the day before I felt like I wanted to settle down.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:18 PM on January 31, 2012

Yes, dealbreaker. Find someone who matches your choices.

I got sterilized as a wedding present for my wife.
posted by ead at 11:30 PM on January 31, 2012

26 is young and six months is a short amount of time.

Two things:

1) I know heaps of women super anti babies in their mid twenties who in their mid/late thirties are the proud mothers of one, two, three, even four little ones. Some have maintained the anti-baby stance, and some changed.

Point being, 26 is young. You don't have to decide today.

2) When you're young, the first year of a relationship should be tremendous heaps of fun with little concern about "the future". Have light discussions about it, get a gauge of where the partner is, but remember to have fun.

A lot of people talk about babies in their twenties in the same way they sit in Los Angeles coffeehouses talking about becoming citizens in European countries that they visited once for two weeks.

Babies are often part of a larger life arc, which can involve career changes, geographic changes, perhaps completing a bucket-list. Maybe you both are so far from having babies at this point that it's easy to think you don't want them. Would you feel differently if you were in the same city? If you won the lottery? There's a lot going on below the surface in those decisions.

I would say perhaps reflect on why you don't want to have babies and whether that is something that's going to change or not.

And in the meantime, ensure you have fun. There's plenty of time to consider these things. Although be careful, once you start having immeasurable fun, 30 creeps up quite quickly and then IT IS time to start thinking about the future in a more immediate way!
posted by nickrussell at 3:10 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's always 100% a dealbreaker. There is a difference between wanting kids and needing to have them for you to be happy with your life. My husband absolutely wants them and would be thrilled if we chose that route, but he's also told me that he'd be thrilled if we don't have kids and choose a life full of travel, spontaneity, and good food. He doesn't need them to be happy. We don't need them to feel like our marriage is complete.

That may or may not be the case for you guys. This is something you should talk about, and not in a light-hearted manner. Really sit down and talk about it with total honesty.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:56 AM on February 1, 2012

Thanks guys! This has given me a lot to think about. He said he is really 50/50 about it but would like to know that if he did want them someday that it would at least be up for discussion. Given how young we are, I think this sounds okay for now. I'm sure it will come up again if our relationship continues to progress in the direction of more seriousness.

posted by queens86 at 12:51 PM on February 1, 2012

I'm not assuming you want to explore non-monogamy, since you make no mention of it, but for the record, I'd like to point out that kids vs. no kids can be simultaneously a dealbreaker and not.

I am not monogamous. I have known I want kids (to carry and to parent) since I was a wee babe myself. My girlfriend is equally as certain she doesn't want kids.

What does this mean? It means I will have kids and parent with another partner, and that she will not be subjected to parenting when she doesn't want to. I say this because I have been in the place where kids vs. no kids is a definite dealbreaker. And it's a dealbreaker for any new people I'm bringing into my life. But it's not a dealbreaker that's going to break up this existing deal with said girlfriend.
posted by Betty's Table at 4:58 PM on February 1, 2012

I changed my mind between the ages of 25 and 30. It was a massive shock. I've never been that interested in children and felt that I wasn't interested in bringing more people into the world at all. I thought I was going to be a cool, child-free grown-up with masses of disposable income and some honorary nieces/nephews, but now I would very much rather have children, given the right set of circumstances.

I know a few people who have just given birth, at 40ish, for the first time. That's fifteen years he's got to grind you down.. and he hasn't even got the biological clock issue to worry about - he could father kids waaaaay beyond that.

Honestly I'd say it does seem a bit soon to be discussing this at six months, especially when such a large part of it is long-distance - just because you can always pick and choose when to IM, email, text, Skype your honey in an LDR, whereas it's the being forced to deal with someone when they have hormone/work-rage that does a relationship in! Live together first, at least; don't wind yourself up about the distant future, when you may find a multitude of perfectly good reasons to chuck him in the next few months!
posted by f3l1x at 8:58 AM on August 14, 2012

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