Resources for partner unsure about parenthood take 2
August 28, 2017 9:50 AM   Subscribe

This was me-- well, I was the partner unsure about parenthood. I still am. (To be honest, I'm not sure how I missed this question a week or so ago, but I did.) Things came to a head this weekend when we got far enough into talking about separation and divorce to start splitting assets. I need the aforementioned resources for unsure partners more than ever, with some more specifics about what's going to help under the cut.

Thanks to all the previous answerers, by the way, very helpful. And thanks to most of them for sticking up for the no-mention period; I appreciate the thought, but bottling it up led us here, so now I'm ready to hear it. To be clear, I'm in the "no (but willing to have my mind changed)" camp, not the "maybe someday, not now" camp. The latter is a lot more common but it's not me.

Obligatory talk of therapy: we've both committed to couples' counseling and individual therapy. Intake appointments soon.

Where we stand now: I now know that my wife is dead-set on having a child. I have not come to a decision, but she's given me until the end of the year to work on it, and I will (see bit about loads of therapy). That's instead of just thinking about it, turning it over in my head, which is what I've been doing for... months? I don't remember when exactly we had that "I'll think about it if you stop bringing it up" conversation. I clearly didn't think about it hard enough. I didn't know how hard it's been for her or else I would have started this work a while ago. I'm a procrastinator.

I know that if I can't come to a decision by the end of the year, or say, "No, still not for me," we're headed for separation and divorce, which we were staring down the barrel of for about 48 hours this weekend. I don't want that. I've realized in short order that I want to want what she wants, to have a kid together. Hell, I want to be okay with it; it'd at least be a start.

That's why I'm turning to you fine folks again: I'm looking for resources, especially longer-form like books or podcasts, that describe how maybe, just maybe, it's possible to maybe not turn one's life upside-down by having a kid. (Yes, just one. At least that's the current ask.) To not have the highs heightened and the lows lowered; that ain't for me. This book was mentioned in my wife's question (thanks, CMcG), but the libertarian bent of the author (Cato and all), also mentioned in the reviews, freaks me right the fuck out and I'd be searching it for holes the whole way through. Something a little more socialist along the same lines would do nicely.

I totally understand if that's not your experience. Telling me that, and that kids are unpredictable, is not what I need right now.

I'm satisfied with my life now-- financially very stable, job I really like (working from home, no less), house we're very happy with (though it is only 2br and one is my office). I'd really like to read/listen to accounts (again, preferably longer-form than a blog post because it's harder to hide the bullshit) of how it's possible to maintain that satisfaction, help give my wife the life (with a kid) that she needs, and maybe get a little something extra out of it for myself.

Maybe something more Socratic would do nicely, and be a good supplement to therapy, like this podcast-- thanks rainbowbrite. It's nigh impossible to get a neutral, objective perspective, but having two voices seems like it would help. Ideal might be the firsthand account of someone who was reluctant at the idea, not immediately goo-goo after birth (might happen, might not; don't want to rely on it), and maybe continues to be more than a little ambivalent about parenthood.

Nothing religious, nothing that suggests that desire to have children is a central part of being human. I was (and continue to be) human for 32 years without that desire, and dang do I get mad at folks who suggest otherwise.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Very, very gently...I respect your relationship and I'm glad to both you and your partner do, too. Something here is going to upend your life whether it is Parenthood or Divorce. That is the bare bones of this: Change Is Coming For You.

Lot's of times, Change happens to us and we can not choose the timing or the type. This is how life works. I know you like where things are now on paper, yet here are changing life circumstances knocking on your door. The only thing a few sessions of therapy will help you clarify is which change you want. Putting off the timeline for a decision won't magically change you.

I will advise that the longer you dither in speaking your truth, the harder this will be. Use discernment choosing your tools, procrastinating the outcome will be more painful, I think. I wish you both a mature solution. We're all in process! No resource can tell you fully what divorce or parenthood might feel like, although it is possible to worry about either endlessly. I know this is a non-answer of sorts, except it is not. Anyone offering a solution that kicks the ultimate decision down the road too far isn't offering you and your partner anything good.
posted by jbenben at 10:06 AM on August 28, 2017 [36 favorites]

it's possible to maybe not turn one's life upside-down by having a kid is a bit vague. What exactly are you scared of? You won't be able to travel? You'll never get a lie-in again? You'll lose your financial security? Your kid might be severely disabled and require care for the rest of their/your life? (These are all among my worries and reasons for noping out!)

As you want to change your mind, I feel like if you can identify your specific concerns, you'll have more luck finding counterpoints to those experiences that you can reassure yourself with. Good luck.
posted by corvine at 10:24 AM on August 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

One thing to consider is that having children at 40+ is a lot different from having children at 32. Your choice isn't just between "having children" and "not having children" it's also between "having children relatively young" and "having children at advanced maternal/paternal age." (This is assuming you become part of the "someday but not now" camp, regardless of what happens in your relationship with your wife) Generally, it only gets more difficult the older you get and the odds of conceiving a child with certain genetic disorders goes up. It is easier financially, but IMHO having and raising children is really more about time and energy rather than finances, assuming a base level of financial stability.
posted by stockpuppet at 10:26 AM on August 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

As the parent to one (1) child, I agree with corvine's queries. You need to get clearer about your reasons for feeling ambivalent about having a child. In my experience, some of these concerns are totally valid (I mean, they're all valid in as much as they're your feels and your feels are valid), and some are a bit overblown by people who haven't actually done the thing. And there's also a lot of intersection between individual personalities and how big of a deal some of the logistical and emotional concerns are. For some people, the sudden inability to just up and disappear for 6 months is a (again, totally valid) cause for major psychic turmoil, for others it's a complete non-issue.

Mapping the precise geography of your concerns, fears and misgivings seems like a good place to start off your therapeutic work.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:33 AM on August 28, 2017 [11 favorites]

As other folks mention, people's reservations about having children are really varied. It sounds like you haven't yet given enough thought to this to even know what questions to ask, which makes your question super challenging, and makes me wonder what exactly you've been thinking about for months. What part of your life do you want to maintain? Are there parts of your life you don't mind changing? Some parts will change, but you may be able to shift those changes around by going in conscious of what you want. Are there parts of your life that are less important than keeping your partner in your life? Are there parts of your life that you don't mind changing for 1-5 years and settling back to normal later? I found that the first year was seriously destabilizing but after that I could have most things I valued. Are there things you want to do beforehand? Are there aspects of parenthood you'd prefer to never deal with? My husband and I had some agreements going in about various minor responsibilities. Depending on your concerns, a deciding-on-parenthood book may make less sense than a visit with a financial advisor, genetic counselor, couple's therapist, or spending some time interacting with children of various ages.

When we were deciding this, a friend recommended Maybe One; I didn't end up reading it but they ended up becoming a parent, and they are pretty similar to your self-description in terms of perspective on life and society.

Anyways, I'm someone who was in a position very similar to yours, and we decided to have a child. I adore the kid. The world is blessed to have him in it. I don't know if I'd do it again, knowing what I know now. But then, I also can't say how I'd feel seven years on if I had chosen to remain child-free at the immediate cost of my marriage. Neither choice is easy.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:03 AM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

As someone who decided not to have children, married a partner with the same mindset, and we have no regrets, I will tell you this: it's not just kids that are unpredictable. Life is too.

If you say no to this just because you fear change, that is no talisman against change. Your stable job, your house, your interests? No guarantees your satisfaction will remain. Your control over the economy, the whims of your management, your tastes and physical comfort/fitness/health? Illusory at best. If you get hung up on not being able to sleep in If Kids, how will you feel if five years from now your body turns into a damn Morning Person and you're up at 5 like it or not, so that argument no longer holds water? What if you find yourself totally into a completely different hobby (maybe one that doesn't even exist yet!) that's awesome to do with kids?

It's just that we are so prone to catastrophize, and say "I like my life the way it is" and conveniently forget that liking your life is more a skill and less a specific set of circumstances. Most people are also prone to applying an overly rosy filter to the thing we think we want, and imagining a fancier life than is actually likely to occur.

Just something to keep in mind, as you do these inventories of what you specifically think is going to happen to you if you have kids, to go back through those inventories and consider the narratives you've wrapped around the "no kids" version of those outcomes. It's entirely possible that you will still come to the same conclusion, but it's worth doing the exercise. (It's worth doing for a lot of reasons, not just the "kids or no kids" discussion, too. Financial decisions, career trajectory, lifestyle choices. This seems like a good point in your life to have a hard think about it all.)
posted by Lyn Never at 11:26 AM on August 28, 2017 [64 favorites]

When I was trying to decide whether or not I wanted kids with my then-partner, I read Maybe Baby: 28 Writers Tell the Truth About Skepticism, Infertility, Baby Lust, Childlessness, Ambivalence, and How They Made the Biggest Decision of Their Lives.

I think it has the sort of longer form thought process you might be interested in.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:37 AM on August 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

To not have the highs heightened and the lows lowered; that ain't for me.

Uh, this has been the opposite of my experience of parenting. I had a quiet, cozy, even and controlled life before having a kid, sleeping until noon every Saturday.

I have never been happier than when my child became so happy on seeing me that he would, like, forgot how to eat. I have never felt more full of despair than while sitting in the hospital while hooked up to a milk-pumping machine in the hospital, sobbing and feeling like a failure as mother.

My husband and I sat on the couch last night, crying our eyes out while we listened to a Bright Eyes song, because we realized that the first verse could be about a newborn asking his parents to love him, and I FUCKING HATE CONOR OBERST.
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:41 AM on August 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

I know that if I can't come to a decision by the end of the year, or say, "No, still not for me," we're headed for separation and divorce, which we were staring down the barrel of for about 48 hours this weekend. I don't want that. I've realized in short order that I want to want what she wants, to have a kid together. Hell, I want to be okay with it; it'd at least be a start.

As part of a large peer group that all had kids around the same time, I can say this of the reluctant or "convinced" parents: Look, you're getting divorced, either before or after you fuck up a kid(s). Your choice.
posted by French Fry at 12:02 PM on August 28, 2017 [38 favorites]

As the parent of an awesome, but sometimes challenging child, I was going to say about the same thing Lyn Never did, but not nearly as well. My life and my family's life was improved immeasurably by adopting the mindset that saying no to change doesn't equal permanent freedom from change.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:08 PM on August 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't think this is what you want to hear, and it will probably sound terribly harsh, but the only way I can make sense out of my parents marriage and my childhood is to think of it as a cautionary tale. If some good can come out of it in the form of giving someone another perspective to consider, maybe it was worth it.

You can't talk yourself into wanting children if you don't.
Having children to preserve a relationship seldom works. Usually it just delays the breakup, which is more difficult once children are involved.
Kids aren't stupid; they know when they're not wanted no matter how much adults try to hide it. They can also tell when something is fundamentally wrong between their parents.
The only good reason to bring a child into the world is that you really really deep in your heart want one and can't imagine a meaningful life without them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:02 PM on August 28, 2017 [35 favorites]

And yeah, on the much more cynical side: I've watched a lot of my peers, all women, ground down to dust under the usually-but-not-always nearly-imperceptible abuse of a man who said yes to shut her up, hates the inconvenience of a child and a parenting partner, thinks working is the extent of his responsibilities, refuses to coparent in good faith, actively undermines her parenting, gaslights her about the extent of her responsibilities, hates her, resents her, makes her uncomfortable and uncertain in her own home, and then fucks around with custody and legal bullshit and more gaslighting and weaponized parenting just to punish her after the divorce, which she will only resort to when she realizes she's been putting her child through hell for years.

You do need to be sure that's not going to be you, if you proceed.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:08 PM on August 28, 2017 [69 favorites]

I think you're asking for resources that don't exist. There aren't books or blogs or podcasts about how having kids is no big deal and it doesn't change your life. I mean, statistically, there have to some people for whom raising children takes up as much time and mental space as an interesting hobby, like wind surfing. But for the vast vast majority of the population, raising another human being to adulthood is the Ultimate Big Deal, and that's what you're going to find literature on. And also what you should be ready, if not enthusiastic, to take on as a full partner with your wife.
posted by whitewall at 1:15 PM on August 28, 2017 [17 favorites]

Where we stand now: I now know that my wife is dead-set on having a child. I have not come to a decision, but she's given me until the end of the year to work on it

To be frank, the "end of the year" is not a very, very long way away. I feel like something major would have to happen between now and then for you to suddenly want a kid and then personally I would take issue with the fact that your mind can be changed so radically in such a short amount of time.

For example, if between now and the end of the year you suddenly think "Yes! I want to have a baby with you" how can your wife be safe in the knowledge that you won't change your mind back once it's too late?

It's such a massive decision for you both, ultimately there is nothing wrong with either of you. I too, don't want kids and some days I think there must be something wrong with me because I don't. But my husband ALSO doesn't want kids, which cements our choice together.

I think you both deserve what you are seeking. Your wife deserves to have a baby with someone who 100% wants a baby with her, and all due respect, I just don't think that's you based on the few words you have written here.
posted by JenThePro at 1:24 PM on August 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

While the desire to have kids is neither universal nor essential, communities with kids are universal (in the sense of, there are no human cultures without them, not that every single community has kids), and there are aspects of adult life that snap into place after having kids, small bits of social structure (sometimes not so small) that either went unnoticed or were confusing before.

nthing the comments about, figure out what it is you're worried you'll lose by having a child, and whether the emotional benefits are worth that loss. If one of the fears is "my wife will no longer put me first"... you've already lost that. Kid/no kid doesn't fix that part.

Also seconding the note that kids aren't stupid and having a kid to stay married when you don't want the kid, is a horrible thing to do to a child.

Kids are people. There's a lot of work involved, especially when they're young, but the key aspect of having a child is that you are sharing a whole lot of intimate moments, good bad and other, with someone who is currently a stranger. You would get to help shape that stranger's personality (parenting is a terrifying power trip) but not decide on it.

If what's throwing you off is the several years of short sleep, messy house, weird childproofing adaptations, random noises and occasional incidents of terror - those pass; you get over them; you endure the annoying parts and enjoy what you can of the cute parts.

You need to think about what happens after infancy, when there's a 5-year-old who wants you to explain why some people are mean to each other and can we have ice cream for breakfast. An 8-year-old who wants to ride a bike or use a bandsaw or paint miniatures, or whatever else you do on your weekends. There will be a 10-year-old who wants to know why so many people thought slavery was okay. A 12-year-old in tears because their hand slipped and their new video game fell into the sink full of dishwater. A 15-year-old who wants to know what kind of job they'd be good at.

"Have a kid" isn't a three-year project involving diaper changes and runny noses. Ignore those parts for now--there's plenty of info on how that works and how to get through it with your sanity intact. The issue is whether you have any interest in being a guide, mentor, and parent - whether you want to share the good parts of your own upbringing with someone new.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:25 PM on August 28, 2017 [37 favorites]

The bit about you maintaining your comfortable lifestyle while "giving your wife the life with a kid she needs" is simply not possible. Stuff happens, and when it happens you will have to deal with it. Suppose you put all the plans in place and she agrees to them, and then she is struck down with a chronic disease that leaves her entirely incapable of looking after the baby? You will be solo looking after the kids and her forever. Supposing the kid has a chronic condition too? You need to be ready for that, and honest about it, before you start. This isn't an unlikely hypothetical situation. It happened to me two years ago.

Therapy may help, but you will need to change your outlook a long way. Otherwise, in the tradition of askmf, I would suggest that you free your wife up to find someone who wants to go on and enjoy the next stage of her life with her.

As commented above, huge change is coming one way or the other...
posted by tillsbury at 1:26 PM on August 28, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have a 7 month old, so my parenthood journey is just starting. I wrote and deleted quite a few answers, because I'm not sure exactly how to say what I want to say. So here it is:

To me, if you have enough resources--grandparents, or siblings, or money to hire two nannies or whatever--your life can be exactly the same. You can send your children far away, to another wing of the house or to caretakers at the other end of the world, see them twice a year for awkward meetings, and then let them do their own thing. (I mean, your partner might resent you, but it's something that people do without neglecting their kids.)

But why would you? The whole point of having children, IMO, is to experience everything all over again. To interact with this little person who is growing at an incredible rate, finding joy (and sometimes anger) in everything, and who is willing to love you unconditionally. You see everything from a different point of view, as someone who is the source of everything for this perfect creature, as well as seeing that every horrible thing out there is both perpetrated by and done to people who all used to be babies. Then later, to teach them about how the world works--and through that process, rediscover for yourself how the world works.

Basically, it's an emotional commitment. And if you're not willing to commit to your future child(ren), then why bother having them?

The rest... The rest you can figure out as you go. We are still our own people, even though we have a baby. We have taken 3 vacations (including one international and one car camping). We go out to dinner and sometimes even to movie (yes, with baby). My partner hikes with baby. I've always enjoyed cooking and baking, and try to now optimize for speed rather than intricacy, in my recipes. Once in a while, we get a babysitter for baby so we can go see a show by ourselves. I'm back at work full time. My partner stays home and works on projects on the weekends when I take care of baby. Instead of researching subcontractors, I research preschools. So in that sense, our life is the same, just at a much slower pace.
posted by ethidda at 1:30 PM on August 28, 2017 [8 favorites]

I'd suggest that you spend sometime with friends or relatives with kids. Please don't only hang out with toddlers. Hang out with a 10 year old.
Remember that you generally love and tolerate your own child much more than other children.

The change in personal freedom isn't a linear path. When they are infants you're having to wake up a lot and wipe butts and not shower for as long as you want. But you can still watch Game of Thrones while they are half asleep and listen to a podcast during a walk.
An older child doesn't need their butt wiped but they ask real questions about racism or poverty. You can reason with them to wait 10 minutes while you finish reading an article and have them put away the dishes.

But in both extremes, you are responsible for another human being. But it is okay! It is a huge joy in life.

Thinking about your life right now, do you expect to putter on at the pace you're at? Just something to think about.
posted by k8t at 1:35 PM on August 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

My red flag is not that you don't want kids but that you were completely unaware of such a huge thing in your wife's life. And she was vulnerable and shared it with you and asked you to think about it...and you didn't even take her seriously. All of this luxious "thinking time" for you is a very real biological clock that is ticking down for her, and your attitude strikes me as cruel and selfish. I don't think you are purposefully being cruel or selfish, but that is the impact of your actions on someone you love. Asking her to endure four more months will damage your relationship (with her, and with your view of the person you think you are) whichever way you choose. I would prioritise individual therapy for yourself and making a decision in the next few weeks. This constant rumination does not help either of you. As jbenben said, change is coming, you are lucky you get to choose *which* change it will be. Choose your future with an open heart. I wish you peace with your decision.
posted by saucysault at 2:27 PM on August 28, 2017 [42 favorites]

I didn't have children because in general I don't enjoy the company of children. It's really not any more complicated than that. Sure, sometimes they're adorable and they make me laugh when they say crazy stuff and I find their language acquisition process pretty fascinating, but I just don't want to spend a lot of time with them. When I do spend more than fifteen minutes in their presence I always find myself looking for a plausible reason to excuse myself as soon as possible without offending their parents.

I'll never be a parent so I might be pulling this out of thin air here but I feel like maybe one of the prerequisites for choosing to have children on purpose is that in general, you enjoy the company of children. Not all the time, and not every child, but in general.

So before you dig into any books/websites/podcasts about how to have kids without turning your life upside-down, I think you should maybe start by asking yourself, do you enjoy the company of children?

I don't really hear anything in your question that suggests that you do, and there's very little worse in the world than purposefully creating another human being that will quickly learn to hate themselves for how much of an inconvenience they were and how much they turned their parents' lives upside-down.
posted by jesourie at 2:37 PM on August 28, 2017 [12 favorites]

I'm sort of reluctant to encourage you, honestly, because I think you probably should just get divorced. That's my honest opinion after reading your question.

But, I will say that there was a great MetaFilter thread I wish I could find that I've apparently lost, discussing pros and cons of raising kids. Everyone agreed that raising kids was not really fun or easy overall or improved your happiness day to day. But those in favor generally thought it gave a sense of accomplishment, meaning, and purpose that was valuable enough to sacrifice some comfort/happiness. Someone suggested it was like climbing Mount Everest - painful and certainly not a "happy" experience, but gives you a sense of achievement like little else.
posted by stockpuppet at 3:13 PM on August 28, 2017 [6 favorites] do you explain to people who "don't want to be tied down" that you want to fight for your marriage?

Imagine that a friend came to you right now and said his girlfriend wants to get married, but he doesn't, he doesn't think he ever will want to, can you please without saying anything bad about how marriage can rip your heart out when it's not going well, talk him into getting okay with marriage even though he really doesn't want to be married or have to consider someone else in making life choices or share a home?

Could you? I mean, isn't being married right now just one of those experiences in life where it brings you tons of joy but has also led you to a weekend where you are staring divorce and grief in the face because Your Life is also Her Life and there's no third option like she has a baby with someone else and miraculous is in two places at once?

So...parenting is like that, but in many ways even more because you are getting more-than-married to someone you actually have not even met yet.

And it's not really something you can probably logic or podcast yourself into to avoid other pain. And...even if your friend listened to 100 podcasts on marriage and its benefits, do you think it would still be a good idea for him to get married to someone knowing he doesn't want to? I don't know. I think I would advise him to step away from the cultural noise and sit with himself.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:17 PM on August 28, 2017 [14 favorites]

One of the major perks of parenting: Every day is a Lucky 10,000 day. You get to share ALL THE AWESOME with someone who's never experienced it before.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:49 PM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you don't want a kid, you don't want a kid. As the child of a reluctant father, I'm telling you to honor your gut. Your progeny come to know your regrets — even if you love them deeply, as my father loves me. Trust the red flags you see. Do the right (hard) thing.

I'm satisfied with my life now.. I'd really like to read/listen to accounts.. of how it's possible to maintain that satisfaction, help give my wife the life (with a kid) that she needs, and maybe get a little something extra out of it for myself.

Do you hear yourself? You are deep in cognitive dissonance land. You're speaking of this theoretical child so detachedly, as if it's your wife's "project" and you hope to "harvest" some good out of it. You can't keep your current life and give your wife an entirely different one. A child is not a present wrapped in a bow, to be traded like party favors for a temporary peace.
posted by fritillary at 3:54 PM on August 28, 2017 [39 favorites]

I can't give you books but I can share as someone who never wanted kids, I absolutely fracking adore my little unplanned potato. My life did change, and my heart opened up wider than I ever thought possible. I am a better version of myself than I was before in many ways. So it is possible to transition out of the ambivalence into a totally different and more adaptive space. It causes stress to raise kids, but as others have said divorce is hard too.

I am definitely of the opinion that children should only be brought into the world as a conscious choice by loving people ready for the commitment. Sometimes life has other plans, as it did with me, and I wouldn't change it for the world. You might be one of those people who also end up better off from the experience. I wanted to be selfish, and having a kid knocked that out of me a bit but in a way that has improved my character. The bonding hormones made that transition pretty easy, at that.
posted by crunchy potato at 4:04 PM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm really sorry, but you are asking to have it all. I have a friend like this and he procrastinates almost every major life decision because choosing closes off possibilities. There will always be paths untread by you, and paths will close off whether you make deliberate choices or just let things happen around you. I'm not advocating either choice, although I'm not amongst those who insist you have to whole-heartedly want a child to turn out to be a great and loving parent, but this thing you want - everything? You can't have it. None of us can.
posted by kitcat at 4:07 PM on August 28, 2017 [24 favorites]

but I feel like maybe one of the prerequisites for choosing to have children on purpose is that in general, you enjoy the company of children. Not all the time, and not every child, but in general.

I'd have to mention that I don't agree with this point at all. I pretty much can't stand other people's kids :-) Your own children are completely different things.

Obviously if you do enjoy the company of children you have a good start, but I don't think it's a prerequisite at all.
posted by tillsbury at 4:23 PM on August 28, 2017 [10 favorites]

but I feel like maybe one of the prerequisites for choosing to have children on purpose is that in general, you enjoy the company of children. Not all the time, and not every child, but in general.

I'd have to mention that I don't agree with this point at all. I pretty much can't stand other people's kids :-) Your own children are completely different things.

Again, with feeling. I can't stand other people's children, and I absolutely adore my own. I put up with other little monsters for playdates and such because I love my own so hard.

I know plenty of people who say they like children but don't have any of their own; and plenty like myself, whose teeth are set on edge by other folks' kids but who are crazy about their own. I don't think there's a connection.

I have to agree with the consensus here though that if you know in your gut you don't want them, that you'll resent having to be in a family with them, then don't do it. Being scared? Normal. Wondering how you'll afford it? Normal. Being so unexcited by the prospect that you're trying to imagine a way to roll along without life changing, and having them kind of just be your wife's thing? No, not unless you're so wealthy that you can hire her a LOT of help.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:42 PM on August 28, 2017 [8 favorites]

Just an additional datapoint: My father has never been gung-ho enthusiastic about kids. I don't know how he felt about having me, but I distinctly recall my mother saying that she had to persuade him to have my sister, many years later. My mother is the "mothering" type; my father loves both of his children deeply, of that I have no doubt, but we're not emotionally close. And I grew up to be a well-adjusted adult with happy childhood memories, even though I doubt that my dad ever actively "wanted" kids. (He also dislikes the company of children in general, and has said that the only kids he likes are his own, to tillsbury's point.)

If I were in your place--I'm a childfree woman with a same-mindset partner, but what if he changed his mind down the road?--I would consider what level of sacrifice you're willing to make for your wife/marriage. Assume that you'll have the "average" experience: are you willing to suffer through infancy, do hundreds of school pickups, pay for college? But also assume that if you make this sacrifice in good faith, you most likely WILL fall in love with your child and be a good parent to them. As others have said, your life must change here; you need to choose the direction that the change will happen in, or it will be chosen for you.
posted by serelliya at 4:48 PM on August 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm gong to preface this by saying I'm a parent, just so that's out there. Ok. You know how there's this trope that the childfree are just so damn selfish for not having kids and thinking of someone else? I actually think they are the complete opposite. I respect anyone who has taken the time to realise who they are and what they have the ability to give (or not) and made a conscious decision to not bring someone into the world that they can't commit fully to. That's the opposite of selfish. That's recognising your own limits.

Because the thing is, even when you both really want it, parenting is damn hard work. (Insert standard clause all parents must say about the obligatory joys, because yes, for most parents that is also true.) I can't imagine how much harder it would be when you never wanted it in the first place and your wife and kid both know this too.

The way you talk about having a child is that it's something you would give your wife to look after, like a pot plant, and hopefully she'll do her thing with the kid and shut up while you get to go on with your life. The only couples I know where the husbands had that attitude (in that raising the kid was her domain) are now all divorced. Their wives twisted their arms into having children, thinking that they would mature into the role, and well, people generally don't change that much. Some come around but these guys never did.

I'm not saying that your life is completely over once you have kids, but if it looks pretty much the same as before, you're doing it all wrong and it means that the burden of raising the child has fallen to your wife.

Because I can guarantee you, no aspect of her life will be the same as before if you're not there in the trenches doing it with her. And there will be days where it won't just be 50/50. Some days you'll have to do 80%, same days you'll have to do all of it. If you don't think you can do this when you have to, without gritting your teeth and resenting the hell out of it and wishing you were surfing/gaming/underwater basket weaving instead, do everyone a favour - do the UNselfish thing and let her go.
posted by Jubey at 4:52 PM on August 28, 2017 [21 favorites]

Just chiming in to agree with everyone that you simply can't have a kid without changing your life. These are the possibilities I see for you if you have a kid.

1. You have the resources to throw tons of help toward your wife. Cleaners, nannies, etc. They stay in a separate part of the house so they don't bother you too much. If your wife is okay with this it will "work" in the sense that it won't change your life and you'll have a child... but you'll also have a kid who feels like his dad doesn't want him, and you will be locked out of their family unit and increasingly alienated from your wife. If she's any kind of mother at all, she will be unable to devote the proper love and energy to your kid while also keeping a rich and open relationship with you under these circumstances (i.e., with you refusing to share in their life). She will -- she should -- choose the kid over you in this circumstance. You'll lose her this way.

2. You and your wife both end up not giving the child the love and resources they need. Probably never intentionally, but the child will be an unwanted intruder and you'll be unable to give it what it needs. Don't, for the love of god, do this. Look up complex ptsd (here's a Reddit forum for people suffering from it - do a deep dive to see what kind of lifelong suffering having emotionally uninvolved parents can do to a kid. Don't lie to yourself and tell yourself that you can prevent this from happening if you dislike the thought of a child as much as it appears you do from this question).

3. You don't have the resources but don't help much and rely on your wife to do all of the work since she was the one that wanted it. This is by far the most common alternative. Speaking as a mom, this option will breed incredible amounts of resentment and destroy your relationship with your wife. My husband is awesome but in the first few months after our first child was born, we were teetering on the edge of this abyss because he had such a hard time with the transition and he was resentful of how much change it imposed. And we had a kid we both wanted. In our case, my husband realised what was going on and has done a complete turnaround and is an incredibly involved father. I know that if he hadn't, we probably wouldn't be married anymore. I love him, I never stopped loving him, but having a kid is a massive job and if you leave it all to her -- if you see her struggling massively, incredibly sleep deprived, and all you can think of is how much your life has changed -- then you will deserve to have her say "fuck this shit" and divorce your ass. Even if she doesn't divorce you, your relationship will never be what it was, because she is the sole person that this defenseless child can rely on.

4. You decide that you really do want the child. You embrace the change, you open yourself to the possibilities they bring into your life, you vow to do the huge amounts of work to contribute equally, and you man up and be a dad. This means figuring out with your wife how responsibilities will be shared, being willing to change if things aren't working, not seeing taking care of the kid as "helping" your wife -- it's your kid! -- and opening your heart to a NEW PERSON. This way leads to great rewards and is awesomely fulfilling, but you won't be able to do it if your heart is not in it.

I may be coming off harshly here, but that's because I think you're precariously close to making a choice that will be disastrous for yourself, your wife, and most importantly your potential child. There's no shame in not wanting a child -- loads of great people are childless, and there is nothing wrong with not wanting that in your life. But if you do let a child in your life, you have to be prepared to open yourself up to that change -- not just open to it, but you have to be willing to embrace it. If you can't, then you are all in for a lot of miserable years (and your child may be in for a miserable life).

So: be honest with yourself. Can you do this? If you can't, this is a hard and awful choice to make, but I think you should tell your wife and break up. If you don't, you're just stretching out the breakup and making it way more awful for everyone involved.
posted by forza at 4:56 PM on August 28, 2017 [19 favorites]

it's possible to maybe not turn one's life upside-down by having a kid

Well it really depends on what the life looks like beforehand, how much you care about your kids welfare, and what you consider "upside down" doesn't it? There are certainly all sorts of people who do not turn their lives upside down over a kid - some who should but can't or won't and others who don't need to because they're lives are already sort of child-friendly. You're not talking about having to quit partying and taking drugs and get a job because *OMG you have a kid*. My husband and I like reading, cooking, hiking, going to farmer's markets and museums and guess what we do with our three year old? Read, cook, go on long walks through the park, the farmer's market, and take him to museums. What is it you are doing in your spare time otherwise? Babies are hard, there was definitely a bit of a hiccup there at first but they get bigger and they're just people you know? Your life could be turned upside-down by any number of things: cancer, job loss, injury, a change in sexual orientation, a hurricane... stability is an illusion and nothing is permanent, right?

That said, what gives me pause is the sort of "her life" "my life" phrasing - like, hello: kids need dads. How long have you known she's wanted a kid and why are you only thinking about it now? You're not very specific about why you don't want kids - frankly, in my 20's in the bay area that sorta just seemed the default for guys because they're young and trying to be "cool" and don't really have to think about it. I mean, I have dated ZERO guys who were like "yay can't wait to have kids!" you know? I get the feeling you're saying you don't out of habit and because you haven't really thought about it, which means there's certainly a chance you'll surprise yourself.

I disagree with jesourie too - my kid is adorable and says crazy stuff and child development is fascinating but holy moly fifteen minutes of driving matchbox cars around while they say "hi" to each other over and over is about all I can take. It's called Tag-team parenting.

I'll suggest: Away We Go, The Longest Shortest Time, and this NYTimes article. It sounds like whatever happens, Transitions: Making sense of life's changes is likely to be useful. I'll also link to The Reluctant Father, and admit I'd be curious to speak to his wife and I hope they pulled through that year and a half okay.

If you do go forth a have a kid and want to preserve your marriage the best attitude is one that is "gung-ho all hands on deck". Jubey and forza are totally correct: anything less than 110% gets in the way and I'd have divorced just to get an unhelpful spouse out of the way. You need to be proactive. Only you know whether you have it in you to man up.

Fwiw, I wasn't goo-goo after giving birth and am still sort of ambivalent about being a parent. I am not ambivalent about the kid himself.
posted by jrobin276 at 5:15 PM on August 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

You don't sound like someone who isn't sure they want a kid, you sound like someone who doesn't want a kid and is lying to themselves for the sake of trying to preserve your marriage and the life that you have right now.

Sorry dude, but the life you have now is gone. You're either having a kid or you're getting divorced, so one way or another there are Big Changes coming down the pike.

You can't magically make yourself want to have a kid. You either do or don't, and you know in your heart that you don't. You're not torn between wanting a kid and not wanting a kid, you're torn between not wanting a kid and not wanting to get divorced. Unfortunately there's no way to preserve your life as you know it now; one of those things is going to happen.

You sound to me like you need to get divorced and free the person you love to pursue the life that she wants. You need to not bring an unwanted child into the world. That is a path that leads only to misery and resentment for all involved, most importantly the child itself. Getting divorced sucks, but intentionally having a child that you don't want is one of the shittiest things a person can do.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:36 PM on August 28, 2017 [19 favorites]

I'm going to do you a solid here and assume you're not headed towards inevitable divorce, that you're not a horrible and selfish partner, and that you're not trying to convince yourself to become a deadbeat dad.
What you sound like to me is someone who is looking at a big change and is scared because you don't know what the other side of it looks like and where you fit into it.
The best book I've read about parenting and how it changes your life, emotionally and practically, is 'All Joy and No Fun'.
My recommendation is for you to read that and watch tv shows and movies about families and practice visualizing yourself in those situations. After a while you should know whether you can see yourself as part of those relationships and whether it's what you want.
posted by bq at 5:49 PM on August 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

It is completely fine, morally speaking, to intentionally have a child while feeling ambivalent and without complete confidence that you are going to enjoy the experience. Most people do. The idea that you must want a child more than anything and put it at the center of your universe in order to justify procuring it is an unfortunate idea that has led to a lot of unhappy children who do not deserve the intense and crushing focus that their parents place on them, and which is bad for them. I would never encourage a prospective gestational parent who had doubts, but that is because frankly, if you are not going to make, carry and deliver your child, you are getting away with murder, child-having-wise, and since you escape the physical burden, you can handle a little more anxiety burden than the typical parent. if you decide to be one.

However, it is not fine at all, morally speaking, to have a child for your wife, like as a gift to her, and expect her to do more than her share of the work to raise it because after all you didn't want it in the first place and you liked your life the way it was. it is ridiculously immoral, firstly, because your child will hate you for being a live-in absentee parent and they will be right to; you can't make a deal with your wife about this because childcare, like child support, is owed to your child, not to your spouse. it is immoral secondly because blah blah exploitation of female labor, you don't need the lecture, or if you do, rectify that immediately. "Her share of the work" is substantially less than 50 percent for the first year of an infant's life, because she will have done 100 percent of the work of gestation and labor and that is the only way to approach making up for it. Once you decide to do this, you lose all right forever to think and talk about it as something you did for her, to make her happy. you are in total control of yourself right now and if you say yes, you are equally responsible for everything, all of it.

so, figure out if you can tolerate babies and toddlers, because you will be spending all your time with one for a couple years. you can't do this very well through reading, you might have to go out and find a few to observe. it's OK to judge from exceptionally well-behaved ones, since you will probably like your own better than other peoples' and that will balance it out even if your own is a hell child. plus, if you just can't with babies, even the nicest one will be intolerable. that's how I feel about it.

that's really the fundamental thing you have to find out about yourself. the rest of it is an act of will. also, read Shirley Jackson's Raising Demons and see if you can be amused by it or if all you get out of it is the horrors. it's not a test, but maybe an indication.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:50 PM on August 28, 2017 [23 favorites]

I can't tell you how you will feel about your life if you decide to have kids, but I'd recommend that you consider a couple of points in making your decision:

How well do you deal with resentment? And how are you with committing?

These two questions are interrelated in my mind because even if you do end up falling totally in love with your child, parenting is challenging, and if you go down this road only because your wife pressured you into it, you are sure to go through periods when you resent each other. You will resent her for the change to your life and for the burden and she will resent you for not being a fully invested partner. So if the two of you are not prone to hold onto resentments, then perhaps this is something you would be able to work through or let go of when it occurs, especially if you do find yourself in love with your child and make a true effort to participate. On the other hand, if even one of you is prone to hold onto resentments, that could easily turn toxic.

Which brings us to the question of how you are with committing. Because in my mind, your initial lack of interest in raising a child and indecision on the matter isn't as important, ultimately, as whether you are the type of person who will fully commit to something once you've decided to take it on. It's less important how you feel about it today than whether you will go all in with whatever decision you make.

Because your wife and your wife's baby deserve a father who will go all in. And if you do, then the resentment question is far less likely to be an issue. But committing doesn't mean making a promise and then resenting your wife for the result. Committing means you own the decision and you own the responsibility to do so as joyfully as possible.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:52 PM on August 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

And by "as joyfully as possible" I don't mean anything half-hearted or fake, I mean few people can be joyful all of the time. Parenting is hard even for those who always wanted it. I mean that it's not enough to bring a begrudging commitment to the table, either. All-in. With feeling.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:59 PM on August 28, 2017

Did you have a happy childhood? If your parents are still around, do you have a warm relationship with them? Some people who can't imagine what the good parts of parenthood are are people who missed out on having a "good parts" childhood.

Do you hate change most of the time? Something to think about. Do new things make you anxious?

I also think the book All Joy and No Fun is pretty insightful. I listened to a one hour interview with the author around the time my kid was 12. It captured my feelings pretty well.

I know your request was for resources. You were fairly general about what your concerns are. (change). It's fine on Ask to be opaque and ask just for resources, but I hope after thinking for some months you can be specific about your concerns in private. (Yes, we had less sex and less money after our one kid was born. It was harder than I imagined. But my kid is just the coolest young man ever and after toddlerhood was really not ever much of a problem. Other people's kids act up more and are difficult in the teen years.)

I would never guilt someone by calling them selfish. I think it's good to consider the parenting talents and energies the both of you have before taking the leap.
posted by puddledork at 7:15 PM on August 28, 2017

Hmm. Well. An oft-mentioned parenting podcast is the Longest Shortest Time. I'm not sure that will help or not. I tend to agree with whitewall that "There aren't books or blogs or podcasts about how having kids is no big deal and it doesn't change your life" because "for the vast vast majority of the population, raising another human being to adulthood is the Ultimate Big Deal, and that's what you're going to find literature on."

But I think it really, really depends on what you mean. I want to help you out and tell you that certain things don't change. From the outside, my husband's proclivities, weekend activities, and work time have not changed all that much. He's still very much the same man he was. On Saturdays, he still has a slow morning, then does his weekly chores, then goes to the grocery. He does more laundry and cleans the floor near the highchair more, but it's not like he suddenly became Mr. Frumpy Dad with the Dad Jokes or something. He's himself, just the version of himself that has to pack baby food and spare diapers in a bag every morning. But when I asked him if he thought someone could have a kid without their life changing a lot, he said "I'd be really surprised. But I guess it depends on where they're starting out from and what they mean."

So I think you're right that you have a lot of work to do to really understand what change you're afraid of and why. A resource you might look into are the services offered by Sheryl Paul. She has a whole program for people who want to be getting married but feel cold feet or resistance to the idea of marriage. For instance, she offers a checklist of possible hesitations. (Are you afraid that by forming a new family, you're betraying your family of origin? Are you afraid that your marriage will look like your parents' marriage?) I wonder if she could offer something similar around parenting-related concerns. I have found that certain fears disappear if you look at them head on, so that might be one best-case scenario for you.

Also, there's always old Ask Metafilter questions! Here's one. I think that person posted a second question that you might go looking for.

Good luck. This sounds like a really stressful situation. I'm sorry you're facing such a tough decision under a time crunch. I know that can be really painful and agonizing. I hope you can get lots of support.
posted by slidell at 9:40 PM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

also: the world is not short of people whose fathers had them reluctantly and instrumentally in order to keep a woman they loved, with no thought whatsoever of non-financial obligation to those children, who stayed more or less imaginary and conceptual to them long after they were conceived and born. so consider that if you find some of the responses deeply obnoxious and moralizing, they may be coming from people whose obnoxious personalities were formed by circumstances not unlike those you propose to bring into being. you run the risk of forming a child just like us. I mean, just like these people. it's hard to care about a so-far nonexistent person growing up to hate you or being glad you're dead someday, but if you can't bring yourself to be more scared of that than of your own unhappiness, it is a bad sign.

if that is not opaque enough, I can make it opaquer
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:43 AM on August 29, 2017 [16 favorites]

A new baby is a 7 pound box of mysteries. What will this little person be like? Genetics only goes so far, and any parent can tell you that personality starts to emerge with the first breath of air. How much or how little your life will change is contingent on who this new little person is. A chill baby who sleeps pretty well and is an only child with no special needs? Your life can in fact change remarkably little (chill healthy newborns are actually super SUPER boring). A colicky baby who sleeps in 10 minute increments is a bootcamp situation which usually resolves itself in a finite timeframe after which you can go back to being a normal person who sleeps and eats with two hands. A baby with special needs is another set of challenges that will probably change a lot of things in your life. What you get is a roll of the dice. There's no guarantee that you will have to really change that much at all (assuming that your current state isn't, like, hookers and blow all weekend), and there's no guarantee that you'll not have to completely reevaluate absolutely everything.

Shit's terrifying, dude. I get it. Name your fears in as great a detail as you can. I guarantee you are not the first or last person to have these exact fears. You need to talk about them openly and address them head-on.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:28 AM on August 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Maybe this Dear Sugar column will help? LW's situation is a little different from yours, in that both he and his partner are ambivalent about having a baby. I think it does a good job of outlining the idea of choice and how to make a choice, though.

Thinking about your OP, I think it boils down not to, do you want to have a kid or not, but rather, do you want to be a parent and raise a kid, OR do you want to be childfree? You've never had to make this choice before until push came to shove (i.e. your wife is saying to you she wants a baby). I think it's easy to think being kid-free is the default state (because that's how we come into this world and grow up) and that having a kid is the choice, but being childfree is an active choice itself too. And it's hard to make a choice, because you just don't know what having a kid will be like until you do it. You already know what your life is like without a kid, and you want that to continue. Except it won't, and your life IS going to change because you'll divorce if you say to your wife "I don't want kids." You won't know what divorce is like, and what life is like on the other side of divorce.
posted by foxjacket at 1:52 PM on August 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

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