When you want Chinese food and he wants pizza, how do you decide which to get? Settle on KFC instead? If he gets his pizza, will you still be wishing for Chinese or decide pizza’s not so bad after all? Will you not really care because it didn’t matter that much to you? Or will you hold it over his head. “I gave up moo shu pork and egg rolls for you, and I’ve got heartburn from eating your stupid pizza.” Will he give in and have Chinese but insist it was the worst Chinese food he ever tasted?
Deciding whether or not to have children is not the same as deciding on takeout food, of course. Years later, will you remember whether you ate moo shu or pizza? No, but whether or not you have children will affect your entire life.
Relationships are full of decisions. Where will you live? Where will you work? Will you paint the living room blue or white, go to his parents’ or yours for the holidays? But next to getting married, whether or not to have children is the biggest decision you will ever make.
If you’re lucky, you and your sweetheart agree on most things most of the time. It sure makes life a lot easier. It’s like, “Let’s have . . .” and you both say “Chinese!” at the same time. But we wouldn’t be here at the Childless by Marriage blog if life were that easy.
It would be nice if we were all saints, too. “I will sacrifice what I want because I love you. And I’ll never bring it up again.”
That’s how it goes in fairy tales.
In real life, when someone gives up what they want, they may not be able to let it go. When you disagree about having children, someone is going to be unhappy and that unhappiness might never go away.
If you’re the one who wants children and you do somehow convince your partner to make a baby—or adopt or pursue fertility treatments, he or she might decide that like the pizza, yes, this is good and they’re glad they changed their mind. But it is quite possible they will carry some resentment and bring it up whenever things get difficult. I never wanted kids. See, now we can’t take a vacation because your son needs braces.
If you didn’t get the children you wanted, you might cry about it in secret or yell about it out loud. Because of you, I’ll never be a mother or a father. Because of your selfishness. It doesn’t help that the world makes you feel less-than because you’re not a mom or dad like everyone else seems to be.
Maybe it’s not just a matter of want but can’t. Your partner can’t have children so you decide you will give them up too because you love them. You want to be together. Wonderful. Again, saintly. But there are going to be those moments when you think I screwed up. I shouldn’t have just given up like that. It wasn’t fair of him to ask me to.
In Jordan Davidson’s book So When are You Having Kids?, which I wrote about in my April 5 post, she cited a UK study that showed many couples decide whether or not to have children after only one discussion. Each person usually comes to that one discussion already knowing what they want. Ideally, we bond with people who think like we do, but when we disagree on something so important, it gets tricky.
Davidson says the one who feels strongest about what they want will usually prevail. The other gives in out of love or simply to save the relationship. “Those who felt comfortable with their ultimate decision said they never felt manipulated or forced into deciding, whereas those who expressed some level of regret or dissatisfaction with parenthood felt rushed or coerced.”
“If you convince your partner to align with your decision, you may feel guilty, like you decided their future for them. Your partner may also harbor some resentment if they feel like their desires weren’t fairly considered.”
What am I trying to say? Only that there’s no easy answer here. If you nag and cry and make your partner crazy until they give in just to get some peace, you might get what you want, but at what price to your relationship? If you quietly give in but can’t really accept the decision, it will fester inside. All you can do is make your desires known. Talk it through thoroughly—and not just once. Then decide whether you can live with the results.
As my mother always told me about boyfriends, there are more fish in the sea, but if this is the only fish for you, one of you is going to have adapt to the other fish’s speed.
What do you think about this? Can you compromise on the baby question and still be happy together? I welcome your comments.
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