Do I marry/have kids with longterm love if I'm not ready due to career?
March 21, 2014 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I love my partner - we have known each other for over a decade and have been together for over five years. I am in my 30s and he wants to live together/get married and/or start a family. I have insisted we wait due to my graduate school (and later) career struggles. Now we are older and our time frame for children (if not settling down with children in mind later) is diminishing. I don't know the right thing to do - specifics inside...

... I know this person is right for me. I recently left school, moved out of my parents home, and began my professional life at 30. I am struggling and want to make it work but feel I began my career too late in life. I am also living on my own for the first time and find it exciting. My partner wants us to live together at the very least, and ideally get married and start a family. He is willing to be the primary care parent, and even provider, though they did not finish high school and therefore have more limited prospects than I do. I feel torn because I would like to start a family but my career is still in the initial stages. Even if he is the primary care parent I still need time off during a crucial career period if pregnant. Both of us came from poverty and are trying hard to attain something more, so we do not have the financial resources or friend/family connections to smooth the journey. Also, I am not the sort who would be sad if I couldn't have kids, so I don't have a strong maternal urge guiding me.

I know having kids is important to him, and I also know I don't have many years left to give him that. I am scared not because I dislike babies but because I won't be able to work just as I am starting to break into something good. I feel child rearing and living with someone else will prevent me from focusing on work. I don't want to leave him but know it is wrong to make him wait if he wants a family - and he says he does not want to start over with anyone else. We have talked about it and he is being understanding but getting increasingly sad. Now I just feel like I keep stringing him along by the constant delaying, since my career is developing so slowly.

My question(s) is / are: can I make this work, or will I have to choose one over the other? If I must choose, how do I make a choice between such different life prospects? Have any of you made a choice and regretted it? Am I being needlessly short-sighted or selfish? What important things am I not thinking of but should?
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose to Human Relations (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You know what, if this is what you wanted, you'd be doing it. There would be no question or doubt, you'd be figuring it all out and happily proceeding forward.

You know that millions of people balance careers and family. You know that you have someone who can be a stay at home parent should you be the partner who returns to work. You know that even under these circumstances, that this isn't what you want to do.

Knowing all of this, you would still prefer not to do it. THAT'S okay! Just because you could, doesn't mean you have to.

You need to break up with him, because he wants a different life than you want.

You'll both be sad, and you'll doubt your decision a thousand times, but at the end of the day, if you can't jump in with both feet and a smile on your face, then this will never be right for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:04 AM on March 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

What do you want to do? Do you want to settle down with this guy and have kids with this guy?

If you do, I think you should do it, career stuff be damned. People are married/have kids and also have careers. It is a thing. Getting married and having kids is not a career-killer unless you're a Catholic priest.

If the answer deep down is that this is just not something you want, either with him or at all, I think you should be honest about it and not couch it in worries about some hypothetical career situation that isn't actually a real problem.

I would say that if taking a few months off of work to have a baby is, in your mind, a career-killer, then the answer is probably no, you don't ever want kids. Because seriously people go on maternity leave all the time and it's really not a big deal.
posted by Sara C. at 10:07 AM on March 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

I can sense you are very conflicted because in one breath you say "I feel torn because I would like to start a family"

Then in the very next sentence you write "Also, I am not the sort who would be sad if I couldn't have kids, so I don't have a strong maternal urge guiding me."

I think you need to deep down, really deep down firstly decide what it is that you really, really want.

It's perfectly fine to decide you dont want children or a family ever. If that's really what you want then I think you need to have a long, hard conversation with your partner. It does sound as if you guys really do want fundamentally different things, and if you set him free now, he'll have plenty of time to find his happiness with someone else.

Alternatively, if you do decide that you want kids - go for it now while you still can. Sara C is right... people do it every day and you're kind of in a win-win situation if your partner wants to be a stay at home dad.

You may well be able to have your cake and eat it, as they say, but before you make any decisions one way or the other, you need to sit down with yourself and truly decide what you want!

Good luck!
posted by JenThePro at 10:29 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

It doesn't sound to me like having kids is something you want more than you want an exciting and fulfilling career.

So, there's your answer really.

Another option is adoption. Don't need to take time off work due to pregnancy, your partner already wants to be the primary caregiver, a previously unwanted child gets a home. Sounds like win-win to me.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:30 AM on March 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you don't even live together yet, try that for awhile. You may find that once you're living with this person, things will make sense one way or the other.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:31 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can make the career thing work. The real question is whether you want to start a family with this man.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:32 AM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you even want to live with him right now, let alone start a family. Listen to that gut instinct.

Also, if you're truly torn (and not just between what you want and Wish you wanted for his sake), therapy is great for teasing apart our conflicting desires. A lot of workplaces have employee assistance programs that can help you find a little therapy, and health insurance also covers some. Because we here on the internet just can't invest the time you might need to help you uncover your own desires and fears and needs.
posted by ldthomps at 10:38 AM on March 21, 2014

One of the things my ex wife decided she didn't want was to have a family in the short term. She put it off without telling me or making the formal decision for three years.

I was largely heartbroken at the time; however, I subsequently remarried, have a five year old and two and a half year old and am much happier that I didn't have them with my ex because she ultimately wanted something that was very incompatible with what I wanted.

We'll never talk civilly again, but that has more to do with other parts of our relationship and changes in our dynamic.

Kids are tough. Even when you aren't the principal parent, they are time consuming and sleep depriving. They are very hard. But, for my wife and I, they have been more worthwhile than we expected. They were for us, and individually for my wife and me, but I don't think this would be for my ex wife.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:38 AM on March 21, 2014

Best answer: You'd be surprised just how much more you can accomplish with a loving, supportive partner. This man sounds wonderful and he wants to more than pull his weight. It's rare to find a partner you "know is right." Timing is almost always a challenge, and if you wait until it's perfect, you'll never move forward. My husband and I married each other when we were living in different countries, and had never lived in the same state together. And the long distance was a challenge, as were med school and law school and having a baby all at the same time, but you know? He was my partner, he was my rock. And I was his. And going through all that together was incredible and made each of us better people and fulfilled each of us tremendously. Graduate school and marriage are incredibly compatible, and career development and family building have gone hand-in-hand for centuries.

If he really is the right man, that's the essential thing. If you truly love him, and he you, you will be stronger for making your relationship official. The question of babies isn't imminent, so you still have time to work that out. Talk about marriage first, and family as you go. And if he's the right one, be grateful that you have found each other and make him an honest man.
posted by Capri at 10:39 AM on March 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Are you sure you want kids? It is okay if you don't. I don't want to have bio-kids. I'm in my early 30s, I know how taboo that can be and how outrageous it is to some people. My parents are hugely disappointed. I know this about myself but still, to this day, feel like I'm committing some social crime or something. But it seriously is okay to not want to have kids. What you need to do is have a very honest think about this, and really decide if you actually want to give birth and raise another human being. If you decide you do, then go from there. What is key is that you know for sure what you want and that you discuss it with your partner. I'm lucky that my husband also does not want more kids. (He has a kick ass awesome son from a previous marriage, and that is enough.) If he was someone who did want kids I don't think our relationship would ever work. This is a fundamental thing that a couple needs to be on the same page.

I also agree that you should really live with the person for a while prior to procreating with them. That is an important step and would probably make you a hell of a lot more certain, one way or another, if you want to have kids with this guy.

Best of luck.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:48 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Whenever someone posts an Ask wondering if they should drop everything and start having children when they don't specifically want to have children, particularly when it's a woman who mentions that she lacks a "strong maternal urge" but is being expected to bear children for a male partner who wants them very much, my kneejerk reaction is to jump in front of you in slow motion like I was trying to save someone in the path of an oncoming train -- Noooooooooo!

Children are a lot. A LOT (says this blissfully childfree, oldest-of-five, honorary-auntie-of-hordes, having been born to parents who did not want and were not remotely prepared to have any children at all). They are the most important thing in the world. They are so much more than you think they will be when you are considering it in the abstract. You will need to basically hand the keys to your life over to your new baby 100% for at least the first ~2-3 months, even if your partner steps in and starts taking care of absolutely everything the second your paid maternity leave ends. It's a slog, and it can breed resentment like nobody's business. Responsibilities like diaper-changing, weird feeding schedules, the sudden temporary cessation of your entire social life, and the utter ruination of your Circadian rhythm -- those are the kind of things both of you will have to deal with immediately, no matter what. There's no room for to carve out a work/life divide when it's 3:45 AM and baby needs to nurse.

Am I being needlessly short-sighted or selfish?

Gosh, no! I think you need to look out for #1 (you). You've only just recently moved out of your parents' house, and you still describe yourself as "struggling" -- taking care of a newborn is some truly next level responsibility, especially when you don't have a safety net to fall back on. Once the kids are here, their comfort and well-being need to be pushed to the head of your priority line no matter what, at least until they've turned 18. It's a really intense thing to have happen in your relationship even if you've been together for decades, and not all partnerships can readily weather the challenges. It's not remotely selfish to think twice about entering into such an arrangement, particularly alongside someone with whom you've yet to even want to cohabit.

What important things am I not thinking of but should?

Unless you live in some kind of socialist utopia, society generally does not expect its fathers to stay home, and generalized (often invisible) prejudices that encourage women to stay home instead can run very deep. Similarly, there is no guarantee that what your partner says he will do today is any indication of what he will actually do once your babies have started to crawl onto the scene. Unfortunately, once you've made the leap from Not-Parent to Parent, there's no going back.

You can do everything in your power to build a happy, successful career, but what if your partner changes his mind after you've gotten pregnant? What if he changes his mind in a year, five years, or even a decade on? What if you lose your job, what if he leaves you, what if he unexpectedly passes away? Are you going to be willing to drop everything and become the primary or even sole caretaker of your children? Someone is going to have to do it, and if it isn't him, it has to be you. If the answer is anything but an unqualified "heck yes, that sounds wonderful, no problem," I would strongly recommend against getting married and having kids at this particular juncture, even if this particular person seems perfect for you. You can pick up and drop a given line of employ as long as there's still food on the table, but you can't renege on kids.
posted by divined by radio at 11:00 AM on March 21, 2014 [17 favorites]

You just had two big tranistons in your life and I think adding a third right now will break you. If I were you I would tell him I need the status quo for the next twelve months and then the topic can be revisited. If he doesn't want to wait, that is on him. Meanwhile, him being sad isn't helpful. If he wants to be a partner/parent he needs to taking actions that will facilitate that like getting a job that is family friendly and provides parental leave/benefits. Asking you to be the sole support of the whole family is a big ask, besides looking after the house and kid what else is he bringing to the table (strong handyman skills, savings, money management skills, cooking skills etc)?
posted by saucysault at 11:10 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nobody lays on their deathbed wishing they'd spent more time at the office...
posted by matty at 11:28 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

He is willing to be the primary care parent, and even provider, though [he] did not finish high school and therefore [has] more limited prospects than I do.

If I understood this right, this strikes me as deeply unrealistic. Putting it kindly, it sounds like he is saying things he hasn't really thought through. If you both came from poverty, then you both know how unlikely it is that anyone with a less-than-high-school education can be a primary parent and primary provider, and not be raising those kids in poverty.

My suggestion is to get him to draw up a detailed budget of time and money for how y'all are going to afford kids. Who is going to be on kid-duty during which hours? (Is he assuming that he'll only need 4 hours of sleep ever, or something unrealistic like that?) How much are childcare, diapers, and formula going to cost?

Life insurance, health insurance, housing in a safe area, and a stable income that puts your household above the poverty level: wanting these things is not selfish. If you want these basic things for your hypothetical future children, that is unquestionably unselfish.

Before I was ready to decide I was never having kids at all, I decided I was never having kids who would be raised in poverty. I have two exes who with their wives are raising kids in, well maybe not poverty by the precise federal definition, but awfully close: on food stamps, qualified for free school lunch, etc. I look at their lives, and I have no regrets. No regrets at all. Massive feelings of relief that I dodged a bullet.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 11:55 AM on March 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

You do not owe him a baby. That mindset is bad for you and for your relationship and it is awful for a child to be brought into the world with her mother feeling resentment, financial insecurity, and deep loss.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:21 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nobody lays on their deathbed wishing they'd spent more time at the office...

While this is true, some people do lay on their deathbed wishing they had enough money to not leave their families in crippling debt. And others regret never making the most of their talents professionally. People value different things in life. And some people value all the things at once--family, work, money, the whole shebang.

OP, as someone who also did the climb-out-of-poverty thing, I totally understand that feeling in your gut that is screaming, "DON'T SCREW THIS UP!" Any level of stability will feel very, very tenuous when your entire formative life was spent knowing nothing would be safe or lasting. You feel like you're still trying to get some solid footing, and your SO wants you to knock the whole damn tower down. There's nothing wrong with a guy wanting kids, but I think often men do not understand how destabilizing pregnancy and childbirth can be for women, and just figure any hesitation or fear is nonsense that will vanish when BABY. Um, no.

I also relate as someone who got married almost immediately upon becoming an adult; I never lived on my own before moving in with my husband-to-be, and really felt like I was missing out on critical stages of development. Many many many years post-divorce, I'm in a place where I feel like I could move in with someone as a full, stable individual. And it's WORLDS different. It's great! You should let yourself experience that.

I think you have got to be true to yourself on this one, and there's not a single word in your post that suggests you want a kid. So no, don't move in with him. Don't have a kid. Tell him those things are not on the table for, i dunno, 2 years? However long it will take you to feel self-sufficient and like you have truly built your own life.

It'll be hard, because he might walk away. But 1) he might not, even! and 2) you will then be free to find someone who is on the same page. PS I know you say he is getting increasingly sad, but that's kind of on him. HE IS FREE TO GO, you aren't imprisoning him. If he will not make the choice to leave, he has to own that.

I know you say he's The Right One, but there's no such thing as THE right one. There are many right ones out there. And they could be actually right, unlike this one, who's only partially right!
posted by like_a_friend at 12:30 PM on March 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

Your ability to conceive goes down rapidly in your 30s every year. Because we left it almost too late we went through IUI, fertility drugs, IVF and finally had a baby the normal way by dumb luck years into the process just as we were about to give up.
You need to be sure you are with the right person, but if you wait for every other little thing to line up you can end up waiting too long and making the process a lot harder and less likely to work.
posted by w0mbat at 12:40 PM on March 21, 2014

It sounds like you are on the fence about even moving in with this guy, much less actually getting married and having kids. Not everyone needs to do these things to have a happy and fulfilled life, and it honestly seems like you WANT to focus on career right now, but are feeling pressured to do these things right now. Look -- yeah, fertility is certainly a thing! At the same time, I know PLENTY of women who had babies in their late 30s/early 40s. Plenty of women who adopted or did foster care. If you're established in your career and making good money, there is even the option of hiring a surrogate if you find you waited too long for your biological clock.

Since you don't feel a NEED to have kids (especially biological kids), I would not worry about making it happen immediately. Either you'll figure out that you really do want and need to have kids in 5 or 10 years, and you will make it happen then (either naturally or through some other method). Or, time will pass, and you'll keep feeling happy and fulfilled in your career, and maybe you'll meet a guy who doesn't want kids. Or perhaps you'll meet someone who has kids from a previous relationship and you can have a step-parent relationship with his kids. I think it is okay to still be uncertain at 30! Not everyone needs to follow the picket fences model of life with 2.5 kids by a certain age in order to have a kick-ass, awesome, fulfilling, amazing life!! So I would wait until you know what you want.

As far as this dude -- I would just be honest with him, and tell him you don't know where things will go, but it is possible you will never have children. Then it is his decision of what to do.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:53 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

When it comes to marrying someone and starting a family, if it's not "Hell Yes!!" then it has to be "No".

My great-grandmother told me that and now that I'm on my second marriage, I'm certain that she was right.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 4:40 PM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

You've gotten very good answers about thinking longer and harder about if you want to have children at all and if you want to get married at all.

However, I wanted to address specifically two questions:
- Do I marry/have kids with longterm love if I'm not ready due to career?
If you want to get married and have kids, yes, just start by moving in together, then go on with getting engaged, getting married, and then eventually trying to have kids. That process (unless you're different than most people) will take a few years. You just need to know that you want to have kids before you marry this man who clearly wants to have them. In most careers there is never a good time to be pregnant or have children. Most people are also not able to time when they have children, more so people in their 30s, although some get lucky. So giving up the idea that you have control over when you have children and can choose to do it at precisely the moment at which it's convenient is a good place to start from.

- Have any of you made a choice and regretted it?
I'm a doctor, and I chose not to start trying to have children until I finished residency. I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, now that I am a mother I'm not really sure how people do this and do residency at the same time, because it seems impossible, but women clearly do it all the time. It would have been pretty hard. On the other hand, I turned out to have a long struggle with infertility. I'm glad I didn't have that struggle during residency, because residency was stressful enough without dealing with infertility, and I was able to do some travel and spend some quality time with my husband that I very much treasure. However, I will always wonder whether if I had started trying earlier, I would not have had the infertility problem, which was the worst and darkest time of my life.

If you'd like to read other stories related to regret with putting off childbearing, check out "Waiting for Daisy", a memoir by Peggy Orenstein. It's a book about a woman who didn't think she was really much of a maternal type.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:05 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

While the chances of conception go down when you leave your twenties, if you look at the statistics, it's not dropping by a ton each year until you are in your late thirties. The chances of birth defects, Down Syndrome etc don't start to really increase until you are 35 or so. (And recent research suggests that our understanding of maternal fertility might be skewed by relying too much on historical data from times when women were less fertile due to malnutrition and so on).

Since his fertility is less affected by age than yours (not NOT affected, but he is still more flexible), I don't think it would be terrible to ask him to wait four or five years and then reconsider how you feel about kids. If you are at an impasse then, he still has time to start over with someone new. You might feel more secure in your career at that point and able to take a few months off if that's what you want then.

If what he really wants from you is more commitment, moving in together might be something you'd consider before then. But you could still have a couple of years now living on your own, move in with him, have a couple more years as a childfree couple, and then start doing the baby-making thing. That sort of timetable might sound less scary to you than his DROP EVERYTHING AND START WITH THE BABYMAKING idea, and I don't think it's asking a lot to give you a couple of years before you are ready to move in with him.
posted by lollusc at 6:58 PM on March 21, 2014

I don't think you want to have kids with this guy, not any time soon and probably not any time far either. You just don't sound like you really wanna. And what everyone else said about "if it's not hell yes, then it's a no." He'll find another you in a minute because guys in their 30's who want kids will be snapped up, and you're not really doing him or you any favors by stalling and stalling and hoping you change your mind if you wait long enough.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:49 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Look at what you wrote:
>>I don't have many years left to give him that.

Don't have kids as a favor to someone else. It sounds like your career is more important to you than having kids. Think about what you will regret on your deathbed. You don't actually KNOW what you will regret, but what your first instinct is when you think about this question, will tell you a lot.

You of course don't have to have only one or the other, but rarely are both of exact equal importance. You have to prioritize the one that is most important to you, and if the other doesn't happen, then so be it. I think you know in your heart what it is, but maybe don't want to face it?
posted by ravioli at 7:54 PM on March 21, 2014

Best answer: I somehow missed the part of your question where you've been together for five years. Kids are big and hugely disruptive and don't need to happen right now, but you don't want to live together. That's a normal kind of commitment step that people taking. It's fine to want to experience living on your own, but it's also fine to want to experience being single, and he's probably wondering if that's what you want.

If you're honest with yourself -- really honest with yourself -- and you think you might want these things with him in the future, just not yet, then it's not "wrong" of you to ask for more time. But I don't think you're going to get it. He does want these things, and why should he wait on the hope that one day you might want them too? Why should he wait for someone who, five years into the relationship (and in your 30s), doesn't want even the commitment of living with him? Kids are a career issue; cohabitation is not.

He's going to have to resent you and work himself up to breaking up with you, because he loves you and doesn't want to start over. But eventually he will, because he needs more than you're willing to offer. And, come on. Really. This isn't about kids, or your career. Do some soul-searching, and I think you will find that you don't want to commit to this guy. It's been more than long enough -- if you were ever going to want to commit to this guy, you already would by now.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:19 PM on March 21, 2014

Response by poster: I never cease to be amazed by how wonderful this community is. I read your answers and each one brought tears to my eyes. Thank you everyone for your insight. I favourited those answers that caused my head to nod in agreement but every response truly touched my heart.

When I was a teen I saw my close friends at 15 or 16 get into arranged marriages with men old enough to be their father or grandfather... And that put me off marriage, in part because they stopped going to school even when they were super smart... But also because they started having babies when I was clueless about it and it was something mysterious to me... I was so accustomed to fearing it, without seeing how it could be a normal aspect of adulthood. Now that I am with someone not of that culture I see how it is wrong to hold them to the standards I am used to, as well as how wrong it is to be fearful of their feelings that are normal to how they are raised. At the same time I am happy to know that what I feel is not weird or crazy and there is nothing defective in me.

Everytime I log onto this site I feel I learn something new. Thank you everyone for your wonderful words of wisdom. Maybe you think you are just writing words on a website but it does affect others and touch their hearts in a meaningful way.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 5:17 PM on March 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

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