This Childless Dilemma Sounds Familiar

Grace is in her mid-30s, divorced with three children. Her boyfriend has never had children, and he looks forward to becoming a father. No way, says Grace. The baby factory is closed. It’s hard enough taking care of the children she already has. They love each other but they break up.

Meanwhile, her next-door neighbors Wade and Nadine can’t seem to get pregnant. Wade is pretty sure his sperm are the problem. This is Nadine’s fourth marriage, and she’s in her mid-30s, too. She’s terrified she will lose her chance to become a mom.

I don’t know what Wade and Nadine are going to do, but I suspect they’re not going to give up.

Sounds like a lot of people who read this blog, doesn’t it? Actually these are characters in a 1990s TV show, “Grace Under Fire,” which is being offered on Amazon Prime. I’ve been binge-watching episodes for the last couple weeks. (Somebody pry the tablet out of my hands, please.) I loved this show before, and I’m enjoying it again. The characters are so engaging and so funny. The clothes and sets take me back to a happy time in my life. It’s a kick to pick out things from those days. I find myself shouting, “Hey, I have that bowl!” Or “I wore a vest just like that.” I laugh at jokes about then-president Bill Clinton and his first lady Hillary. Things have changed so much.

The problems the characters face are real. Grace’s ex-husband abused her. They were both alcoholics. She’s sober now, but he isn’t. She struggles with money, day-care and the difficulties of dating when you have children. She works in an oil refinery where the women employees face rampant sexism and harassment, just like the many women exposing their bosses and co-workers these days.

Most of you won’t remember “Grace Under Fire.” I didn’t remember much except that I loved it. But I see it differently now. When I watched the episode where Grace and her boyfriend break up, I wanted to stop the show and send a link to all of you. This, this is the crux of our problem. He wants kids; she does not.

“Grace” is not the only show where we see one partner unwilling to have children with the other. Remember on “Friends” where Monica broke up with her boyfriend played by Tom Selleck because he didn’t want to have any more kids and she desperately wanted children. You can watch it here. Later in the series, when she was married to Chandler, they discovered they were infertile and wound up adopting twins.

In the TV world, the characters are very clear about what they want and take action to make sure they get it. I guess it’s a lot easier on TV than it is in real life.

You can watch the scene with Grace and her boyfriend here. The sound isn’t great, but go to about 14:58 to catch the important part. I’m sure there are other TV shows and movies dealing with the same issues. A Google search got me “The Bob Newhart Show” from way back. Can you name some? Let’s make a list.

***

Remember a while back I wrote about a friend’s daughter whose fiancé had just told her he didn’t want to have children? They were already planning the wedding, and now she didn’t know what to do. You can read about it here. Well, the young woman broke up with the guy. She’s grieving the lost marriage, but now she has a new job that will allow her to travel all over the world. She leaves for Japan on Christmas Day. When she comes home, she’ll figure out what happens next. I’m proud of her for standing up for what she wants and needs in life.

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Another Man Drops the No-Kids Bomb

Yesterday at lunch I heard that a friend’s daughter’s fiancé has announced he does not want to have children. The person telling me this didn’t want me to say anything about it, and he quickly changed the subject. He was probably supposed to keep it a secret. And he probably didn’t understand why I got so angry.

Why does this happen so much? People keep writing to me about mates who won’t procreate. They share heartbreaking stories, and I don’t know how to comfort them. They ask whether they should leave and look for someone else to make babies with or stay and remain childless. Or will he/she maybe change their mind? They tell me about forced abortions and failed fertility treatments, about parents who complain about not having grandchildren, and about how awful they feel at baby showers and other child-centered events. I remember how I felt in my 30s and 40s. So hurt, so angry. Age has made it easier, but it still hurts. Just last week, I saw a young man down the street and realized I could have had a grandson that age, and oh God, I wanted so bad for it to be true.

I realized that my lunch companions knew nothing about my Childless by Marriage book or this blog. They knew I didn’t have kids, but they didn’t know why. They were both great-grandparents with pictures on their phones to show me. In their world, everyone has children, including people who probably shouldn’t.

I could see they were not following me, so I shut up, but I’m still angry. I have known this young engaged woman since she was little. She’s smart, beautiful, funny and loving. She lived with her fiancé a long time before he proposed marriage. She left her home and family to live on the other side of the U.S. with him. The wedding is soon. She has already made the arrangements, already bought her dress. Now he tells her he doesn’t want children? What is she supposed to do now? I want to throttle the guy. What right does he have to take motherhood away from her? I hope he changes his tune, but the fact that he said it will always be hanging out there. He’s not old, does not have kids from another marriage. So what’s the deal?

I hate that this keeps happening.

I’m telling a story that isn’t mine to tell, but I can’t help it.  It’s just not fair.

I know you understand.

What Happened? Did They Go or Stay?

Dear readers,
I received this email last week. The writer raises an excellent question. We gets lots of comments from people struggling over whether to stay in a childless marriage or leave and hope to find someone else, but we rarely find out what they decided to do. Read what she says.

 

Dear Sue,
I found your blog a while back and have been reading over posts and comments for days. People talk about leaving or staying, but you never hear if they left and what happened next! I am 35 and have a good marriage with a pretty great man. We have some kinks, but who doesn’t.  He has a son (now 21) that is out of the house and we have a fine relationship. Around the time I turned 35, the urge to have a child overwhelmed me! I am so sad it is hard to get out of the bed on some days. I have seen a counselor and talked to a few friends, but ultimately the decision is mine to stay or go. Everyone says you are almost to the age of no return. You would be hard pressed to find another man you love and to have children. I don’t want to be alone and be the crazy cat lady. I would love to hear from some of your readers that left and if they are happy now or if they regret leaving. Did they find love again and have a family? I feel like I want to leave and have a family, but I am terrified to say those words to my husband and end up alone. Can you help?
 
Thanks,
Completely Sad

So, readers who have been in this situation, what did you decide and how did it turn out? What advice do you have for “Completely Sad”? Please let us know in the comments.

I wish you all a blessed and happy Easter. If this means hanging out with the family, dealing with all those questions and everybody else’s kids, I hope it won’t be too painful for you. It does get easier. At this point, I’m enjoying the little babies and little kids in the family. I’m also glad I don’t have to take care of them. I wish I had adult children to be with, to love, and to help me when I need it, but that’s a whole other post. I took the childless path.

But you, readers, especially those who were struggling with the stay-or-go decision. What have you decided?

You might want to look back at these previous posts and comments on the subject:

“He already has his kids, but I don’t”

“If they don’t want kids, do you have to break up?”

He already has his kids, but I don’t

Ooh, those stepchildren. I was all set to write about something else this week, but then I got this comment on a previous post. I’m dying to share it with you and get your opinions.

The original post, “Stepparents caught between two worlds,” is still drawing comments. For so many of us, our childless lives include dealing with our partners’ kids from previous relationships. Sometimes they feel like our own kids. Note the second book I talked about last week where the author fell completely into the mom role with her two stepsons. More often, we have mixed feelings. We want to love them and make them our own, but they already have two biological parents. They may accept you or treat you like dirt. You may have a good relationship with your partner’s ex or be constantly at war. And when it comes to your partner choosing between his or her children and you, well, guess who loses that contest? Blood trumps love most of the time.

So often, accepting this partner with kids means you will not get kids of your own because that partner has already been there and done that.

That said, let me share what “Honest” wrote:

I’m very thankful I have stumbled upon this blog. I’ve been searching for someone, anyone really, who I can relate to and to see that I am not alone in this whirlwind of step-parenting.

Last year I met a man that I was completely not ready for. He was the most incredible man I have ever met, Kind, nurturing, persistent, caring, understanding, supportive and above all he was completely and utterly in love with me. He had been in a relationship for 10 years and had two kids 9 & 5. His ex had left him a year and a half before we met. He was the bigger man and moved out of the house they had just recently built and moved into a rental, while still paying for the house and all her bills, (which I think is completely and utterly insane. I know if that was me I would not be funding her) But his excuse was he was doing it for the kids as she would not be able to afford the house and bills as she did not work. I have come from a hard upbringing. My father was abusive and my mother worked three jobs to support our family, so you can see why I would have a bad taste in my mouth to begin with from his ex not wanting to work even though both children are at school when my mother raised us all and worked three jobs, but that’s just my view. I guess.

My partner won my heart after months of my hesitation to commit to him. I knew deep in my heart I would be in for a whirlwind of a ride once I committed. He was still going through the sale of his house, she was still living in it, he works away so he was gone for a full week and the week he was home he had the kids for the whole 7 days. So from the very beginning, I knew if I stepped into this I was becoming a half-time stepmom. That when I saw him, I knew I would be seeing the children too, never a moment alone to have our own relationship. But, love won me over.

Three months into our relationship, we moved in together. Not only was he pushing for it, as at the time he was coming home and staying at their ‘old home’ which she still lived in, and would go to her friends the week he was home, but my current rental was about to run out of lease. So we made the plunge and moved into a two-bedroom apartment. As his ex had run him dry of money, I ended up paying and furnishing the entire apartment (which included a room for his two kids, with whom I had only spent a handful of time) and accepting the fact that I was now involved.

The two kids are beautiful. I have grown to love them very much. I take them to school, I pack their lunches, I cook them dinner and put them to bed, do all the things a mother would do. But, at the same time, all I can see when I look into their eyes is her [the ex]. She would call and abuse my partner at ridiculous hours, she would start messaging me abuse, he would try and be reasonable with her and she just would not have it, and that absolutely kills me inside.
My partner from the start told me I was the love of his life and he wants to marry me and spend the rest of his life with me and have children of our own. Up until recently. Now he has decided that he does not want any more children.

When those words came out of his mouth, it absolutely ripped my heart out. I’ve wanted children my whole life. I have had three abortions with exes, because they did not want to be fathers, or the time was not right, and they would not be around if I was to have the child. So I did the right thing ( so I thought) and went through the traumatic experience of having an abortion, because I want my children to grow up in a family with both a loving mum and a dad, and not a dad who does not want them. I know firsthand how many times I wished when I was a child my mum did not have me because of my abusive father. So now I’m 28 and the man who I thought I was going to marry and start a family with has changed his mind on having any more children. Do I leave and attempt to find someone else I will fall in love with and we both want a family, or stay in hopes he will change his mind? It’s not like he cannot see the mother I will be. I’m more of a mother to his children then their actual mother. It breaks my heart to know that I’m 28 and I’m still completely and utterly unsure of what I’m doing in life. I don’t think I could live the next 20 years with his children and none of our own, I feel like that’s taking something special away from me, away from us, that he does not want us to have that connection, and it leaves an awfully bad taste in my mouth.

HERE’S WHAT I SAID: Honest, you’re not going to like my response, but I’m going to say it anyway. Looking at it from the outside, I think your guy is taking advantage of you. You have provided him a place to live and free child-care while he’s preventing you from having your own children and still supporting his ex. Maybe he does love you, but the whole situation sounds messed up to me. I wish you all the best.

What do you all think? Respond here or on the original post, where you can read some other step-situations.

When hormones outtalk common sense

I’ve been thinking about Monday’s “Bachelorette” TV show. Did you see it? Kaitlyn, the bachelorette, and Nick, one of her suitors, made out all over Dublin, even in a church. It was embarrassing to watch. I kept yelling at the screen, “Nick get your hands out of her dress!” but he didn’t hear me. Then they went back to her hotel suite and had sex. We didn’t see it, but we heard the sound effects, and it was all over the news on Tuesday. Shooting in Charleston, Kaitlyn does Nick. It could all have been staged, but clearly those two were in that zone where common sense goes out the window. I’ve been there. Have you?

In her voiceovers, Kaitlin kept saying that when she gets together with Nick, she forgets the cameras, the other guys and everything else. I know the feeling. Maybe you do, too. You have just discovered this person. Your hormones are going crazy. Suddenly nothing else matters. You will do or say anything to keep the relationship going. You’ll move, you’ll quit your job, you’ll shut out the advice of everyone in your world, and you’ll ignore that little voice in your head that says, “Hey, wait a minute.”

Then the initial fire cools. You look around and think, wait, I don’t want to change my whole life. I like my job. I like my home. He’s not as cute as I thought he was. Suddenly he or she says, “About those babies . . . I’m not so sure.” Now you’re committed and in a jam.

That’s where most of the folks here, including me, end up. I hear it over and over. Yesterday, an anonymous writer sent a four-part comment about her situation. She’s 38, he’s 40. She’s sure he’s the love of her life. She moved in with him a while ago. He was okay with baby thing before, but now he’s saying he doesn’t want to have a baby. She’s freaking out, she’s starting counseling, she’s not sure if they can stay together. What do I think she should do?

I never know what to tell people in this situation. The old lady in me misses the days when people didn’t jump into bed or move in together so quickly, when you had to commit to marriage before doing the horizontal polka. Or maybe people were just sneakier about it. We all do it. I slept with Fred early on and moved in with him before we got married. Luckily, I got a good man and I have no regrets, except for not having children, but it doesn’t always work out that well. I could have skipped my whole first marriage if I had listened to the wiser woman in my head.

Don’t ignore that little voice. It’s like when I quit my excellent job and gave up my apartment in 1983 to sing with a band that had a contract to tour the U.S. All I ever wanted was to sing in a band, and here was my chance. We were going to be rich and famous. Our sponsors went bankrupt in two months. There I was with no home and no job. I moved back in with my parents and started over. Wiser members of the band had kept their jobs and had something to go back to, but me, I jumped headfirst.

It’s the same with relationships. I know how it feels to be crazy in love. The rest of the world just disappears, but don’t let it. Do whatever you can to get a clear head, whether it’s prayer, a hiking trip, or a long talk with a friend. Listen to your loved ones, listen to that voice in your head. Don’t burn any bridges until you’re sure it’s going to work because sometimes it’s perfect, and sometimes it turns into a disaster.

Have you been in similar situations? Have you dumped everything for a man or woman and then regretted it? I would love to hear your comments.

Are you fooling yourself about the baby thing?


In Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, the book I reviewed here last week, Tim Kreider, one of the few male authors in the book, says that he makes a point of telling the women he dates early on that he does not intend to have children and that he will not change his mind. “In my experience,” he writes, “people have a bottomless capacity to delude themselves that their partners will eventually change.”
I think this statement is so important to our Childless by Marriage discussion. We do delude ourselves. I know I did. With my first husband, I told myself we would have babies eventually. Maybe we would have if our marriage hadn’t died. My ex didn’t want kids, but he often buckled to pressure from his parents on other subjects and his mother couldn’t wait to be a grandmother. So, maybe. But the evidence doesn’t support that. Now 66 years old, he has been married three times, and he never had any children. Surely at least one of those other wives wanted them, too. But no babies. Dogs yes, children no.
My second husband, Fred, told me he didn’t want any more children. He already had three kids, the oldest already in their late teens. He’d had a vasectomy after his youngest son was born. And yet for years, I did exactly what Tim Kreider said. I deluded myself that somehow something would change and at least one of his sperm would hook up with at least one of my eggs and we’d make babies. Hello, there’s only one Virgin Mary. It did not happen. I menopaused, he died, game over. I’m living alone with a dog.
If you read back through the comments for past posts, there are hundreds, mostly from women, that talk about partners who say they don’t want children. What should I do, they ask. Will he change his mind? He says he might be ready in a few years. He said we’d do it right after X, and now he says no. He won’t talk about it. Etc.
You can’t blame people for hoping. Sometimes their partners are not clear about what they want. Maybe they don’t even know. Sometimes things happen and people change their minds. But when a person says flat out that he or she does not want to have babies with you and they’re not going to change their minds, I think we have to believe that they mean it and that being with them means you will not have children. If that is not acceptable, don’t delude yourself into thinking things will change. Either accept it or move on.
It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. What do you think about this? I welcome your comments.

If You’re Not Sure, Don’t Get Married

Last night I received a comment on an old post titled “Should You Stay with the Guy Who Doesn’t Want Kids?” that details six years of a couple repeatedly breaking up and getting back together. The guy had decided he didn’t want kids. He even scheduled a vasectomy. But she was still hoping he’d change his mind. Now she’s thinking she’ll give up on kids–she’s 39, so maybe it’s too late anyway–but he’s having doubts because he thinks she’ll resent him for not giving her children . . .

As advice columnist Ann Landers used to say, wake up and smell the coffee. It’s not going to work.
I get comments like this all the time from people who can’t decide whether to stay together or break up with their boyfriends/girlfriends, fiances, or spouses. In their comments, they usually focus on the baby issue. Their mate can’t have them, doesn’t want them, isn’t sure, keeps changing his/her mind. But usually that is not the only problem with the relationship. The writer is jealous of the loved one’s children from previous relationships, the couple can’t seem to communicate, there are issues with family, money or jobs, they’re already in counseling  and they’re thinking about splitting up.

I admit to being grouchy this morning, but if you’re already thinking about leaving, go! I can tell you from experience that if the relationship is troubled before the marriage, it is not going to magically improve after you say “I do.” If you’re having doubts, walk away.

When I married my first husband, I was a very young 22. I knew things weren’t right. We didn’t actually talk about having children. I just assumed we would. But there were other things, problems I ignored because I thought we had gone too far to break up. I felt like we had to get married, like he was the only one for me. Turns out I was not the only one for him, but my point is that in a good relationship, you don’t doubt that you want to be together.

Finding a solution when you don’t agree about having children is hard. It takes a lot of love to sacrifice the life you had expected to have. If you start out unable to work together, it’s not going to get better. I don’t know you and your situations, but I do know that if you’re already considering looking for someone else, this is not going to work. Your partner is not going to change, and neither are you. If your love is real, you won’t be considering other options. You’ll face life’s problems, including the issue of having children, together as a unit.

Do you agree? Do you want to yell at me. I’d love to read your comments.