I think I want a baby – but not with my husband.
July 9, 2016 12:18 AM   Subscribe

I’m married, mid 30s, and of course, it feels like everyone I know is having children. I love children. I’ve told myself again and again that I’m not going to be a mother. I thought I had made peace with it, and was pretty convinced I did not even want to be a mother. That’s why this seems like a huge betrayal to myself and to my husband....

My husband and I have been married 10yrs, and we both agreed that kids weren’t for us.
Here is the upsetting (and shameful) part my husband doesn’t know: I think I want children, but not with him. I love him, but I don’t want to be his parent-partner, if that makes sense. I already feel as though I have to act like his mother at times, and it makes my skin crawl. The idea of having to do this while also being a mother to a baby is horrific to me. He is working on taking on more responsibility, really trying – but even at the rate he’s moving, he isn’t going to be the imagined parent I believe that I (think I) need for child-rearing.

The problem is: I love him. I don’t want to leave him. And it would crush him if I left him for another person for the purpose of raising a kid, when he probably thinks he’d be an okay parent and would offer to support me in his own way (except that I strongly suspect it would never be enough). Please believe me when I say that I truly feel 100% in my reptilian brain that my current partner, although perfect for me in a non-child relationship, will very likely not be the partner I need them to be. They may become more of a burden.

Problem number two: I’m getting older and I need to figure this out while I still can have kids.
I don’t need a perfect co-parent, but I do need someone who I don’t have to wring assistance out of.

Has anyone had a similar experience, and how did it work out?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This seems to me like a huge mixed bag of things to work through. Just one opinion as to where to apply the crowbar first:

I already feel as though I have to act like his mother at times

Your skin crawls for the right reason. I have not seen a single relationship where that kind of feeling was fully justified, let alone written in stone. Why is it that you think your husband needs you as a mother-replacement? What would realistically happen if you refused him that service? Would he survive living alone? Would something terrible happen if you didn't (say) clean up his strewn socks after him or remind him of his dentist's appointment? Etc.

Many men perhaps act like they need a mother in their lives, in want of self-knowledge, life experience and better judgment, but deep in they hate it just as much as everyone else. Most men actually fare much better when their partner is just: a partner, not a mother.

Then there's this fragment:
...would offer to support me in his own way (except that I strongly suspect it would never be enough).
It's worth investigating this sentiment as well. Why do you suspect his support not to be sufficient? Stuff like this has an uncanny ability to work out like a self-fulfilling prophecy, so you want to get rid of this notion as soon as ever possible, kids or no kids. Or you may anyway ask yourself whether your relationship is really functional in that ultimate way that we all dream of.
posted by Namlit at 1:54 AM on July 9, 2016 [14 favorites]

What I'm trying to say, just to add this towards answering the question directly, no you shouldn't have kids together before working these things out. A an extra kid in a household that already has an assumed kid-husband isn't anything to have.
posted by Namlit at 1:58 AM on July 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's not shameful to recognize that your partner isn't in a place where they could be a good parent, and it's not shameful to recognize that they're probably never going to get there. Some people make crappy parents. That's just an unfortunate fact of life. Babies and kids are a lot of work; I can understand why you want a co-parent instead of someone you have to drag along with you. I think it's also true that your husband is going to be upset if you choose to leave him, no matter what the reasons are, so I think his unhappiness about your specific reasons for leaving shouldn't factor too much into your decision.

All that being said, I think maybe a good first step is to make an appointment with your GP and tell them that you're starting to consider having a baby. I don't know if you can get it just by asking, but I believe there's a bloodwork test that you can do that measures your AMH levels. That can tell you the basic status of your ovarian reserve, which could help you figure out how quickly you have to make this decision.

Then I'd think about the following questions: how is it going to affect your relationship with your husband if your baby-yearning gets stronger and stronger while you continue to be sure that you can't parent with him? Are you prepared for the possibility that you could split from your partner and not find a new person to have babies with, or that you could find that new person but not quickly enough to have babies with them? Do you want a baby enough that you'd be willing to be a single mom?

Anyway, there are no easy answers to this. But I think you should try not to heap shame on your own head for thinking about it, and if you talk to your husband about it and he promises that he'd be a good dad, then I think you should consider that promise in the context of what you know about him, and not get caught up in hoping that he'll magically step up to the plate somehow.
posted by colfax at 3:35 AM on July 9, 2016 [12 favorites]

I've seen several women come at this from the other side. That is, they wanted kids, were getting older, and either rushed to find or decided to settle with someone who everyone could see was not a great partner. It has not been an easy road for any of them, and they are in many ways parenting alone AND having to negotiate bad relationships.

Choose wisely.
posted by OmieWise at 3:45 AM on July 9, 2016 [13 favorites]

Your husband doesn't sound nearly as awful as the husband in this situation. Still you might find it helpful to read the comments from the many people who weighed in. Some were the children of mediocre fathers (and worse). Some were the partners of husbands too needy and ineffectual to be good parents. The situations are eye opening.
posted by Elsie at 4:14 AM on July 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Don't do it. You'll end up being the default parent, and it will destroy your relationship for many years, if not forever. If he can't take responsibility for his life now, he won't be able to for a baby.

The only way I can see this working is if A) he earns a ton of money that lets you afford outsourcing everything and/or you staying at home (if you want that) or B) he agrees to be a stay at home dad and does the majority of the chidcare, and you can afford to outsource the housework he inevitably doesn't do.

It's no joke to be a modern woman in an unequal household. Soul killing.
posted by mrs. sock at 5:21 AM on July 9, 2016 [34 favorites]

Resentment over feeling like a parent instead of a spouse is, IMO, one of (if not THE most) reliable indicator that the relationship is in trouble. This pattern is hardwired so deeply in the men who live inside it... honestly, if you are already in this boat, I only feel that sinking is inevitable.

Is it possible you are looking to having a baby as a choice to give yourself a legitimate focus for all the "mothering" behaviors you are tired of engaging in when it comes to your husband? When a child is there, your husband will have no choice but to come second. All the caretaking he's used to getting from your current dynamic will disappear because you will now be all about that baby. He will be even more marginalized. Will this provoke him to choose to leave? Is that your subconscious hope? if you and he are divided now... don't add a child to the mix when things are so damaged already. Fix your issues first.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:27 AM on July 9, 2016 [26 favorites]

One thing that is unclear to me from your question: You and your husband decided children weren't for you. Would he even be open to having a child now? Your decision to leave will be much easier if this turns out to be a deal breaker for him. (Though I understand that it might be tough to figure out his true feelings about it without tipping your hand.)
posted by ejs at 6:06 AM on July 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Many things will be a lot simpler if you are a solo parent from the start rather than having to co-parent (whether married or divorced) with an unreliable man-child. Obviously other issues will still be in play, especially trying to deal with pregnancy/babyhood by yourself, especially if you are in the US... but even if you can outsource everything and reduce your expectations for him to 'happy fun dad who plays with the baby now and then and maybe does specific tasks when requested, or maybe not', this seems like a recipe for resentment and shoving down emotions until you develop an ulcer the size of Cleveland.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:07 AM on July 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is too complex for me to feel like I can give you a good full answer and the folks above have touched on a lot of the points that I wanted to make and done it better than I likely could have, but I want to offer one piece of perspective that seems to be missing so far, in response to this part of your question:

It would crush him if I left him for another person for the purpose of raising a kid.

Doing that isn't actually a realistic option. You can't realistically find a better partner, then leave your husband for that person, and then have a kid with them. You're not free to search for a better partner while you're still married to your current husband, and the kind of men who would date you right now probably do not have the integrity necessary to make great partners and co-parents. Also, if you have a now, by your husband, your husband will likely always be a major part of that kid's life, and you've said already that you don't want that. (I have a friend with two kids by a now-ex-husband who is a lot like your husband, and he's a constant source of grief for her and will be at least until her kids are grown, because he's still legally their father.) Rather, you would have to first leave your husband, then search for a new partner with whom you'd like to raise a kid, and then have a kid with them.

That second part, the part where you search for and find a new life partner who you're sure you want to co-parent woth, would likely take several years at a minimum. I mean, it takes most people years of being in a relationship with someone just to decide that they want to have a kid with that person, and you'd likely go through several shorter relationships first in which you evaluate and then reject (or are rejected by) possible mates before settling on someone who really works for you, someone who is a good partner to you and who you think would make a good co-parent, someone who reciprocates your regard and who also wants you to be their co-parent and life partner.

If you're OK with the idea that it might take ten years to get to that point, or that you may never find a suitable partner and co-parent (because that's a possibility too) then you can embark on this journey, but it could be a long road and you can't realistically start down it while you're still with your husband.

Much more realistic, if you want to have a kid sometime soon, would be for you to commit to being a single mother. Then the plan would be to leave your husband, get pregnant in a no-strings-attached way (not by your husband) and raise your kid on your own while also perhaps looking for a partner who you and kid both adore and who wants to be involved in both of your lives. That's not an easy road either, but to me it seems much more achievable if you want to have a kid without your current husband anytime soon. Being a single mother is a legitimate path, a difficult one but one that millions of women are walking every day, many of them very successfully. If you go into it with open eyes and a clear plan, you too have every chance of being a successful single mom, and raising a great kid whether or not you ever find a partner to co-parent with.

I'm sorry if the above comes off as harsh—I absolutely sympathize with your situation and think it's very smart and brave of you to realize and admit to yourself that you want a kid but not with your husband. It takes a lot of self-knowledge and courage to be able to acknowledge such a painful truth, even just to yourself. But there's no easy way to just swap in a new, better partner—if you want to pursue motherhood, you're going to have to begin with a divorce and then work forward from there. It's OK if you want to divorce over this, you're absolutely allowed that. But you have to take your steps one at a time if you want to do this right. You don't want to do it wrong, not if you're planning to bring a kid—a tiny helpless person who never asked to be born in the first place—into your life. The stuff I've outlined above is the barest bones of two possible plans. It would be up to you to flesh them out. But from over here where I'm standing, they look like your two main choices under the circumstances.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:01 AM on July 9, 2016 [36 favorites]

First off, the fact that your husband treats you like his mother is obviously a problem whether you want kids or not. I'm glad you say that he's working on it (and I do hope you've both read the emotional labor megathread), and I hope that "is working on it" really does translate to "is making visible and lasting changes in a way that has already improved our relationship." That's critical no matter what.

So IF you feel your relationship with your husband is a good one and that he is making effective progress in maturing/taking responsibility, but you still don't think the two of you should/will be parents together, then the decision comes down to which you want more - your marriage, or the chance at having a kid. Was your previous decision not to have a kid something that came from you, or were you always on the fence? What is it about having kids that appeals to you now? If your friends didn't all have babies right now do you think you'd be feeling this way? You say you love kids; are there other ways you could have them in your life without having your own?

It sounds like a lot of answers so far are assuming the fact that you think you want a baby takes primacy - and if it does for you that's fine - but I would also encourage you to really delve in to that one.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:24 AM on July 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

For what it's worth, I have known men that were inattentive spouses that stepped up and became more responsible when they had kids. The whole concept that making families makes adults. They did tend to be in their early 20s rather than mid 30s, however.

I have known one loveable doofus in his late 30s that became a parent. He never quite got the grown up living thing down, but he did take on almost all of the childcare duties past the nursing stage.

Is there any likelihood that he can step up his professional career and bring in money that can be used to hire help/services that your mothering of him currently provides?
posted by Candleman at 9:16 AM on July 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do you think he will be a bad parent logistically or emotionally? I think that's a key difference. If he's the kind of person who is disorganized and doesn't clean up after himself you can work around it. If he has anger issues, is selfish or blames other people for his problems it's much worse. A child is ok in a messy house, but lacking a loving parental relationship matters.

Seconding this. I'm speaking as someone who is the default parent of a 2.5 year old and whose disorganized husband is the default wage earner. Yes, it's frustrating sometimes to be the household manager. No, he hasn't been to the dentist in five years and I roll my eyes at him about it. Yes, his household office is filled with socks. However, he is a loving and supportive partner in every way that matters and a phenomenal father. I've been sick over the last few days and watching him skip off to music class with my daughter in my place, do all the cooking and cleaning, and then wake up early to work today so that we can eat has just been a lovely reminder that I'm glad to have him on my team.

I think that step one is to talk gently and lovingly with your husband about where you are in terms of wanting children and what you would need to get there practically. If part of the concern is that he's previously expressed ambivalence about kids, I understand how scary that is--my husband and I agreed to be kid-free when we were first married, and that first conversation was terrifying. But you need to talk to him honestly about your concerns. If he's as kind as loving as you say, give him a chance.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:54 AM on July 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

If he makes good money, plan for 6 day a week nanny or if you will be a stay at home mom a full time housekeeper who can babysit. Lots of women happily have this arrangement with husbands whose careers require very long hours or frequent travel, even if they don't seem to need mothering or other maintenance. There's no need to keep score about HOW he participates as long as he DOES.
posted by MattD at 10:06 AM on July 9, 2016

TLDNR all of the answers. I was on the other side. I was the one who didn't want children, was too selfish for them and frankly, too immature. I found myself unexpectedly pregnant at age 30...with someone I would have NOT picked to father my children...if I had wanted them in the first place. I contemplated abortion, but in the end, I chose to have the baby. The first thing that surprised me was that once the baby came, I GREW UP AND BECAME RESPONSIBLE! Although the baby's father and I did not work out, he has now grown up and my children (we ended up having 2) live with him though the school year and HE BECAME A RESPONSIBLE PARENT. All I'm saying is that having a child really matures you...quickly...and maybe the same would hold true for him. I know that I was married previously and was even told by my then husband that he thought I would be a horrible parent. Turns out, he was wrong.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 1:06 PM on July 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Some people step up and grow up when they have kids. Some people don't, though. I've known men who became fathers and never stepped up their game—they are bad fathers, usually absent or mostly-absent fathers. It breaks my heart to think about.

You can't know ahead of time if your husband would step up or not. All you know is that right now you don't think he'd make a good father. Are you willing to roll the dice for your future? Are you willing to roll the dice for the future of your child, a person who can't give their consent because they don't yet exist but who, if born, would be a complete individual with all the needs and desires and rights of any other human?

I know that I personally would not. To me, that would be very irresponsible—possibly even immoral. I've seen that turn out tragically more than once. Better no father than a bad one or an absent one. Better to be a single mother and free than a single mother with a boat anchor of a father hanging from her neck.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:45 PM on July 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just want to throw one in for the man-child who transformed with fatherhood. I dated a father of two young kids who was so damned irresponsible, uncommunicative and my god, what a child--except with his kids. He was like a different person with them, gave them like 150 to 200%. His thing was that he didn't want to be like his parents had been with him and he made damn sure he wasn't. His kids had his ear at all times and maybe his biggest issue as a father was that he cared too much if they liked him. They are damn healthy and wonderful and a lot of it is thanks to him. But what a godawful bf he was. So there's that data point.
posted by kewpiesockpuppetdoll at 4:49 PM on July 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

That’s why this seems like a huge betrayal to myself and to my husband....

I just wanted to say, changing your mind on this issue is not a betrayal. Of yourself or your husband.

My husband and I were together ten years before we decided to have a kid. We did not want children. I had my reasons, he had his. And, yeah, when our whole cohort started having kids, it did make us think. One day, after a lot of my own personal thinking and, yes, thoughts that this would be a type of betrayal of myself and convictions...I broached the topic. We were having a weekend away and doing some long, aimless beach-walking. (The kind of thing that is so easy to do before you have a kid!) And I said, "Do you think if we don't have a kid, we'll look back and regret it?" He was quiet and then said, "Yeah." That was an opening to a long conversation and a series of conversations over the two years before we had our baby.

Also, I really did not know what kind of father he would be. I was terrified that something in him would "switch" and he would turn into an awful person. (This is my father baggage speaking.) We talked through loads of things including my fears and his fears. Every individual comes into parenthood with their own baggage, their own unique abilities and blind spots and has to react to their changing family in the best way they can...and sometimes with professional help, false starts and frustrations.

Lastly, you won't get what you want or need if you only ask for what you think you'll get. Ask for your 100% and see where it goes. Right now, you are starting to think that your 100% is having a kid. And your fear in your current relationship is that your husband will not step up. I think you have to broach the kid topic first and even see where it goes. If your husband is interested in the idea then you need to have some frank conversations. What kind of dad does he think he would be? What kind of mother do you think you will be? What kind of parenting styles do you come from? Etc.. Think about your future vision, imagine it and then voice it. It'll be okay. It's not a betrayal. This is life.
posted by amanda at 7:18 PM on July 9, 2016 [11 favorites]

I was in a similar situation to you a few years ago. Relatively content marriage - but I knew I didn't want to have children with my husband because I felt he was just too immature/self-centered to handle the intensity of parenting - at least the way I would want in a co-parent. We already had two relatively high maintenance dogs (that HE had wanted) that he did very little to take care of. I knew I didnt want that dynamic with a kid - I didn't want to be the default parent. As a couple we did fine though - we were both pretty independent and did our own things a lot, so it worked out.

Fast forward a bit to our late twenties (me)/early thirties (him), and he ended up asking for a divorce because, essentially, I was too boring for him and didn't like to go to bars enough or have parties at our place most weekends (literally his words). We divorced, I kept the dogs (he asked to see them once post-divorce), he had fun painting the town. He's a good guy, honestly, but after about six months of being apart and dating other individuals, I realized just how man-childish he was in some ways. (Like, I look back at how much praise he wanted for cooking a meal or walking the dogs - basic adulting - and, yeah, wow.)

I ended up dating and marrying my now-husband, and after a year, we mutually agreed to embark on the crazy and wonderful project of having a family together. We now have an amazing five week old son! :) And, oh my god, I am so glad I didn't try to do this with my first husband. Even a few weeks in, I can tell that the amount of self-sacrifice and both parents feeling like they're doing the majority of the work (because you're both trying so hard), and the emotional maternity needed to navigate through all of this is something that my first husband was just not ready for - and may never be. That's cool, but I'm sooooo glad I'm not parenting with him. I would have stayed married to him If he hadn't asked for a divorce, but I'm much happier now than I was then, and I feel like my husband is a much better life partner for me. (Also new spouse is loving and wonderful and took super fussy baby solo duty while I got in a three hour nap today, which is the sort of mini miracle you have to give each other every day while in the newborn trenches.)

In short: omg, being a parent is wonderful and hard, and don't do it with anyone you aren't 100% sure will be an awesome partner with you. And you can live a fulfilling life without having children, but the whole shebang - pregnancy and labor and babyhood and childhood, I'm sure - is a pretty amazing life experience to have.

Sorry, this was written on a lot of sleep deprivation!
posted by Jaclyn at 8:36 PM on July 9, 2016 [13 favorites]

I fell pregnant accidentally to a man-child when i was 25 (he's a decade older). He was and is pretty useless. We split up when the baby was 4 months old. I am now married to someone else, and have 2 children with him, so 3 total. He is a brilliant and responsible parent and partner.

I didn't make any decisions until they were immediately necessary. Like we didn't plan a pregnancy, so i only had to decide whether or not to terminate (and decided not to based on previous miscarriages). And then i decided to leave based on the merits of the situation at hand. And so on. Maybe this made it easier for me. I could never have planned to leave in order to have my children, and would have found it hard to leave him, useless as he was, based only on my own unhappiness. Watching him be useless with a defenceless infant threw everything into sharper relief. You can forgive a partner carelessly ordering takeout and not asking if you want any. You find it much harder to forgive them forgetting to feed the screaming-in-hunger baby or making up a non-sterile bottle because they can't be bothered waiting for the steriliser.

Anywho, i don't have that much to add to what was said above. Depending on the specific issues that are bothering you your husband might make a fantastic responsible father, and he might not. In our case my ex manages to be emotionally fairly okay for the few hours a week he has care of our kid. He couldn't maintain it if they lived together, so really my leaving has given him to be the best father figure he can be - he can hold it for a few hours a week. More than a couple of days and he starts to fray at the edges though.

On thing i would warn you about though is heredity. Part of why my ex is bad at adulting is that he has ADHD and a kind of autism called Pathological Demand Avoidance. We became aware of this AFTER our child was diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger's. Her diagnoses led to his. It was infuriating living with him, it isn't always a bed of roses seeing those infuriating traits in the child i am raising or dealing with the two of them together. For example when she was diagnosed with ADHD he refused to discuss medication even though she was having desperately difficult times at school, because, "she's fine at my house" (yes, when completely autonomous and without constraint or demands she can cope well). He told her they would "change her personality" so she became terrified to take them and accused me of wanting "a different kid". I had to take and indeed force ALL the medical decisions, thankfully she is on a great medication now and doing much better in general. He no longer attends any of her therapy or treatment appointments (he asked if he could stop because "they upset him") and it is all on me. My youngest has a different father and also has Autism, so it's in the genes on both sides, but i just wanted to mention it. His child might be very like him and it can cause immense difficulties in ways it's hard to imagine in advance.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 6:27 AM on July 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Your husband is your life partner. You made a commitment to him to stay together even when times got rough, and apparently you did so with the understanding that neither one of you planned on having children.

Now your feelings have changed, and you are seeking the counsel of strangers, who--and I want to be astronomically blunt about this--are piling onto the bad things you have to say about him and giving you a lot of advice that leaves him out of the picture. Please sit down with your husband and tell him how you feel. Tell him about your reservations. Tell him everything. That's what love is.
posted by Mr. Fig at 8:54 AM on July 10, 2016 [11 favorites]

I feel like people haven't recommended couples therapy enough in this thread. To me, this sounds like a discussion that could be really facilitated by talking about it with the guidance of a therapist.
posted by daisystomper at 1:00 PM on July 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm linking to the emotional labor mega-thread that was referenced earlier because it's too perfect and relevant to this situation not to share.

I definitely feel as if honesty is the best first step here. If you both agreed to be married under the assumption that you don't want children, and now you think you might, that is a big potential change to the contract. Even just sitting down and letting him know that this is something that you would like to put future children back on the table for yourself has the potential to either inspire him to up his game as an equal relationship partner or, if he REALLY doesn't want kids, can be an intro point to amicably sever the relationship so you can both have or not have kids accordingly.

After that, it becomes a matter of show don't tell. If he can show you he's able to start being the type of partner you might feel comfortable raising a child with, that sounds ideal. But change is hard, and dynamics are comfortable, even when they're not healthy. Nthing couple's counseling once you've laid the groundwork for future expectations and think you might want to work on this rather than pack it in. (BTW, no judgment if you want to pack it in--I am all the happier for not dragging an unwilling partner kicking and screaming into adulthood.)
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:17 AM on July 11, 2016

After reading this, it is patently obvious that you and your husband should probably do some sort of couples counseling.

You have no real data points to determine whether or not he'd step up as a parent or not.

What kind of parent do you "imagine" any co-parent is going to be? And how much of this situation is your unrealistically high expectations of your husband (or any co-parent for that matter)?
posted by PsuDab93 at 8:46 AM on July 12, 2016

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