Talking about kids

Dear Dr. Rachel,

I have been married to my husband for almost two years. Increasingly we’ve been having tense discussions and arguments about having children. The problem is he wants to start a family but I’m reluctant, to say the least. If it were up to him we would already have two kids by now. I’m worried this will be a deal-breaker between us. How can we resolve our difference of opinion?

My first question is: Why wasn’t this discussed before you agreed to get married?

Perhaps you are like many couples who fail to thoroughly discuss key issues before getting hitched. The ability to speak your truth directly, and then negotiate and regulate conflict with a partner, is an essential skill in a healthy long-term relationship, no matter the issue (allow me to put in a plug here for pre-marital therapy).

Let’s get real: Raising a child is a huge commitment. Let me emphasize the word “huge.”

Not only does it impact how you allocate your time, energy and resources each day, it means you are tied to your co-parent for the rest of your life or at least until the child becomes an adult. The decision to bring another human into the world should be taken seriously. And ideally it is something you want wholeheartedly, which you don’t.

Having children has long been the default step after becoming an adult and committing to a partner, but younger generations are questioning this. Society allocates significant meaning to being a parent, and there’s just as much judgment allocated to those who choose to remain childless.

Ask your husband what he wants from the experience of having a family and why he desires this in the first place. Does your husband actually want to have children, or does he feel this is what he’s supposed to do?

This type of conversation can help reveal whether he has compelling reasons to have children, which may shift your perspective and open you up more to the idea. A conversation of this nature could also lead your husband to realize he’s looking to start a family because he feels he should or casually figured it was the next logical step in his life. Neither of which are good enough reasons.

The choice to have children can be quite an emotional issue. Together with your husband, explore your hopes and fears around having kids. Also explore what having a child represents for each of you. Your decision around this is symbolic for your differing values and beliefs originating in your experience as a child. Whether or not to become a parent is loaded, in part because it connects to how we were parented.

If you haven’t already, communicate clearly with your husband about your reluctance. You would be surprised by the number of people who stonewall their partner, putting up a shield of stubborn silence instead of speaking from their heart and explaining their viewpoint. Anything is better than shutting the other person out.

If this issue is a deal breaker, then you each have a crucial question to confront. For your husband, what does he wants more, having children or keeping you as his wife? As for you, do you want to remain childless more than you want to stay married to your husband?

This distills your issues down to your ultimate level of commitment to one another. Plus, if you’ve already been feeling like you were on shaky ground, this is adding weight to your reluctance.

Each of you is entitled to your opinion. Neither of you is right or wrong, you simply have a different vision for your future. Good marriages and good parents don’t just happen. They require love, work, education and dedication.

If the two of you can’t fully bring these qualities to the table, then you need to hold off on starting a family. In the meantime, practice by getting a puppy.