When spouses differ on having children

Any married person has figured out how to resolve conflicts. Certainly I thought my husband and I had. But the truth is, we’d never disagreed on anything that important before. Sure, he calls the food I buy “fancy” and I try to convince him that not all generics are the exact same thing repackaged, but the fact is, we’re both really fine with it either way.

Lately, there’s something a little thornier: deciding whether or not to have another child. We have Pumpkin, of course. I look at the three of us together and think, “Yup, that’s my family.” P-Daddy looks at us together and thinks someone is still missing. There are lots of more complicated ways to explain it: I’m afraid of another rough pregnancy and of destroying my work/life balance, he worries that only children are lonely, wants someone visiting us in future holidays. But the fact is, it just boils down to that raw gut feeling that has no logic: do you think you are done? Unfortunately, after going to the well, we came up with different answers.

For some, the question is whether to start at all. A few years ago I read Emily Giffin’s Baby Proof, about what happens when one half of a couple who have agreed to be child-free changes their mind. I thought it was a great and largely uncovered genre for chick lit, but, of course, it ended with the couple reconciling, but didn’t address whether they would have the kids or not. In a romance novel, you can’t have one side win. But in real life, the issue proceeds past the kiss-and-make-up, and the fact is, someone has to win. . . and someone has to lose.

Okay, maybe “lose” sounds harsh, but whether or not you want any children, and the number you want, is a pretty profound thing. Hardly any decision you make affects your life, and the lives of others, more. And there’s no compromise. (And no, a person who doesn’t want children and one who wants two, cannot “split the difference” by having one; when you’re a parent, you’re a parent).

We’re not the only ones who struggle with these questions. I’ve heard it from my friends, and even from strangers happy to share they are trying to negotiate a spouse into another kid. Some people would advise that number of children should be something you settle on before getting married. I think those people should realize that decisions you make when you can’t see around all the corners coming your way are very vulnerable to change.

The thing is, things like this cannot be argued. You can’t make a check list and decide whose is longer, or more logical. This is the deep, muddy stuff of commitment. This is the part no one likes, that they don’t write books about, at least, not the happy kind. One of us, eventually, will do something against our core desire. Right now, I’m going to put the odds on it being me. But I also believe there is a way to do such a thing that is just and loving to everyone. It’s a dance perhaps, some tender poking of bruises, some things that fall in between the words, until you land somewhere. And then you move forward, doing as best as you can, like you always do, and hoping to be happy with it when you do, like you always are. I can’t tell you exactly what that means. I’m still squinting at it, trying to see for myself.

Do I worry about putting out into the world for some child potentially in my future that I didn’t want them? A bit. But my experience is that children care more about how you feel once they arrive. And I’ve had no trouble embracing the one that exists, after all. By the way, I asked P-Daddy if he was okay with me writing about this very personal decision in our marriage. He said fine, but, “don’t make me sound baby crazy.” So, hopefully I’ve succeeded at that.

Have you had to navigate these waters? How did you do it?

10 Responses to “When spouses differ on having children”
  1. Skinny Sushi says:

    I truly believe that the decision to have/not have children, and the followup decision on whether to have more, might be one of the most difficult decisions most couples face. Rarely do two people start out and stay in perfect agreement. For us, my husband would ideally like more but isn’t particularly passionate about it. And since we both suffered deeply from losing our first, and he watched me struggle through five months of bedrest and many MANY months of recovery with our second, he totally understands why I am, at best, hesitant. If I had to choose right now, I’d say I don’t want more, that I am done… but like you said, it’s not an easy or logical decision that can be thought out, so I know I could easily wake up one day feeling differently. In the end, our decision was to just keep living our lives, and then see if it works itself out.

    You’re right though, someone always loses. And I am forever trying to work out in my head whether the person who wanted kids and didn’t get them or the one who doesn’t want them and has them for someone else’s sake is in the worse position. In the end, I think it will work out the way the first pregnancy did, for us both. One day you’ll decide that wanting another is a bigger thing than the concerns and the worries, or you won’t and Pumpkin will be enough.

    There is no answer, right? Too bad there isn’t a handbook for this sort of thing. I spend a lot of time lately thinking about whether or not I’m making the right choice, despite my constant reassurances to myself and others that I am not, in fact, making a choice yet. Especially since I’m thirty now, though, I will admit to feeling a sense of ticking clock pressure to make the decision, since if we are going to try again it ought to be reasonably soon, before I’m “of advanced maternal age.” The first two pregnancies were rife with issues… I don’t need being “old” to complicated it further.

  2. Skinny Sushi says:

    More thoughts: Everyone I know is struggling with this one, and I think part of the reason why is because every single one of us has a sort of vague idea of how the whole family/kids thing is going to work out for us long before we’re there and then, shockingly and with a sense of betrayal, life has the gall to never do what we thought it would and we find ourselves facing a different sort of life than we expected and aren’t sure how to make the puzzle pieces of old expectations fit within the new framework.

    • H says:

      So well said. I see a lot of people who say, “well, you should just work this stuff out before getting married.” But people’s feelings change and evolve over time, which is part of what makes marriage a difficult thing. You each change a thousand times, but have to keep moving in somewhat the same direction.

  3. itisis says:

    having been around and know couples who are facing issues involving:
    1) i want children/no kids for me thanks
    2) i want children but my husband wants to wait till he makes his first million so that we’re financially awesome
    3) i want children (if this woman is 23) but i’d like to wait till i’m 26…
    etc etc.
    all i want to say or share, is that, don’t mess around with nature. you are certain that you can get pregnant whenever you want to? do you know how many millions of couples are trying for a child and are struggling to conceive?
    count your blessings. children are a blessing. a gift. it’s not something you can control when it comes to ‘i want to have kids next month/year/when my wife or husband is ready.
    too many married couples are taking this for granted. seriously, it’s disgusting.
    i respect those who don’t want children or delay having children due to multiple, unspeakable, indescribable reasons. i do.
    but i don’t respect those who think they can have it whenever they think they do it, they WILL have it.
    count your blessings.

    • Skinny Sushi says:

      Although I see your point, I’d have to disagree with you. If you know yourself and your body well enough and you’ve had a pregnancy or two before, you probably have a very good and reasonably accurate idea of how long it will take you to get pregnant. And, for the record, anyone who doesn’t see children as a good thing shouldn’t be having them. I do think, however, that it is a huge decision that impacts a thousand different things in your life, and it is something that should be carefully thought out. I’d rather a couple wait a little too long than have a child before they are ready. Children may be blessings, but they are also a lot of work, and if a couple has children before they are ready there is a much better chance that the stress will create a negative home environment for that child.

      • itisis says:

        agreed – however i’ve seriously been around too many mommy-wannabes to feel their pain. they are healthy people, people with good health track records and healthy lifestyles – it’s just that there is a need for other women to be aware not to take this issue for granted when many other dedicated women are trying all they can but still can’t conceive. invitrofertilization is being used, but it takes months, even years, to get your biological body to adjust to it. my concerns are off-topic here, i apologize, maybe one day you can write about this side of the story, who knows 🙂 thanks for responding. i truly appreciate it.

      • Skinny Sushi says:

        You are so right, there are a lot of people who take it for granted and shouldn’t. I’ve never had experience with infertility, but I have MANY friends who have. We’ll try to get a post up about it.

  4. Lotus says:

    I have been with my boyfriend for 4 years, so thoughts of marriage are floating around. We have always been in agreement that neither of us wanted kids. I’m starting to think that maybe I would like to have kids eventually and I’m terrified of telling him that. I guess for now, I don’t have to tell him. If we get serious about this marriage business, then maybe it’ll have to come up.

    I hope you and your husband can figure this out and that you will both end up being at peace with your decision!

    • Skinny Sushi says:

      Lotus – honestly, if I were you I’d talk to him about it as soon as possible. Why wait? Honesty is ALWAYS best, and it will help you both figure out how to move the relationship forward from here.

    • H says:

      Thanks Lotus. I agree in encouraging you to talk about with your boyfriend. Honesty is the basis for all the stuff that can follow. You shouldn’t view it as a betrayal to start to feel differently either. Our feelings change as our lives change, and that’s okay. And thanks for the encouragement.

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