How to talk to my partner about having kids when I don't want them
July 15, 2013 7:03 AM   Subscribe

I know there are some variations on the question of having kids on MeFi, but I have something a little bit different. I am leaning towards not having kids, which my husband says he'd be ok with, but his actions tell me that he really wants them. How can we have a real conversation about this so that we have no regrets?

I never wanted to have kids. In my late 20s when I met my husband-to-be I became more ambivalent and open to the question. Now that I'm almost 33 the question has become more urgent. I'm leaning towards no, mostly because I'm not really interested. I think they'll be a lot of work, and while they sound cute and surprising and touching from everyone I know who has them, I'm not super-interested in making them a priority in my life. Also, my parents were really neglectful, and I've always felt like an unwanted child. My mom has apologized to me about it, but I still haven't forgiven them as much as I try. I don't want to relive my childhood through parenting and having my parents become involved as grandparents. I think I could be happily childless forever.

As for my husband, he's always said that he's open to having and not having kids. Lately, however, he's been trying to convince me to have kids in a way that makes me think that he really wants to have them. Like trying to change my mind all the time. Or telling me that we don't have to make the decision now (since I'm looking for a job and he will be too with his contract ending in November--and we may be looking for jobs overseas), even though I basically have made my decision.

He's not going to be able to convince me to have a child when I don't want one, but I'm concerned for him that he'll have regrets not having one (something I learned from other mefi threads about questioning parenthood). He doesn't reflect very well on his own actions, and I've had experiences with him where he did not verbalize his thoughts and feelings about situations.

How can I get him to tell me what he really thinks? Because I'd be fine if he doesn't want to talk about it, but I don't want him to have regrets later in his life.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if not having kids will threaten my marriage, I'd be more open to sacrificing my independence and confronting my childhood. But then other posts I've read tell me not to have kids just for my partner, even if he claims now that he'll be a happy house-husband.

But I don't want him to just say that just so I'll have kids.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You need to let him know that you want to have this conversation, and then give him some time to really think about it and soul-search about it. You should do so, as well.

Then when you have the conversation, set out the rule that you two are going to be brutally honest about what you want for the future, and what it would and could mean if you don't have kids. Because nobody should have kids when they don't want them, and nobody should be denied the possibility of having kids if they think it's something they absolutely need in their lives.
posted by xingcat at 7:06 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

You know, I don't think it's always possible to "have no regrets." There might always be a nagging wistfulness for the road not taken. In those cases, I try to just make my peace with that wistfulness or sense of regret.

What is your 100% on this? If you could have 100% of what you want here, why not voice that? Ask your husband to think about what his 100% is and voice that to you. Asking for what you think you can get or asking for what you think the other person might be able to give you is only voicing part of your desires. And it doesn't make your other desires go away. You need to be brave. Your husband needs to be brave.

Whatever the 100% that you each voice, let yourselves take the time to mull it. Maybe revisit it in 6 months especially if your 100% is at odds.
posted by amanda at 7:11 AM on July 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you're having trouble talking about it, you could both write down your thoughts. Maybe those thoughts should include things like what do you envision your life looking like in ten to twenty years.

I'm 27. I do not want kids right now, and I don't see myself wanting kids anytime soon. I think they'd be a lot of work, and I'm just not at a place in my life where I want to give a small needy thing priority over my own needs. But whenever I envision my hypothetical pretend future as a middle aged person, I always have kids, so I know that--eventually--I want kids. Just not now.

Maybe having your partner think about it like that would help?
posted by phunniemee at 7:12 AM on July 15, 2013

It is a major fork in the road of life and even among people who do have kids they have to wrestle with the occasional pang of regret, but like most people you play the hand you are dealt (or chose) and make the best of it. Parenthood is sort of like taking LSD. If you haven't done it no amount of explanation by someone else will make it *really* comprehensible, so these decisions are really hard. You can find people with deep regrets on both sides of this issue, but it sounds like you have a good handle on your feelings about it, which is good.

From a male perspective, I'm not comfortable with the scenario where a guy wants to have kids and the woman leans the other way. Unless he is husband of the year material (and not just the millionth to get the coffee mug) the burden largely lies on the woman. A really supportive and contentious man may be able to create a 60/40 split in the effort but most households in my observation stick the woman with 70-90% of the family duties.

I would argue this from the point of view that you need to be 100% engaged and wanting a family, or at least nimble enough to roll with the punches, to make this work. You can't steer this canoe with only one person holding a paddle. Ultimately you don't have the desire and willingness to sacrifice for it and he can't birth a baby, nurse if for ~2 years and generally be the first person on call for every skinned knee.
posted by dgran at 7:30 AM on July 15, 2013 [18 favorites]

You need to be clear and concise.

"I do not want kids. Ever. I really don't. It's not going to happen. Nothing will change my mind."

Then you need to accept that this may be a dealbreaker for him if he does want children, and you need to be prepared for that.

If you don't want children, you really shouldn't have them. But if he does, he should be afforded that opportunity --- possibly with another partner. And you need to be prepared for that. For some people having or not having kids is negotiable. For me, it was not. Having kids was always a part of my life plan, so I partnered with someone who saw himself as a father some day. You need to find out for sure if this negotiable or non-negotiable for your partner.

The current back-and-forth-talking-but-not-talking method is not working and not fair to either of you. You need to get this out there clearly and have a really frank discussion with no passing the buck and bantering about, "Maybe someday." You need to make him understand clearly this is off the table for you. Period.
posted by zizzle at 7:41 AM on July 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

Some items for discussion:
How will you feel in 10, 20, 30 years with no kids at holidays and no grandchildren?
How do you feel about having your genes and name carried forward or not?
Will you be okay with seeing babies, pregnant women, and little kids, knowing you won't have them?
Sweetheart, is this a dealbreaker for you?

Some things:
The least complicated pregnancy and birth are not a walk in the park. Complications are not uncommon.
If you have a child or children, you will love them, and you will, if you choose, be a terrific parent.
Even the easiest child has some pretty bad days among the awesome days. Lots of kids are holy terrors, or extra needy, and not easy.
You might have a child with a disability, which could be cancer, genetic disorder, a mental illness, whatever. Kids and adults with disabilities need a lot of care, and are financially expensive.
Adolescence - remember?

Some other things:
I loved nursing my son, cuddling and cozy.
He's turned out to be such an awesome person who I love being with.
He and his wife want kids, and I'll be delighted to be a grandparent.

I wanted and love my son, but choosing not to have kids, for any and all reasons, is a great choice. Your concern for your husband's wishes and your marriage is very loving.
posted by theora55 at 7:44 AM on July 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Perhaps you should practice being more straightforward about your feelings to help prompt your partner to be more straightforward about his. He might not be purposefully hiding his feelings as much as he is testing the waters with these comments and hoping that it will lead into a more in depth conversation where he can tell you more about what he wants. If you blow him off or vaguely rebuff him, he may be taking that as a signal that you feel threatened by talking about this and that he shouldn't address it more directly.

I'm not sure what the specifics of your conversations have been, but you imply that when he tries to convince you to have kids, you don't respond directly or question him about this, even though your inner reaction is quite clear cut.

When he says "hey, maybe we should rethink that whole having kids thing..." are you saying "yeah, maybe..." and then changing the subject? Or are you saying "I've given a lot of thought to the question of having kids already, and I feel pretty certain that I don't want to have them. You've said in the past that you're fine with not having kids. If you feel differently now, I want to know about it."

When he says "given that we're thinking about moving internationally and taking new jobs, we don't have to decide if we want children or not right now." Do you say "I guess you're right...." or are you saying "What makes you say that? When you talk about putting off the decision to have children, it surprises me because I thought we had already discussed this decision, and that I had made it clear to you that I'm not interested in having kids, and you were comfortable with our plan to be child free. If you are having second thoughts about that, let's talk about what prompted those feelings - you don't have to just make oblique references to reconsidering the plan. You're my husband, and I love you. I want you to be able to tell me if you're having misgivings about how we are living our lives."

In any case, as the proud owner of an infant, I have to agree that this isn't something I think anyone should be doing without a true commitment to parenting. Babies can be incredibly frustrating and add a lot of stress to your life. Depending on your household, it seems in most cases this is particularly true for the mother. For example, even though my husband was on board with the plan to have a baby, I am the one who took an extended maternity leave, which felt very necessary given my exhaustion and the all-consuming nature of having a baby, but wasn't a great career move. Would this be the case for you? Would your husband be willing to be the one to take a parental leave? What about what happens to your body - what if you would need a C section, or have to be on bed rest for months, or have a third degree tear of you perineum? What if you had hyperemesis gravidarum (like morning sickness, but more severe, with constant nausea and frequent vomiting for weeks/months to the point of significant weight loss). As theora55 pointed out, complications in pregnancy can be misery-inducing/serious.

Because I'm breastfeeding, I have to deal with most of the waking up in the middle of the night and early morning stuff, and I have to deal with pumping. I'm typing this while attached to a breast pump. It isn't fun. Think about the division of tasks in your home, since laundry increases by like 5x with a baby. Prior to baby-having, my husband mostly did our laundry about once every 2 weeks. Now, I do a load of laundry or multiple loads of laundry every single day. I'm constantly wiping spit-up off the floor, washing pump parts and bottles, trying to get poop stains out of various fabrics and furniture. I had a pretty fussy baby, meaning that she would fuss for no reason after having been fed and changed and burped and all else taken care of. I spent hours bouncing on a yoga ball and going SHUSHHHH, SHUSHHHHH until I thought I was losing my mind (especially considering I was doing it on 3 hours of sleep). Luckily our yoga ball bouncing days are over, but I still only got 4 hours of sleep last night. My point is, this is more than a fulltime job, and if I were ambivalent or resentful about it, I doubt my marriage would survive this.

One other suggestion: do you know anyone with a baby? I would offer that person some free babysitting. Not just 2 hours while they go out to dinner, ideally it would be an all day thing you could do a couple of times with your husband together. Of course, it's far different when you know you're going to be doing this day after day for years, but that might help you either get rid of any remaining ambivalence about your decision or realize that maybe you should be reconsidering it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

How can I get him to tell me what he really thinks? Because I'd be fine if he doesn't want to talk about it, but I don't want him to have regrets later in his life.

Regret is over romanticised. We all face our years with regrets - I have a my own, but that doesn't mean I can't be happy where I am today.

My partner and I cannot have children. We didn't know until after we were married. It took me years to make peace with that. Years. At this point, my husband regrets that we never had a child maybe more than I do. He would have preferred to have them. But it hasn't wrecked our marriage. And that's probably because given the choice between a partnership with me and a partnership with someone else and a presumptive child, he's clear he'd still choose me, no contest, even with the regret. (Which seems like a fairly wise choice to me, because we're fucking awesome together.)


I will be brutally honest with you and say that were I not completely confident my husband is more committed to us than he is to parenthood, I would have had both out asses in very cordial martial therapy to work through this. Because I am neither an idealist nor an idiot, and I do not not not want to be that woman who's husband bails and starts a family with someone 20 years younger somewhere down the line. Because that is a thing that happens, and I think it's wise to examine that reality openly.

So. I guess what I am saying is that if your spouse is not coming to the table with the self-examination and communication tools he needs for the two of you to make the most crucial decision you will ever make, you would be wise to seek guidance through those conversations.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:57 AM on July 15, 2013 [16 favorites]

This is just about the most important discussion you can have as a couple and you both have to trust each other with everything that's said and that it will be considered seriously by both of you.

Lay it out all on the table, both of you. It's important.
posted by h00py at 8:03 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Start looking for an investment property in a place that he would love to visit. Tell him, wow, since we aren't having kids, we could totally afford this. Then buy him a boat.
posted by myselfasme at 8:09 AM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

From a male perspective, I'm not comfortable with the scenario where a guy wants to have kids and the woman leans the other way. Unless he is husband of the year material (and not just the millionth to get the coffee mug) the burden largely lies on the woman. A really supportive and contentious man may be able to create a 60/40 split in the effort but most households in my observation stick the woman with 70-90% of the family duties.

dgran is right here. Every mother I know personally may as well be a single mom in terms of the workload. Not only the father, but all of society expects the woman to be primary parent.
posted by winna at 8:27 AM on July 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

I've been in this scenario, and I can tell you right now: It's not going to work out. The conflict is zero-sum—for one of you to win, the other has to lose. You're wasting each other's time. Start looking into divorce.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:55 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

To my ears he has already told you what he really thinks. He really thinks he can change your mind.
posted by SyraCarol at 9:11 AM on July 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if not having kids will threaten my marriage, I'd be more open to sacrificing my independence and confronting my childhood.

I was in a similar situation, my former partner wanted children and I was pretty sure I did not -- but not rock solid in my decision. We talked about it and my sentiments were similar -- I decided I could have children and would do my very, very best to be a parent if it was a deal breaker.

We did a lot of talking and we both decided not to have a child after really laying out all of our honest feelings. It wasn't easy. So talk about it honestly -- is it deal breaker for either of you -- and go from there. (Might be good to talk about this with a professional, too.)

In my case, it was a decision I don't regret now that I am pretty much past childbearing age. As I got older my decision not to have kids actually did become much more solid.
posted by Lescha at 9:11 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

You say: I guess what I'm trying to say is that if not having kids will threaten my marriage, I'd be more open to sacrificing my independence and confronting my childhood. But then other posts I've read tell me not to have kids just for my partner, even if he claims now that he'll be a happy house-husband.

To me that says that you don't really know what you want, but you're leaning heavily towards not wanting kids.

First, before trying to get into a conversation with your husband, you should make sure where you are. It's not just your independence / lifestyle will be sacrificed, as a woman, your body will make some sacrifices; some of them temporary, and some permanent. If you do have kids and you regret it, how sure are you that you won't hold this against your husband and not end up sacrificing the marriage due to resentment that turns to hate.

Once you're sure of what you want, and how much you want it (I.E. you're still saying that you won't sacrifice your marriage if your husband 100% wants kids), then it's time to have the conversation. If I had to take a guess, from what you've written, your husband wants kids, and has been told by someone (or multiple someones) that he trusts, that if he just gives it time you'll come around.

I propose you try to turn the "wait and see" upside down; say that you want to talk about the consideration of you getting your tubes tied, or him getting a vasectomy. As he's said multiple times that he's open to having kids or not having kids, if that's really his feeling, than he shouldn't have any objection to you getting your tubes tied, and might not have objections to getting a vasectomy (generally it's far easier/faster/cheaper for the male to get the semi-perma birth control). If he really, 100% wants kids, a conversation on this should get him to voice that.

(disclaimer, I'm happy to have had a vasectomy, child free, at age 22.)

On preview: regarding the amount of work, Lady nobeagle and I have three kids (adopted; the vasectomy still seems to be working). My cell phone is listed as the primary contact with the schools. It took a number of phone calls to get the schools to actually call my cell before hers. I admit to failing at doing my share of the paperwork/phone calls / appointments related to the kids. We're a two income family, and there are minor chrises which are horribly inconvenient for both of us (one in a meeting with phone turned off; the other with a crashed public server with VP's walking up to check every 5 minutes); someone has to take one for the team.

Even if he's the perfect house husband, switching to single income, with a new source of money going out the window will be a big sacrifice, and there's a number of appointments which both parents are needed/expected. Chaos help you if your kid(s) need family therapy and a 5pm appointment (with 40 minutes of travel time) is the generous concession made to working parents.

Having kids is a big lifestyle change. It's not an addition. It's not a hobby. It's something else different from what you are currently experiencing with only vague similarities. Don't go into this unless you really want to.
posted by nobeagle at 9:13 AM on July 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

This is a HUGE issue, and it may be a deal breaker for your husband.

I agree 100% with nobeagle, it's a completely different life.

Husbunny and I are blissfully childless. We watch Toddlers and Tiaras and high five each other throughout because, holy shit, these people are horrible parents!

If you do decide to have children to please your husband, what if it's not a good decision for you?

It's the kind of thing from which there is no going back. Unless you are 100% sure, for you, that you want children, doing it to keep your marriage may be an imperfect decision.

I'd discuss this in thereapy with a good couples counselor. He/she can facilitate the right questions and the right answers to help you both understand what's right for both of you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:30 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's the big sticking point - you cannot "un-have" a kid. Once you have that kid, you HAVE that kid and there is no such thing as a refund or exchange at the Kiddie Mart. You might get a dream of a kid or you might get one that is difficult in some way or requires extra care - or, in the case of some special needs, a lifetime of care.

And that care, as others have pointed out, will fall largely on you. And even if your husband is Father of the Year and really steps up, you will still be the pregnant, birthing and nursing parent. As a mom you will be working hard and having your life changed irrevocably whether you want it or not.

Do NOT count on some kind of magic parental pixie dust, either. People say, "oh, you will love your kid no matter what!" but I am here to tell you that this is not necessarily true. You may not love your kid. You may resent the hell out of the child. Children pick up on this and no matter what you say, a child knows when his mom doesn't really want him or take any joy in raising him. So please, please don't count on being able to love your child after the fact.

Mind you, I am coming from the perspective of someone who is so adamantly childfree that she gave up on some good men rather than have children - I am that set against it. I suggest some serious couple's counseling to have both you and your husband know exactly what you want and what you are and are not willing to compromise on.

Bottom line - every child should be a wanted child, and no child deserves to have a mother who cares for him grudgingly. Parents choose to bring children into the world, but children don't get to choose their parents - so it's up to the adults to do the right thing.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:43 AM on July 15, 2013 [11 favorites]

Its great to make compromises in a relationship, but you can't half have children. Don't compromise on this. As a woman the greater burden and responsibility will fall on you. I have had this conversation with my boyfriend , who is great with kids, (and I teach, which has only served to make me more confident in my decision- I love hanging out with them, but no way would I do it 24-7 for no pay). I said, " The older I get the more absolutely sure I am that I will never have any children. If that's a deal breaker for you I'll be sad, but its more important to me that we both live the life we most want to live, whether that's together or apart."
posted by velebita at 11:11 AM on July 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

You need to decide whether you are willing to give him up if having kids is very important to him. If you are willing to give him up, then you need to tell him that it's OK to leave you if he really wants to have kids. Or you need to tell him you are willing to have kids if it's really important to him. Just make things clear to him.
posted by Dansaman at 12:38 PM on July 15, 2013

Anon, I don't know how comfortable you two stepping off the beaten path, but I would just point out that there are multiple ways to create children and/or make larger families. If your husband is enthralled with the idea of making babies with you and raising them in a traditional nuclear family, that's one thing, but it isn't the only thing. He or the pair of you could co-parent with a lesbian mother or couple. You could short term or long term foster child(ren) well over the age of infancy later in your lives. This is part of why he needs to come to the table prepared to talk about which aspects are important to him. It may be possible to constructively and responsibly meet his needs without actually making small people of your own if he can be articulate about what those needs are.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:40 PM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Every mother I know personally may as well be a single mom in terms of the workload. Not only the father, but all of society expects the woman to be primary parent.

I hate black-and-white statements like this, and (for the record) I know tons of exceptions to this rule, even among families where the father's work is far less understanding than the mother's. It really isn't helpful to dump the "having children will doom you to a lifetime of inescapable female servitude, inevitably, regardless of what you and your partner may want or arrange" line on someone who is trying to figure out this particular question.

society expects the woman to be primary parent.

That, on the other hand, is fairly true - but if you're prepared not to fit the bill, there are all sorts of arrangements of paid work and parenting you can work towards if you do decide to have kids. And you won't be free of the consequences of that assumption even if you DON'T have kids (women are judged for that decision more than men), so it's sort of a moot point.
posted by Wylla at 2:50 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm concerned for him that he'll have regrets not having one

Well, if he decides not to have one so that he can continue a relationship with someone who doesn't want kids, and changes his mind, he's always free to break up with you and look for someone who wants kids.

Men remain capable of fathering children much later in life than women do. If you are concerned about his future fertility, suggest he freeze sperm if he's having a vasectomy or chemotherapy or something like that.

Don't have a kid to get him to stay if he wants kid(s) and you aren't very interested in them, it's not fair to the kid. Of course everyone says it's different when the kid is born, they don't want to be the monster that says that actually, they never got very excited about having kids but now they are stuck with it. Unless we are talking about goats.

Better he regret not having a child than you regret having one... and if he disagrees with that, he wouldn't make a good father, so you shouldn't have a kid with him anyhow.
posted by yohko at 5:07 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

if not having kids will threaten my marriage, I'd be more open to sacrificing my independence and confronting my childhood

So you are willing to confront your childhood history of not feeling like a wanted child by having an unwanted child.

I'm sure you will get many opportunities to revisit experiences of your childhood in a new light.

Therapy would be a much cheaper way of doing this. Have you looked at the costs for raising a child for 18+ years!?

Also, what if you have a child to save your marriage and it doesn't work? It will be much easier to find someone who doesn't want kids to have a relationship with if you don't have kids.
posted by yohko at 5:17 PM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

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