She Said, He Said: Having children has to be for right reasons, not an expectation

Dear Lori and Jeff,

My wife and I have been married for two years and we both expressed ambivalence about having kids when we met and throughout our relationship. For the past several months, my wife has been dropping hints that she’s getting close to moving past her “prime childbearing years” and if we are ever going to have kids, we need to do it soon. I’m surprised by her shift but want to be supportive. I didn’t think I ever wanted kids, but maybe now it’s a compromise I could make. Any suggestions?

Signed, Not Sure About Kids

Dear Not Sure,

Lori and Jeff: Talking about whether or not to have children can be tricky for any couple. But if you allow communication only to happen through hints and intimations, your true wants and needs can get lost in the shuffle. It’s time to sit down face to face and lay all your cards on the table. Partners can compromise over where they live, how they spend money, and whether to get a dog, but compromising over having a kid is a very different situation. Even if your wife agrees to take on most of the parenting responsibility, that child will look to you as dad and will make assessments about his worth, belonging and the safety of the world based on how much you’re willing to show up. 

Jeff: One of the most important questions to address is whether or not your wife’s shift was fueled by the honest, authentic desire to be a mom and to bring another life into this world. We’ve worked with more than a few couples who had kids for less than ideal reasons. Some thought it was simply the next thing they were supposed to do as a married couple. Some thought having a common purpose in raising a child would bring them closer together and revive their marriage. Some bowed to the pressure of their parents wanting grandchildren. Some subconsciously wanted the unconditional love they mistakenly imagined their children would provide for them. Others began to realize their time was running out and made the decision based on panic or fear of missing their opportunity. If any of these dynamics fit your situation, it’s not necessarily an immediate deal breaker. It would, however, certainly warrant a very open, heart-to-heart conversation and possibly a reexamination of your goals and intentions as a couple.

Lori: Life changing decisions, like having a child, need to be explored through both an emotional and analytical lens. The most skilled salesperson will tell you people shop with information but buy on emotion. Before each of you come to the table for the baby-or-no-baby negotiations, you need to be clear about the facts and feelings. The facts are often the easier part to assess: Can we afford children? How would our schedules look? How would we divide responsibilities? What parenting techniques or approaches would we use? 

The more important (and often overlooked) factor is understanding the emotions involved. When you imagine having a kid, do you feel fear, frustration, escape, newness or unconditional love? When you think of your future sans “Sprout” do you experience regret, sadness, freedom or joy? The feelings you carry into this conversation will ultimately drive your decisions. It’s important to know not only what the feelings are, but what their source is. Feelings come from our perceptions, so spend some time thinking about the stories you have about parenting. What does being a dad mean to you? Ultimately, you’ll have to consider this information about yourself and decide if you can be all in. 

Lori and Jeff: If the draw to having a child is to fill a void then the foundation of your relationship will need to be addressed. Otherwise you’ll surely pave the way for resentment and regret. Having a child can ultimately be rewarding and fulfilling, but only if you’re diving in for the right reasons.