It doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship.
When KC was 21, she started dating a man 6 years older than she was, who had had a vasectomy at age 25, before they met. “I have always wanted children,” she says. “But I wasn’t looking to have a child in my early 20s, so it was what it was for the moment, which made it fun and free.” As time went on, though, and she found herself realizing more about what she wanted from life, she knew it couldn’t continue. ” I started noticing how it bothered me, and ultimately tied me to someone else’s decision. I knew we couldn’t continue on the same path, that it was splitting.”
If you’re in a relationship with someone who wants kids, and you don’t, or the other way around, is a break up inevitable? How do you negotiate what seems like such a fundamental difference?
Ann Davidman is a marriage and family therapist and the co-creator of “Motherhood – Is It For Me?,” a 14 week course aimed at helping women decide whether or not they want to become parents. Davidman says that couples who differ on the subject of children aren’t necessarily doomed, but it’s a matter of clear communication and understanding what each person wants, and why. The ‘why’ is particularly important here, says Davidman, because you both might want kids, but if what you want and expect from parenting is drastically different, that can also be dangerous. In other words, you have to do the work of thinking about your desires and motivations, before you have a discussion about it with another person. “The more you know yourself, the better,” she says. “When you talk about this, you should come from a place where your certainty, even if you’re uncertain, comes from a place of consciousness, not reactivity.”
When S and her now-wife, R, were first dating, they talked about their future. “The stories included a kid or two – names and genders chosen, not much beyond that and they weren’t the center of the story.” These stories were told less and less after they graduated college and moved into their mid 20’s. S knew R was leaning towards not having kids, and she herself was ambivalent. A few months after she turned 30, says S, the subject came up again. Her friends were starting to have children, she and R had moved to a place where they didn’t know anyone, and S had arrived at the place in her career where she had always wanted to be. “So I was trying to figure out what my next big life goal would be.”
They revisited the subject. “She definitely doesn’t want to have kids, and I want to stay with her more than I want to have kids. So I’ve been working by myself, with her, and a bit with a counselor about ways I can fulfill my needs without having kids of my own.”
Davidman has seen this situation a lot in her practice – partners who are committed to one another, but at odds on the question of kids. “I had one couple – he wanted lots of children, she never wanted to be pregnant. They agreed to foster/adopt some older children – refugees – so the situation was satisfying to both of them. She didn’t have to be pregnant, and he got to parent. But they both had to understand what they wanted and why, and it took a while to get there.”
Although Jessica’s husband told her he was fine with not having kids, she decided that because they were a strong couple and he would be a great father, she would give motherhood a shot. Now, they have twins. “I am a functioning, happy(ish) mother of twin five-year-old daughters today, but it does not come easily to me,” she says. She’s glad her husband stood by her when she didn’t want children, but what’s most important, she stresses, is the relationship she and her husband have. “The fact of the matter is that one day those kids will grow up and move away, and what’s left is you and your significant other learning to negotiate and be part of a functioning team.”
How you choose to negotiate the subject of children with your partner is deeply personal and private. What you should not do, though, urges Davidman, is to go into the conversation expecting to be saved. For example – you don’t know what you want, but you approach things hoping that the other person will have such conviction about their desires that it pushes you in a certain direction. Davidman: “You can say you don’t know, but coming from a place of fear can lead both of you to project things onto one another.” Additionally, Davidman says, you should also never assume that the subject will just work itself out – that one person will change their mind or it will just go away. “‘She’ll come around’ is a dangerous game to play. I see those people in therapy 15 years later.”