Will Children Ruin the Relationship?

I spent last weekend in San Jose for my father’s funeral. I was surrounded by people with children. The younger the kids, the harder it was for me to talk to their parents because they were obsessed with childcare. I also noticed that for some couples, the children seem to come between the husband and wife (or unmarried partners). The main caregiver, usually the mother, becomes so involved with the children that she stops relating to her partner. His life is about work, and hers is about kids, and soon they rarely speak to each other beyond complaints and coordinating schedules. I can see how someone might be reluctant to have children for fear this will happen.

Children need a lot of attention, especially when they’re small. They’re also fascinating creatures. How do you not become all about the kids when you worry every second that something will happen to them? I was that way when I adopted puppies. Imagine if I had a little human.

We have all seen this happen with our friends. Trying to get their attention is like trying to jump into a double-dutch jump-rope game where we just can’t get the rhythm. What about the spouse?

This division doesn’t happen with everyone. My parents truly seemed to be a team, even though Mom spent most of her time with us while Dad was usually at work. Every night when he came home, they retired to the bedroom to chat—and we knew we were supposed to leave them alone. At night, I’d fall asleep to the sound of my parents talking. When conflicts arose, they always put each other above everyone else. It can be done.

On the airplane shuttle in Portland, I sat across from a couple with two little kids. All four of them seemed happy to have each other, and the parents were clearly in love. Maybe I just caught them at a good moment, but they gave me hope.

How does a couple counter that tendency to forget about each other and put all their attention on the children? Is the fear that the kids will come between them valid? When will the mom and dad have sex or even a private conversation when someone is always shouting, “Mommy! Mommy!” Is this fear part of your situation? Is it a logical reason not to have children? Let’s talk about it.

Here are some articles to consider.

https://www.salon.com/2018/02/15/have-children-heres-how-kids-ruin-your-romantic-relationship_partner/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-kids-call-the-shots/201808/is-parenting-burnout-destroying-your-marriage

https://www.today.com/parents/does-having-children-destroy-happy-marriage-t113028

********

The funeral was beautiful. (See my Unleashed in Oregon blog for more about this.) My father would be pleased. The music, the flowers, the priest, the military honors, the barbecue that followed—all great. Not that there weren’t some tears. It’s hard. But he is at peace, and now we move on. Thank you for all of your prayers and good wishes. They mean a lot.

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Did They Stay Childless Together or Split?

I have been editing old posts and their accompanying comments. (Please proofread, friends.) I’m dying to know what happened to all of those people whose partners said no to kids and put them into a tizzy of should I go or should I stay? There were so many. Today I was reading some of the 245 comments on a 2013 post titled, “If You Disagree About Children, Is Your Relationship Doomed?”

Anonymous: Hi, … I got engaged six months ago to my on-off partner of three years. We had been all off, and he said he wanted to get married and have kids. He had not said this before so I felt something had clicked for him and us. He was so up for it he even got me to add pregnancy coverage to my health care immediately. I have just turned 42 and we got married a few months ago. Our finances have been tight and we also weren’t getting on great, but I thought kids would be in the mix when we got things sorted. We have just had a chat and my husband has changed his mind about having kids. He says he doesn’t want them anymore, and it is not and will not be open for discussion. I am devastated. I would not have gotten engaged had I realized this truth, as I always have wanted kids and would not have entered into a relationship with someone who wasn’t open to trying. This is very real and raw for me, as it was only a few hours ago. I feel it’s my calling to be a mother.

 My response: Anon July 15, I’m so sorry this happened. I find it amazing how many guys change their minds after the wedding. Have another chat and let him know how hurt you are. I pray you can work this out.

By now, surely the issue is settled one way or another. They broke up or they stayed together. They had a baby or they didn’t.

If you have been in that situation, please tell us what happened. What did you decide to do? Does it feel like the right decision now? It will help those coming behind you to figure out what to do.

I’m relieved to know that I still agree with the advice I gave back then. Also embarrassed that I needed to proofread, too. I hope the typos are all gone now.

***

I leave tomorrow for my father’s funeral. I know that I will be sitting on that front-row pew as a party of one with my brother’s tribe: wife, children, grandchildren, in-laws, with other families nearby. Just me. For years, it has been me and Dad, but he’s the guest of honor this time. Damn.

So there’s that. If you don’t have children now, the loss compounds in the future because you will also not have your children’s partners and children, and your grandchildren’s partners and children, and everyone’s in-laws. The loss just expands. Like an earthquake that starts out small then blows the world apart. They say each higher number on the Richter scale is not just a little bit more but exponentially more (WAY more).

Something to think about.

Thank you all for being here. I treasure you.

 

Would Just One Child Be Enough?

Something has been niggling around in my mind this week. So many times here, we talk about having “a child,” about trying to get our partners to agree to have one baby, or about struggling with IVF to have “a baby.” But when we were young and dreaming about having “a family,” didn’t that include multiple children? Don’t most people who want to be parents have least two? We didn’t fantasize about being a mother duck with just one duckling swimming along behind us, did we?

What if, God forbid, something happens to that one little duck?

While many of us are just trying to deal with the fact that we’ll never have children, others are fighting to have at least one child before they’re too old, with partners who are reluctant at best. I started this at 3 a.m., but now in the bright morning light, I’m thinking this is nonsense. How can we stay with someone who has such a drastically different view of life? But maybe that’s just my lack of sleep talking.

Think about it. If we succeed in squeezing one baby out of this relationship, that child will be an “only child.” Much has been written over the years about the disadvantages and advantages for children with no siblings. Experts warn they may be selfish and self-centered loners who identify more with adults than with other children. Others say it’s great because they get all of their parents’ attention, and there are plenty of other kids in the world to hang out with.

I have one younger brother. He drove me nuts when we were growing up, but he’s a treasured friend now—and the person I have entrusted with my care and finances if/when I become disabled or die. He has carried a lot of the burden of caring for our father. I wish I had more siblings, especially a sister, but my parents felt their family was complete once they had one girl and one boy. My brother is the only person in the world who shares the same history and the same family, and I can’t imagine life without him.

So why are we weeping and grieving as we try to convince our mates to have just one child when what we really want is at least two? Often the discussion is happening so late biologically that our only hope is to have twins.

In “The Case Against Having Only One Child,” Elizabeth Gehrman, herself an only child, reports that the percentage of mothers who have only one child has doubled, from 11 percent in 1976 to 22 percent. She credits dual-career couples, the cost of raising a child, and having only one child becoming more accepted. But she advises parents considering having just one not to do it. There is no relationship like the one has with siblings, and it can be a lonely life with no brothers or sisters.

On the positive side, Carol Burnett, Laura Bush, Chelsea Clinton, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Charles Lindbergh, Joe Montana, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, and Robin Williams were all only children, and they turned out pretty well.

So I have to ask. Maybe one child works for you, but is it fair to the child, especially in these days when couples are waiting longer to have children, which means their offspring will lose their parents at a younger age and may not have a chance to know their grandparents at all? Who will they turn to?

Perhaps this is a non-issue. Perhaps some of you reading this are “only children” and glad about it. I’m just saying it’s something to consider when you’re struggling to get acceptance of even one child. What would it take to have more than one? Is that even an option? And if you have to beg your partner, why are you with him or her? We come back to the essential question: which do you want more, him/her or children? We shouldn’t have to choose, but sometimes we do.

Remember Heavy Heart, the reader whose comment we discussed a couple weeks ago? She had decided she would ask her husband one more time if he was willing to have a baby, and if he said no, she was going to leave. Well, she reported that he “wasn’t 100 percent,” but he agreed to start trying to get pregnant. So that’s good news, but I think her situation is what got me thinking about this only child business.

So it’s your turn. What do you think? I know many of you are thinking you would be over-the-moon just to have one baby, but would you feel bad about not having more?

Please comment.

Here are some more articles on only children:

“Raising an Only Child”

Thirteen Things Everyone Should Know About Only Children”

“A Note to Mothers of Only Children–from an Only Child Herself”

 

 

 

Should she leave her childless marriage?

Dear readers,

In response to last week’s post regarding regret if we choose our mate over having children, Heavy Heart wrote:

“First of all thank you for posting this as I would like to hear advice from the ladies who remained childless past their child bearing age. I am going to be 36 years old very soon, married to a man who has a 10 year old son. We agreed on having our own child when we first stated our serious relationship 5 years ago. Fast forward 5 years – Now married for 3 years, bio mom drama subsided, financials are more stable. My husband says his life is finally “good.” —– um…can we now start planning for our child?? My husband has been avoiding the conversation as much as he can. Excuses excuses and excuses. I am very close to asking him “YES or NO” and if the NO is the final answer, leaving him, but I can’t get to that final answer and I don’t want to hear that final answer…. He says he is on the fence because of the financial burden of having two children because he has to take care of his son first before having his second. He knows it’s “unfair” if he said no and he knows that I will probably leave him so he is avoiding the conversation all together.”

In responding to Heavy Heart, something suddenly clicked in my head. If they had the kind of relationship meant to last forever, she wouldn’t think about leaving. I know that for me, leaving Fred was not an option. He was my person, period.

So I ask you: Is the marriage already too shaky to last if one of the partners is thinking about leaving for any reason, especially if they’re giving their spouse an ultimatum: Say yes, I stay, say no, and I’m gone? And what about the husband in this case? People do change their minds, but they had a deal. Does he not love her enough to stick with that deal?

Heavy Heart, if you’re reading this, I hope it’s okay that I’m sharing your comment more widely. You are not alone in this situation. I hear variations of the same story all the time. One of the partners balks at having children, despite having agreed to them earlier, and now the other is thinking about leaving, wondering if they can find someone else who is more willing before it’s too late.

Me, I want to scream at Heavy Heart’s husband, and I want to go back to simpler times. I have asked my father about deciding to have children. His answer is always that, “You just did.” In those years shortly after World War II before birth control was easy to get, people got married and had babies, period.

So what do you think? What is your advice for Heavy Heart?

***

My dog Annie had her knee surgery last Thursday. I have been in full caregiver mode since then, doling out pills, watching to make sure she doesn’t tear up her incision, taking her on short, careful walks, and just sitting with her. Right now, she’s snoring beside my desk. You can read more about her situation at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

 

 

 

If You Don’t Want Kids, Just Say It

This morning, I found a card in my files that I wrote 13 years ago: “We are biologically programmed to reproduce. Like every childbearing creature on earth, our whole beings are set up to make babies, to continue the species in an unending chain. If we don’t, we wander, lost, trying to find our way home. It’s as basic as eating, sleeping and excreting.” Ironically, I woke up thinking the same thing this morning as I wondered what to write this week. Maybe it was seeing the pregnant women on TV’s “Bachelor in Paradise” last night.

Before you get mad, think about it. We have all these parts designed to make, carry, deliver, and feed our offspring. Why would we choose not to use them? Why would some people go so far as to surgically disable the baby-making parts? What other animal does that? It seems unnatural. What do you think? I really want to know.

Last week’s post about my friend’s daughter’s fiancé suddenly announcing that he doesn’t want kids sparked a barrage of comments both at the blog and at the Childless by Marriage Facebook page. Some were sympathetic, some quite angry. How dare I suggest that that guy or anybody has to want children? He has a right to change his mind. He might have good reasons for feeling the way he does. I know. It’s all true. And it still sucks. In every situation like this, somebody is going to wind up brokenhearted.

Consider this: For most couples, having children is the default position. Children are assumed until someone challenges that assumption. Four out of five women give birth. The number of childless couples is growing, but those of us without children are still the minority.

When you’re dating someone, I think it’s natural to assume you’re both planning to have children someday—unless someone says something. And that’s the thing. It’s an awkward conversation, could be a date-stopper or a relationship-killer, but someone has to ask the questions. Do you want children? Are you able to have children? How will you feel if I get pregnant? How will you feel if I never do? You both need to honestly say how you feel about it: I really don’t want children. Or I want children so badly that I don’t want to live without them.

If you’re not going with the default position of having children, someone has to say it. And not after the wedding flowers have already been ordered. People can feel the way they want to feel. That’s fine. Just say it before it’s too late. Please.

Yes, folks change their minds. But—and this is the old Catholic lady talking—if you agreed to children before you got married, you can’t break that contract later. That’s just selfish and you shouldn’t hurt someone you love that way.

I expect some difficult comments. My back is in bad shape today, and I hurt too much to be diplomatic. So let the comments fly.

Is 49 Too Old to Become a Dad?

He’s older and thinks he’s too old to become a dad. I read that in so many comments. In fact, I received such a comment from a man this week. “Ezz” says he’s 49 and his wife, 33, agreed they didn’t want kids when they got married five years ago. Now she has had a change of heart and wants to have a baby. He’s still not into it and feels that he’s too old. Sound familiar? Sure did to me since my husband and I were almost exactly the same ages when we got married. I hear it a lot. The guy says, “Nah, I’m too old.”

Is he? We know that while women’s time to procreate is limited, men can keep producing sperm all their lives. We know that some celebrities, like Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, and Michael Douglas, fathered children when they were in their 60s, and they claim to be very happy. But what about your average guy?

My husband had three children from his first marriage and didn’t want to do it again. The thought of going through all the stages with new children just made him tired. As it was, he was the oldest dad in every setting with his youngest son, who arrived as a surprise when Fred was 39.

As I write this, I realize that if Fred and I had had a child in 1986, the year after we got married, that child would have been 14 when his dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, would have spent his teen years watching him deteriorate and would have been 21 when he died. But nobody could have predicted that. Fred might have stayed healthy and full of energy into his 80s or 90s. Would it matter that people mistook him for his child’s grandfather?

There are practical considerations. An article from Time magazine,“Too Old to Be a Dad?” by Jeffrey Kluger, certainly raises some concerns. It suggests that babies conceived with older men’s sperm might be born with autism, schizophrenia and various physical problems. We don’t hear much about that, but it’s certainly something to talk to the doctor about.

Another concern is that the father may die, like Fred did, when the child is still relatively young. He might not live to be a grandparent. And the child’s grandparents might already be gone when they’re born. I was blessed to have my mother till I was 50. My dad is still alive at 94. And I had all four grandparents for a big chunk of my life. Two of my great-grandmothers were still alive when I was little. Are we cheating these children out of important life experiences by starting our families late in life?

Think about that older man. Just when he’s looking forward to retirement, to having time and money to travel or pursue new interests, there’s a kid needing to be taken care of and educated. If he has a baby at 50, the child will be a teenager when he’s ready to retire. When you look at it that way, it’s hard to blame the guy for being reluctant to start a family.

But what about this younger woman who wants to be a mom, who is and will be an appropriate age? She and her parents are likely to still be around. Is it fair for the husband to deprive her of children because he’s older?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I would love to hear what you think about this, especially if you’re in this situation now.

 

Check out these articles that offer a response to the Time Magazine doom and gloom piece:

“What My Son has Taught Me in the First 100 Days   by Robert Manni

“What Time’s Article on Older Dads Did Not Report”  by Len Filppu

P.S. Today is Fred’s birthday. He would have been 79. Our mythical child would have been 29. Big sigh. Thank you all for being here.

 

 

Why Wouldn’t He/She Want to Have Children?

Here at Childless by Marriage, one reader after another reports the same problem: One partner wants kids and the other does not. Period. End of discussion. If infertility is an issue, there are ways to work around it, such as in vitro, surrogates, donors, or adoption, but no. They don’t want to talk about it. I always encourage readers to keep the conversation going, but I had a tight-lipped first husband who wouldn’t discuss it either, so I understand if you keep running into a dead end.

Why are some people so sure they don’t want children? Let’s look at possible reasons:

  1. ·They hate children–Kids are needy, whiny and sticky.
  2.  Money–Raising children is too darned expensive.
  3. Conflicts with existing kids–They already have children from a previous relationship. Between child support, dealing with the ex and taking care of these kids, they can’t imagine bringing more children into their lives.
  4. Fear–of pain, conflicts, cost, life changes, and passing on physical or emotional problems.
  5. Age—They don’t want to be the oldest parent on the soccer field.
  6. Career—Having kids will totally screw it up.
  7. Freedom—They want to do whatever they please whenever they please.
  8. Marriage—Will having children ruin their relationship? Will the wife focus all her attention on the kids? Will they fight over how to raise them? Will they never have sex again?
  9. Inadequacy—They’d be a lousy father or mother.
  10. Responsibility—Don’t want it.
  11. Overpopulation—The world has too many people already.
  12. Messed up world—Why subject a child to wars, terrorism, climate change and a culture gone to hell?

Do any of these sound familiar? Can you add anything to the list? Do you think it’s possible to change their minds? I look forward to reading your comments.