Nearly every day, my inbox includes comments from people responding to my January 2013 post titled, “If You Disagree About Children, Is Your Relationship Doomed?” The details vary, but the basic problem is the same: One person in the relationship is unable or unwilling to have children. Often the problem arises after they have been together for a long time. They may be married, engaged or living together, but now the commenters are torn between the mates they have and the children they always wanted to have. They don’t know what to do. My advice is usually about the same: You have to choose, and you have to talk about it. I say I’m praying for them–and I am, for all of you.
But that doesn’t feel like enough. I know people who have chosen the man or woman over the children and lived happy lives. I have also seen situations where the problem festered and the relationship failed.
Today I share some of these comments because I hope you will read them and respond. If you have made the choice, how did it work out? If not, how are you dealing with it? What advice would you give these readers?
Thank you. I treasure you all.
Hello, I’m 23 and my partner is 27, we are engaged to be married next year and have been in our relationship for nearly seven years (he was my first boyfriend). Just two days ago, he dropped the bombshell that he doesn’t want children now and isn’t sure if he ever will. I have recently found out that I have some issues with fertility and may find it difficult to conceive. So he knows my clock is ticking to start trying.
He is the love of my life, and I cannot stand the thought of losing him. Our relationship is perfect. Everyone loves him. He is great with our young nephews and would make a great dad.
The problem is he wants me to be happy, and he thinks the only way I can be is if I have children. But I’m not confident I can be happy without him. He hasn’t said he doesn’t EVER want them, just he doesn’t know if he will. I have never felt pain like it. I feel as though my whole world has ended.
We have cancelled the wedding until we know we want the same thing, which was very hard for me to do.
I feel guilty because I think to myself if he loved me, truly loved me, would he not give me the one thing that would make my happiness complete? I know I can’t force him into it and he is not ready but how can I end something because he MIGHT never be ready? And how do I risk staying if he never will be?
We are looking at relationship counseling, but I’m not sure what good it will do. I feel drained. I don’t think I can live without him but I don’t want to live the rest of our lives with resentment.
Reading through this thread has helped me feel like I’m not alone in this struggle. I’m a 46-year-old man who’s thinking about becoming a father for the first time. My wife of 20 years has always known she does not want children. Eleven years ago, I had similar thoughts and explored the options but chose to stay with her instead. Perhaps this is a mid-life thing where I’m looking back over the first half of my life and wondering if I’m missing out? I’ve always known I would be a good father. I’m patient, kind, and generous. People have always told me I’m like a old wise soul. I rarely give advice, instead choosing to be a good listener and help people make their own decisions.
Lately, I’m worried that I’m going to regret not having raised a child. I have no romantic ideas about it. I’ve seen friends and family struggle, so I know it’s not all fun and games. But I’m still drawn to the possibilities in the richness of the experience, and with passing on my values and way of life to another person. I feel drawn to the idea of choosing to raise a child with someone who shares my values not because it’s “the next thing to do” like I see so many people doing, but because I want the experience. To learn. To love. To know.
Bringing this up again after being together for 20 years has caused a tremendous amount of pain. I absolutely know this will end our life together and it hurts so much. We are seeking some counseling both individually and together and we’ll see where I’m at with this in six months. No need to make rash decisions, you know? But for me at least, I know if I decide to do this, my relationship with a wonderful woman is certainly doomed.
I’m 32 and my boyfriend is 33. We’ve been dating for a year. When we met, he seemed like he shared my goal to have kids one day. Three months ago, he said he’s not sure, that his feelings for me made him think it’s possible, but he’s never wanted them before. He assured me he thought it was an age/timing thing. Then this week, he said he’s been lying to himself out of desire to keep me. But he never wants them, because of his past (tough childhood).
Of course I was angry. Things would be different if we met from the get-go. I’ve always thought I’d have kids, and I do like kids. But the past year has been the happiest of my life. I feel he’s the right person and I would not find someone better for me.
I am contemplating giving up on kids and continuing with him. We are on a one-week break to think about this. He feels terrible for having put me in the situation, and believes that if we continue, I will change my mind and he will only hurt me more. He wants me to make sure I can be okay with this forever. The problem is I can guarantee that’s okay now but not if I will ever feel different.
So my question to people who gave up on kids for the sake of the man they met: did you have a fulfilling marriage? Is it possible to be happy and change your vision of the future? Or did some of you regret, resent, or change your mind later?
What do you say, my friends?
12 thoughts on “What would you tell these childless readers?”
Hi. I think that if anyone in the relationship, regardless of the gender, wants to have children and the other person feels strongly against, then it may be a sign that it's time to move on. Because at the end of your life you don't want to blame someone for causing you pain. I think it's terribly sad to part with someone, but if you do not agree to something so important as creating life then there will certainly be other items big or small in which the parties will forever bicker.
I would tell readers that it is one of the most difficult decisions that one must make, and I would say that it is all very individual. Unfortunately, nobody can tell you the right answer. You just have to trust yourself to make the right decision for you and you only because, in the end, we have to be able to live with our decisions. I wish that I could take a sneak peek into my future and see that I am okay, but I can't. I have to live in the moment now and really think about which direction I want my life to go in.It's also important for people to know that they are not alone in contemplating this difficult dilemma. I always took comfort in knowing that.
I am a childless woman who lived a life of regret and loss until I realized that having children didn't really matter; what mattered was how I lived my life and the kind of person I was.I would say to anyone facing this dilemma to look deeply within and reflect on what it is about having children that is so worth destroying the loving, caring and soul-fulfilling relationship you may already have with another person.This is a huge decision and one that I would never be able to say you should do this or that. Each person must take responsibility for their own choices and be able to live with them, no matter how it turns out.I wish there were easier answers, but there aren't.
Great comments! Keep them coming.
To Anonymous #1 who writes that she feels her fiancé should love her enough to give her children, I would say this: Do you love him enough to give up the idea of having children? Be mindful of the fact that you might end up a single mother if you push him into something he does not truly want.
I'm in a similar situation with my husband, except that he's the one that wants children and I do not. Most people say that I would never regret having children (and maybe that is true), but I ask my husband if he's willing to risk losing me and ending up as a single father if it turns out motherhood is not for me.
I'm 31 and he's 33, so we still have time to figure it out. I'm not sure which way it will go. Sorry this is so negative….
I am 35; he is 55. He has two great kids from a previous marriage. He is kind and good, and the love of my life. We are both so concerned about the long-term implications this could have on our relationship.
For me, I see it both ways. I love my partner, and I can see a wonderful life with him without children. But I am terrified that I might one day resent him, and the relationship will break under such a heavy burden. The emotional weight of this feels unpredictable. I feel okay at 35, but will I break at 42?
Close friends and family think that I am right to stick with our relationship. And my gut says I'm doing the right thing. Any advice on how to keep us healthy and strong?
I agree with your friends and family. Nobody knows what will happen in the future, but it sounds like you have a good thing. It worked for me, might work for you too.
That is a similar situation to Sue's.
So do you feel that you would be okay with what Sue has been through?
Hi Sue.I'm not your typical reader in that I don't belong in the demographic of wanting kids but for reasons of spouse/age, etc., not having them. I have kids and realise how lucky I am to have them despite never having had the craving to be anyone's parent.If it were entirely up to me, and fate hadn't conspired to see me unemployable (due to visa issues) in a foreign country with only my then-boyfriend to lean on, and retreat to where I came from a non-option, I might have even not married either. But marry and have kids I did, at my now-husband's pestering (when we had family, finance, career and migration issues) and suffice to say it's all worked out. So having stumbled upon your blog while researching this issue for a family member and having read your very popular January 2013 post AND every single comment left by readers, I feel compelled to share what I noticed exacerbates the problem:* men who have poor relationships with their fathers* men or women who already have children (most don't want to add to what they already have or “go back to the beginning”)* men or women who themselves are still children mentally* partners who think they must have everything perfect in order to be parents.As you rightly noted, there is never a right time to derail finances/career/travel plans, etc., to have children. Either one wants them or doesn't want them. It's really that simple.I'll offer another perspective: What if you have kids with someone who doesn't want kids? My mother never wanted kids but had my two half-sisters to please her first husband, then me and my brother to please my father, her second husband. She often told me in childhood that if it were up to her, she wouldn't have had children. Does she regret having children? Perhaps, because she has a very difficult relationship with ALL of her children. But you know what, at least she has us to grumble about and visit every so often. I thank God my father wanted me and my brother because he was the most loving and hands-on dad you could ever ask for. I almost feel bad that he married someone who begrudgingly gave him children. Almost. But he got to be a father and there are times when she can see, despite her troubled relationship with us, it was for the best.
I forgot to add that I have many childless friends and single parent friends. Borrowing from the Japanese who have “families/family members for hire,” I've often thought that if single parents could “share” the care of their kids with those who are childless by circumstance, you'd have a win-win proposition: the single parent will get some support with parenting and the childless will get to enjoy time with a child. I know westerners view children as the exclusive “property” of their parents, to raise as they see fit, but in my culture (Chinese), the traditional view is if one doesn't have a kid, your brother or sister's kid is as good as your own. Among Maori, firstborns are typically given to their uncles or grandparents to be raised as their own. It's not that different from adoption, but the kid is a family member as opposed to a stranger. I heard from my friend it's still in practice, although to a lesser extent.
Estella, thank you for this wonderful comment. It's so important to know how it turns out if you do go ahead and have kids.
All the best to you and your family.
Thank you for all of your comments. I like the idea of shared parenting. The sad truth is that I'm closer to some of my young friends than I am to my niece and nephew. I wish I had gotten more involved when they were young.
Anyway, thanks for sharing all of this. I hope your brother and sister-in-law can work out their situation.