What Do I Do If He Never Wants to Have Children?


Sometimes when you know, you know

by Stephanie Kaloi

Woman covering her face with purple paint design on wall

Q: My partner and I have been together nearly six years. We love each other and are both very committed to making the relationship work. Here’s the thing, though: I definitely want children, and he’s still deciding. I love him so much, but kids (or the lack thereof) are a deal breaker. I don’t want to continue the relationship (as painful as it is to say) if he never wants to have children.

He’s started speaking to a psychologist about it, which is great. My problem is that I keep hoping he’ll come back one night saying, “We worked through all my fears and now I’m definitely ready to make a baby,” which I know is unrealistic at best.

So the question: How long do I wait? What if he never decides? A “no, never” is painful, but at least it’s clear. “I think so, in the future, but not now” was fine three years ago when kids first came up, but it isn’t enough anymore. I’m ready for kids now, but would be happy to wait up to five years until he’s ready… as long as I’m not just waiting on a “maybe.”

How do I stay sane, support him, and keep our relationship strong when we both know that we’ll beak up if he makes a particular decision? And, if years go by and he still hasn’t made a decision, how will I know when it’s the right time to give up hope? How will I have the strength to leave someone I love?

— Anxiously Waiting and Wanting

A: Dear AWW,

Many moons ago, I met the guy I would marry and within hours of our first chat, he told me he didn’t want kids. This was late 2006, and I hadn’t yet been introduced to the term “Child-Free.” I also didn’t yet realize that when someone says they don’t want to have kids, they almost always mean it, so I plunged into our whirlwind relationship (fifteen weeks of dating followed by a courthouse elopement) assuming that he’d change his mind. Why did I have this assumption? Because I knew I wanted kids, and part of what attracted me to my husband was how good of a father I knew he would be. I knew he was the kind of influence I would want on my child, the kind of partner I could successfully co-parent with, and the kind of husband who would be supportive.

And you know what? I was right about him. We have a now seven-year-old son who we both love to pieces, and my husband was nothing but excited from the very beginning (FYI, having a baby was his idea). But within months of our son’s birth, my husband calmly told me that there was no way he was interested in having a second child. It’s not that he didn’t love being a parent, and it’s not that he didn’t love me, but he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was done with one. In other words, he knew his limit.

A few months later I started editing a now-defunct parenting site, and the term Child-Free became part of my vocabulary. I found myself regularly—and fiercely—defending the Child-Free online and off. What once seemed so alien to me (a la, “Who wouldn’t want kids?”) started to become something I could at least understand, even if I couldn’t relate. Even though my husband was in the “one child only” camp, I still wrestled with the idea of having more (much to the detriment of our marriage), before ultimately arriving at a happy place with the family that I have.

Now is a great time to ask why I’ve spent three paragraphs making this about me and not you. Here’s why: sure, my husband changed his mind, but he did so a handful of months after we got married, and we conceived our child a year and a half after the date (which means about two years after we got together). It didn’t take him years to arrive at a point at which he knew he wanted kids… it was more like it took him a few months into our relationship to arrive at a point at which he realized he did want one kid—he just didn’t want a kid with any of his exes. In other words, he was open to parenthood with me, but not necessarily with anyone he had dated before me.

If you are in a position to be able to make the choice yourself (aka, parenthood isn’t foisted upon you due to circumstances beyond your control), then I think deciding that you want kids is not a decision to be taken lightly. Likewise, deciding that you definitely DO NOT want kids should be taken equally seriously. You guys have been together six years and you say he’s still deciding, but the way it sounds to me is that he’s already decided—he’s just waiting for you to make YOUR decision about the future of your relationship.

Of course, things are unpredictable, and it’s entirely possible that one day soon he’ll decide that in fact, he does want kids after all. Or maybe he’ll decide he’s not sure, but he’s willing to have a kid because he loves you so much, and he knows you want a child badly. And if that does happen, there’s no rule that says he won’t end up wildly happy you both dove into parenthood together (it definitely happens)… but what I keep coming back to is that you’ve already been having this chat for six years, and that’s a pretty long time to waffle.

I know that letting go of someone you love while you still love them is the worst. It truly, truly sucks. But you’re talking about being open to spending another five years letting him make up his mind—making it eleven years total that you’re still not becoming a parent, and that’s just a long, long time. Ask yourself this: Is having a child more important to you than being with him? Is it fair to either of you to put off what sounds like an inevitable decision? Or would you rather take the painful path now, break up, and eventually open yourselves up to partners who see eye-to-eye on all of your important issues?

If having a child is the deal breaker that you say it is, then I think you know what you’d rather do with those five years. You could do all kinds of things with them, like meet someone new. You could even meet someone and have a kid in that time span. Likewise, your partner could also move on and meet someone who agrees with him on the kid/no kid issue. You both could move forward and live the life you’re each imagining—but not with one another. I don’t think he’s a bad person for not wanting kids (like I don’t think you are for wanting them), but I do think that his answer is clear… and that it has been for a long time.

I’m not saying that every relationship should end over the kid/no kid question, and I sincerely hope that people chime in with responses with many examples of happy situations that have grown out of the crossroads you find yourselves at. I think, ultimately, you have to know what is possible for you, and what your limits are.

The ache of not having a child when all you want in the world is to have one is a very real, very painful thing (and having a kid you don’t want just to keep your partner happy is, too). It sounds like you already know that’s not an ache you want to live with for much longer, so now it’s just time to admit it to yourself.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! ? ? ?).

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  • Kel

    This might be an unpopular stance, but how old are you and your partner? I ask because I think it’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility that you’re still in your early 20s and that can be a rough time for the Kids/No Kids question. When I was 23, I was definitely ambivalent about kids (I had been with my now-husband for 6 years at this point which is why I choose that age!) I was interested in getting married at that point for sure, but I felt that I was too immature, too unfocused, and just too…wild, for lack of a better term, to seriously think about having a kid. Now? It’s 5 years later, I’m 9 weeks pregnant, and thrilled.

    I guess my point is to consider your life stage, not just the number of years you’ve been with your partner, if that makes sense? If I still didn’t want kids now, I think that would have been really hard for my husband to think that I’d ever want kids, because if I’m not ready now, when would I be? (Our life stabilized considerably, which I think is more important than our literal ages) But had he assumed that at 24, because I wasn’t sure at that in flux, crazy point of my life and our relationship that I’d never be, it would have been a shame.

    If you know that you’re in a life stage where things won’t significantly change for you and your partner (beyond what you can’t control or foresee of course, but I mean certain things like jobs/income, general personal happiness/stability, etc), then I’d really dig deep into his hesitancy. And the sooner he can extrapolate on his hesitation, the better. It doesn’t have to be a Yes or No, it can even be the ability to articulate “This is what I fear” and you can move forward from there.

    Hugs! This can be tough, but it’s important. Good on both of you for dealing with it head-on and proactively.

    • Lisa

      I think this is a fair point. Someone being ambivalent about kids in their early 20s is understandable, but once you get to the late 20s or early 30s, there’s a point where you have to decide one way or the other. If the LW is around 30, waiting another 5 years for her partner to make a decision only to have him say no means that she has a limited amount of time to find another partner with whom to have biological children (if that’s important to her).

      Letter writer, you’ve given him three years already to become comfortable with the idea of kids. (Not even have kids! Just come around to the idea of them!) It’s unlikely that he’s going to change his mind or decide in your favor at this point. He’s playing chicken with you, and it’s going to be up to you to decide where your heart needs to be long term. I wish you the best of luck.

      • Kayjayoh

        (six years. He’s had plenty of time.)

        • Lisa

          She says in the letter that kids first came up three years ago, but they’ve been together six. Either way, he’s had plenty of time!

          • Kayjayoh

            I missed that bit.

    • Nell

      Yup! At 23, I adamantly didn’t want kids, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t change my mind. Now that I’m over 30, the whole thing seems a lot less foreign and terrifying to me.

      The biggest thing that changed my mind was watching my peers start to have children. It’s really challenging for me to think about kids in the abstract. At 23, I couldn’t imagine any style of parenting other than the one I grew up with — which I really hated. It wasn’t until I was hanging out with young parents who share my values that I started to be able to envision myself as a parent.

    • A.

      No, I think life stage can be crucial! There are definitely couples who know early on that they definitely want kids together, but I think that’s rare(r) for couples who got together early on in life. I met my husband when I was 19; our decision to have children has been and is an evolving one—it is one of the clearest ways we grew together.

      So if the first time they had this conversation they were 21 and now they’re 24? Understandable to take their time and I would think his therapy sessions are even better sign that they will find the clarity they need. But if they were 27 and now they’re 30, I would definitely be more concerned, just from a common life stage (and fertility to an extent for bio kids like Lisa said) POV.

    • another lady

      but, there is a difference from ‘I don’t think I want kids right now’ and ‘I don’t think I want kids ever’ to ‘I’m not sure when/if I will ever want kids’. I definitely did not want kids at 20, or even 25, but I knew that they were a possibility and that I would be happy having kids at a later point in time. that was the difference for me.

    • Greta

      So so yes to this. I have a dear friend who when I met her was adamant that she would never ever ever have kids, she was 25-ish at this point and at a very very different time in her life. 6 years later she has a baby, that was planned, and could not be more excited about it. Her turn around was huge, she was one of the last people I thought would ever have kids or even get married, and turns out she was one of my first friends to do both. Once she met her person, everything just kind of clicked for her in a way it hadn’t before. This is not to say that LW’s partner will change his mind, but just that life stage plays a huge role in this I think.

      • another lady

        I also had an acquaintance that I knew that was adamantly against having her own kids, and her husband had conceded on this issue and said he was okay with not having kids and they got married. a few years later, she was visiting a friend and her baby in the hospital, and said acquaintance decided right them and there that she wanted a baby. a few months later they were pregnant! And, they decided to only have one child. It can happen, but I don’t think that the letter writer should bank on him changing his mind at some unknown time and for some unknown reason in the future. it’s a rarity and should not be expected to happen.

    • anon

      I think your question about age is crucial!

    • Christina McPants

      I’m another who was pretty anti-kids until about age 28 and then I was like PREGNANT NOW PLEASE. But most of my 20’s, I was flat broke and still learning who I was. Once I got better about all of that and saw colleagues go through those changes, that door started to open in my heart.

    • RageFace

      Fair point, but not one I personally like very much. I don’t like the notion that “you are too young to know what you want” when I say I don’t want children. I didn’t want them five years ago and now, at 29, I’m still equally disinterested.

  • Kayjayoh

    My policy: when someone says they don’t want to have children, take them at their word. (Ditto for when someone says that they do.)

    Letter writer, I think you know your answer. You have to decide whether you choose a future with children and someone else, or with him and without children. Make that choice and commit to it. Doing otherwise is mostly courting disappointment, long term.

    • A.

      Is a “I’m not sure if I want kids” the same as “I don’t want to have kids” though? Genuine question. It seems like the indecision is the crux of the issue here: That he’s keeping her in limbo rather than offering clarity. It becomes further complicated because I think it’s extremely likely that he genuinely doesn’t have that clarity to offer. But when does “mayber later” effectively become a “no” on an issue as big as this one?

      It’s tricky, since the line between supporting your longterm partner as he very seriously confronts the issue (yay for him seeing a therapist about it!) and feeling emotionally held hostage by indecision can be a vague, frustrating one. If I were LW, I would focus on progress from his therapy sessions as a better indicator of whether he’ll eventually get there or if he’s more fearful of disappointing/losing the partner he loves. And for me, definitely within a more defined time period than 5 years.

      • Eenie

        I wonder if any of this therapy involves them as a couple? He’s working through things, but it seems like LW needs a safe place to talk as well, whether together or separately. I feel like it’s worth sticking around a little longer at least to see how the therapy works.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        Yeah I don’t think LW needs to hear a no in this case. It’s been 6 years and he’s saying the same thing. The question really is how long is she willing to wait to try to start having children? Also the psychology behind writing advice letters is interesting. I think LW knows in her heart of hearts what to do here.

        • Alison O

          Yeah, when I hear “heart of hearts” I think intuition, and I wonder if an exercise like writing to her intuition might be helpful for this letter writer. At the bottom here (podcast about it at the top):
          http://jesslively.com/intuition

        • Michela

          I totally agree! Maybe LW wants to hear a concrete no because that will make it easier to leave. Also- as a big “trust your gut” person, I think LW knows what she needs to do. Maybe the act of writing the letter and re-reading it now will help her gain clarity.

      • Amy March

        He does not want kids. That’s the answer. Someday he thinks he might maybe possibly want them, but now and for the last 6 years he doesn’t.

        • lady brett

          the emotional math is a lot bigger than that.

          • Amy March

            I disagree- I think there can be all kinds of feels about it, but right now, he does not want to have a child, and right now, he does not have a date when he thinks he will want a child, and right now, he has no certainty that wanting a child will ever be something he wants.

            To me that adds up to “he does not want kids.” He might one day, things might change, but right now the answer is no, and I think it’s important/useful to hear that no and think about what it means.

          • Eenie

            I think that’s true, but he’s also in therapy trying to figure this out! I don’t think waiting 5 years is the solution, but give it another six months to see if some clarity comes about. Because if he can even give a more solid “no” it makes a huge difference with how hard the breakup is.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            I agree 100%. For LW’s purposes, the answer is he does not want kids. If he doesn’t want them right now and has been saying the entire 6 years of their relationship someday he MIGHT want them, LW has enough information to work with when deciding what she’s going to do with HER life.

      • Rebekah Jane

        Exactly. “I’m not sure” or “not right now” is very different from a “no.” If he’s working through his issues to find his own answers, I think that patience, no matter how frustrating, is the solution.

  • nonny

    My husband was in the “I don’t feel strongly about being a parent or not, but I definitely don’t want to bring another person into this world” camp and said so the first time we had that conversation. I was in the “I definitely want to be a mom and I kind of assumed I would be having my own, but never thought about other alternatives” camp. And now, several years later, after lots of thought and research on both ends, we are on the path to adopt a beautiful toddler who needs us. I love that my husband inspired me to consider something I might not have otherwise and that we both weighed was was important to the other to come up with a solution to the kids?how? problem.

    Try to find out what exactly your partner is unsure about. Babies? Bringing an innocent soul into a world he doesn’t particularly like? Those things do not necessarily spell out “I don’t want to help raise a person.” And then decide if there is a solution that you can live with. Otherwise,what Stephanie said. Good luck <3

    • Rachelle

      I just want to say that your story touched me and how wonderful it is that you both want to become parents to a child in need. Good luck on your adoption journey!

  • SL

    Stephanie frames it well. I’ve been there – I chose to say goodbye to someone after a few very good years because it became clear to me that we wanted different things out of life, and as painful as it was, I have never regretted my decision to pursue what I want for my life over the person I loved. I would have always been slightly discontented in that life, and it would have worn me down into bitterness, no matter how much I loved him. This is not to say that the same decision will be right for everyone, just that making that hard choice brought me peace even in the short term and happiness in the long run.

    • Michela

      I really admire your strength. “Making that hard choice brought me leave even in the short term and happiness in the long run”- what a beautiful way to emerge from the flames of heartbreak!

      xoM

  • Nell

    Maybe while her partner does some soul-searching about why he doesn’t want to have kids (or isn’t sure), the LW should think about why she DOES want kids. Not because she might change her mind – but because it might help her communicate with her partner about what she expects parenting to be like for them. I think a lot of the time, people who don’t want kids assume that all the kid-wanters in the world are just having a knee-jerk reaction to pressure from society — when a lot of people I know have some really thoughtful and moving reasons for wanting to have a child.

    • lady brett

      that’s a lovely thought. and the bit about discussing what parenting will be like is a big deal. because it took us so much work to decide to have kids, we had a lot of time for hypothetical “if we had a kid, we’d…” conversations, which actually helped us immensely once we had kids, because we were very much on the same page, having talked out a *lot* of stuff over the course of dealing with my anxiety about it.

    • Michela

      This is such fantastic advice. I would add that perhaps LW should consider discussing the type of parenting relationship she wants. I was swayed towards kids when my fiancé showed me through words and actions that he wanted a co-parenting relationship that was equitable. He’s said on countless occasions “if you are breastfeeding and the baby needs to eat in the middle of the night, I’ll go get him/her so you can stay in bed- it evens the workload a little” or “I’ll rearrange my work schedule so I can do the morning drop off for school since you like to get into work early” etc. A lot of my fear with kids was wrapped up in worrying that I would be parenting by myself, and having practical conversations about how to balance the work did wonders for my fears. Maybe LW’s partner has similar fears that could be assuaged with a frank discussion and why LW wants kids and how LW wants to parent.

    • Lauren

      YES. Getting in touch with the reason why or why not seems like it would really open up a space for more understanding for all parties.

  • lady brett

    if y’all both know it is a dealbreaker to you, it is pretty much his job (as the one who hasn’t made a decision or maybe wants what’s already there (if “uncertain” is actually code for “no”)) to break the deal – or not – by making a decision. clearly, it’s not that easy (because he, of course, doesn’t *want* to do that). so i would aim for a timeframe and a specific plan. like, how long does he talk to the psychologist, and how long does he have to waffle, and how much do y’all discuss it outside of therapy, and if/when he says “okay, but not now,” what is your start date? because “later” is not an answer, and isn’t fair to you. (and maybe it’s not a date, but an event, like “i’m not comfortable doing this ’til we have $xxx in our savings” – which turns into a date when you plan it out).

    (full disclosure, that’s my article stephanie linked, so if it weren’t for my spouse, i’d probably be child-free, and i was definitely on the “i don’t fucking know” end of things)

    on the other side of your question, i’ve only ever broken up with people i still loved, and…i don’t have any advice. it’s awful. and then you get elsewhere, and it’s always somewhere better. because if you break up with someone you love, it’s probably for a damn good reason, even though it hurts.

    • LW

      Thank you </3

  • another lady

    Kids / no kids / one kid is a deal breaker issues, and should be treated as such. I think we all know someone on both sides of this issue – someone who, like Stephanie, worked out this issue, and someone who broke up with much heart ache at a later time because of this issue (I personally know several people who have ended very long relationships or even gotten divorced because of not wanting kids or not wanting kids with that person). I have an acquaintance who is still dealing with this issue with her husband. They have been together since high school, and 10+ years later, he still does not want kids (adamantly! He mentions it all the time and looks disgusted whenever kids are even near him) and she keeps holding out hope that ‘one day’ they are going to ‘try for a baby’! It’s heartbreaking to watch her want kids so badly and him not want them at all. Now that others in the group are having kids, it makes things even tougher on her. She is either going to have to become okay with not having kids with him, or is going to have to decide to break it off and try for kids with someone else. I would encourage this person to realize that he most likely does not want kids and have some frank discussions about it. Then, she will need to decide if she wants to be with him WITHOUT kids or if she wants to move on and possibly have kids with someone else. That’s what a deal breaker issue is. How will she fell 5+ years from now when she is even more invested and still no kids?!

  • Anon for this

    When my partner and I first got together 7 years ago, he was adamant about wanting kids and I was in the “whatever my partner wants” camp. As time has passed, and his relationship with his family has deteriorated (they’re incredibly manipulative and can be cruel if you don’t do what they want), he has come down on the side of not wanting kids. And as time as passed, I have become increasingly interested in wanting kids.

    A couple years ago, we had a summit about this, because it seemed to be an issue that was going to break us up or we’d have to learn to deal with. And because I am and always have been more ambivalent about having or not having kids than he is, it was my decision to make.

    He said he could see himself going back to wanting kids at some point in the future, when we had more ducks in a row, but he wasn’t sure when that would be. So he asked me – do you want kids more than you want to be with me?

    So I thought about it for a couple days.

    Ultimately I made my decision based on our reality: even if we both decided we wanted a kid right now, it would be imprudent to have one. I’m more career oriented, but make much less money than he does (I would probably have to quit my job and could see myself resenting him and the child for that); we both have horrendous commutes; we live in an expensive city in an apartment that’s barely big enough for us and our chihuahua, etc. etc.

    So while I do hold out hope of us being able to have a kid one day, whether biological or adopted, right now, it doesn’t make sense. And I’d rather be with him and our chihuahua and have my life right now than go find someone whose salary, schedule, living arrangements, and mindset suited my ability to have children.

    LW – best of luck making your decision!

    • Cat

      “Do you want kids more than you want to be with me?”

      THANK YOU FOR THIS. My partner and I are engaged, and I’m firmly in the no-kids camp, but he wants children. We’ve talked about it, and he insists that he’s okay with not having kids. He has three siblings, and I have close friends that I refer to as family, and we can be the cool aunt and uncle. I’ve told my partner that he’s going into this marriage knowing I don’t want kids, and while I may change my mind and adopt, it’s not super likely and he shouldn’t hold out hope for it. He keeps saying that it’s fine, and it’s hard for me to believe him. I keep seeing this future where we get in fights about it.

      But “do you want kids more than you want to be with me” puts things in perspective for me. I can see that he wants to be with me more than he wants kids. I had never thought of it that way, so thank you so much for sharing this. <3

  • Amy March

    I think it’s great that he is discussing therapy, and you should give him sometime to do that work, but no where close to five years. That’s just too much of your life passing by making no progress on what you want.

    • raccooncity

      Honestly, I don’t think a (good) therapist would let you mull over a single issue for five years with them anyway. We do genuinely want to see people move past their obstacles in a timely fashion.

  • another lady

    I had some health issues and had been with a person who had a pre-teen and didn’t want any more kids (we broke up for different reasons, but kids was an issue that we discussed). I wasn’t sure that I wanted kids at the time or that I could even have my own kids. Then, I got together with my husband. He really wanted his own kids and it was a deal breaker for him. We had to work through this issue and I ultimately decided that I was okay with having kids eventually and we would wait a few years to try until we were more ready. Over that time, I became emotionally more ready and our lives came to the point of us feeling ready to have kids. I ultimately had to do a lot of things to prepare for having kids (health wise) and we had many discussions about what measures we were/were not willing to do to try to have kids. Is a partner who is ambivalent or unsure about having kids in the first place going to be willing to go through all of that? If you want another 3 years and he decides he is okay with trying to have a kid, what if it takes a while or you ultimately have other issues? There are a lot of things to discuss and determine about this situations…

  • G.

    I’m one of those pretty-darn-sure-I-don’t-want-kids people. And I was adamant for quite a long time that I definitely didn’t want kids. And I remain unsure. What I do know now — and freely say — is that my desire to have kids is not innate (I’m a woman, and this seems to expected, but that’s another story). What I can do now, that I could not in my 20s, is see how, with the right partner, I could want kids, or the scales could tip to being willing to have/raise kids. What I also know is that it wouldn’t take me 6 years to figure out if my partner was that person. I wouldn’t necessarily know in a month, but it wouldn’t take years (in part because ruling people out is pretty easy given what would be absolutely necessary to decide to have kids with someone). YMMV, of course, but it’s hard to imagine that if your bf isn’t ready to have kids after 6 years with you that that will change. He may find someone else who likewise doesn’t have kids or find someone who makes him want kids, but the likelihood of change within the current context seems low to me.

    • Sara

      Agreed. I have never wanted children but when I met my fiance, one of the thoughts I had was “he would be a great father.” And that is something I have never thought about any of my exes. I would also be a stellar mother – we are still choosing to opt out. My point being: even though I don’t want kids, I knew. It didn’t take 6 years, or even 6 months. At that point anything other than an enthusiastic “yes” is a no.

    • Not Sarah

      I adamantly don’t want children and have for the last decade (I’m almost 28 now), but I have had moments in which I know that if I did want to have kids, I would want to have them with my boyfriend. He is uncertain about children, but knows he doesn’t want them in the foreseeable future, so we’re fine with this…for now. I do feel really awkward when people ask us if we want children though because I’m adamant and he’s not, so how do we present that front to people?

  • Rebekah Jane

    So, my partner and I are having these discussions now as we prepare for marriage. I came into the relationship armed with the “I’ll have two kids!” argument ready to go and the longer I’ve spent with my guy, I realized that isn’t what I want. I love working and the idea of inflicting the unequal sibling treatment on a kid (something we both experienced) isn’t appealing to us. So, where we stand now is if we have a child, we’ll have one. I know what age I’d like to try for a child and it’s a while after we get married (so we can have a “marriage to come back to,” a concept my father drilled into my head) so we’ll have time to get financially and emotionally ready. But because he’s the one on the fence, we’ve decided it’s his responsibility to tell me when/if he’s ready to go for it. But at the end of the day, if I’m just a doting aunt to my sister’s passel she’s planning to have and our close friends’ children, I’ll survive – because I plan to promise my life to him and I choose him over a person I haven’t met yet.

    • lildutchgrrl

      I like that phrasing — “a marriage to come back to”. For all that I wanted to grow our family right away with kids, I think my wife and I have benefited from having 3-4 years on our own first.

      • another lady

        I agree – it seems like a good idea to me to have a few years of just dating/engaged/married under your belt before bringing kid(s) into the situation. We had some stuff that needed to be worked out in our early marriage and relationship building helped this before having to deal with pregnancy and baby stress. Many of my relatives in seasoned marriages suggested waiting a few years (2-5) before trying for kids, if possible.

  • Laura

    Have you ever discussed having a non-biological family? For our first 5 years together, my partner and I were sure we never wanted kids. “Creating” someone to love always seemed….strange, and selfish, and we were very cynical about it – especially him.
    At that time we lived next door to a family with 6 kids and a struggling mom working late shifts most evenings. To help her out, we started letting the kids play in our back yard. Over time, a real friendship formed and they hung out with us a lot. They did homework then just participated in our routine: cooking, board games, movies… Those kids were sassy and lied a lot and clueless about most things, but they were also hilarious, resourceful, and smart. To our huge surprise, what started off as something we just to be nice became the best part of our days. We’ve since changed cities but are pursuing foster care, not because we want to be “parents”, but because there are kids out there who have known very little joy in their short lives and it’s hard to live with that fact when you’ve seen it up close.

    • Les

      This is exactly something that I’ve been *almost* thinking about actively. I never wanted kids (still no), but after teaching for 2 years in a elementary school in an impoverished rural area (and then running away, recovering, and reflecting) I realized the idea of fostering maybe appealed to me more than baking one of my own. And I couldn’t say why, not sure I can yet. Or how much more it appeals. I’m going to have to give this a lot more thought, but I’m so glad you shared. I would really, really love to hear more from you, or others, about their thoughts/experiences with fostering and why it appeals to them.

      • RH

        I wanted to see what my fiancé and I would look like mixed together (kiddingish, but I’m talking about the desire for a bio kid) but now that we have our son (who is a perfect baby angel and was worth every stretch mark), I… I get why people stop. I’m 25 and breastfeeding/newborn stage wore me out. I don’t know if I would do it again at an older age.

        But fiancé grew up abused and relatively low income; he has a tender heart for neglected children, and has brought up fostering as a possible life goal. We have the resources to extend to more children, and I would love a bigger family! All of these feelings, his and mine, are compatible in an exciting way.

        I hope none of that was rude in any way. Bio babies and adoption and fostering are issues in which I am unfortunately not well schooled.

        • Les

          I didn’t think it was rude, thank you so much for sharing!

    • Greta

      I don’t know much about fostering, but I do know from my two close social worker friends that everywhere is in desperate need of good, caring, loving foster families. It’s a wonderful thing to do, if you’re into it!

      • Danielle

        I am open to fostering a child, but my husband reminds me of some of the realities: 1) a biological family member might want them back at some point, and then We might have to let them go and it would be hard; and 2) depending on their age and experience, the child might have seen/lived through a lot of tough stuff. Will we have the emotional etc strength to deal with that, and really give the kid the time, attention, energy and healing they need? Tbd…

        • Eenie

          Yes! These are my two fears as well.

    • Kayjayoh

      For me, non-biological kids would be an answer. I love kids. I’d love to raise kids. Pregnancy horrifies me on a very deep level.

      For my husband, he does not want to be a father. Full stop. If something happened and we became responsible for a sibling’s children, he’d probably step up. But intentionally seeking any sort of parenthood, biological, adoptive, or foster, is not for him. He doesn’t want to be responsible for another life.

      (He doesn’t even want a dog. And that is where I’m putting my foot down. Sorry, buddy. As soon as the yard is fenced…)

      What I’m saying is, for some people, having kids is the whole thing. Not the biological aspects. The enormity of responsibility and commitment.

  • LindseyM

    This sounds a little like my fiancé and I but in reverse. We’ve been dating almost 7 years, I’m about to turn 30, he is 33. I initially was really lukewarm on having kid(s) and know that I said a few things about not wanting to have kids early in the relationship. But for some reason he waited until only a few years ago to start actually asking if I was serious about that, which could have been disastrous if it was a hard no. We’ve gotten to the point where most likely we will have one kid, a compromise for both of us. So people’s opinions can and do change. On the other hand, he just realized that if we don’t have any kids that extra money could be used for a virgin galactic ticket, so we’ll see what happens. :)

    • Charly

      Is it a compromise for your future child, though?

  • AtHomeInWA

    My partner and I broke up over this same issue. It was the best and worst thing I ever did. You know how I got through it?

    I kept reminding myself someone who loves me gave me the gift of my children.

    • Jess

      “I kept reminding myself someone who loves me gave me the gift of my children.”

      This is a beautiful sentiment.

    • Anon

      I also broke up with someone I loved over this same issue. It makes me so happy to see him with his daughter, because I knew he’d make an amazing dad. And I’m more sure than I was at the time that my marriage will be child-free. I couldn’t say for sure in my 20s that I’d made a final decision not to have kids, but I also couldn’t continue a relationship knowing how much he wanted kids while I was ambivalent, or really, wouldn’t have chosen them if it were solely my decision.

  • another lady

    LW can do a timeline of when she wants to have kids and how many, and then backtrack to today to see if her hypothetical timeline is possible with the current partner. I did this with my hubs – he wanted to have 2-3 kids by x date, we would need to gestate and birth both kids, with some space in between and time for ‘trying’, we wanted to be married by x date and wait x time before having kids. that meant that we needed to be engaged by x date. once we did that, it was a realization that we needed to get the show on the road and get engaged and married sooner rather thank later. Maybe LW can have conversations like this with partner.
    I know she is willing to ‘wait 5 years’ but does that mean that she wants to be married and discussing kids in 5 year, or pregnant in 5 years, or not married and have a child already in 5 years, etc.??
    We always talked about having kids ‘in 5 years’ – until one day we realize that meant we would have to start trying for a kid in 3 months to have the kid by the 5 year mark we originally set! Ahh!

    • THIS. This is the kind of conversation that would have made my pre-engaged years so much easier, and precisely the kind of conversation I avoided because a) i hated falling into the trope of the girlfriend pressuring the guy to get married b) i also didn’t want to pressure him about kids when he wasn’t ready. Which in turn drove me crazy. Serious relationships need timelines. There’s a timeline for “let’s enjoy this and see where it goes” but at a certain point you move past that and you need your dates agreed upon.

      • Bethany

        I agree about the timelines. My then boyfriend, now fiance used to give me a hard time about wanting a timeline and wanting to AGREE on a mutual timeline because “I’m just not in a rush like you are.” Unfortunately, if you want to have a (biological) child, time is very important when you are in your late 20’s / early 30’s…. and even more important after that. This lead to some extremely difficult and painful conversations, which frankly included a lot of crying and yelling. I didn’t want to be a nagging girlfriend, and I certainly do not want to marry anyone who does not want to marry me, but if I hadn’t been really confidant and vocal about what I wanted and needed out of our relationship, then we would probably still be stuck in limbo right now.

  • Joan

    I was always firmly in the never-want-to-have-kids camp. Then at 25 I got pregnant accidentally with the wrong person (not someone I’d want to ever parent with) had a miscarriage, broke up with the guy, and continued living my life. However, that short time where I was pregnant, despite it not being the right time, place, partner and many other variables, got me to thinking, and considering, and reevaluating. I was very sad at the loss of my pregnancy, and it sort of shifted my feelings from a firm never, to a maybe, to a with the right person.
    Five years later when I met my now partner, I was very upfront about my thoughts about kids, as was he (he wants kids, two at least). I felt right away that he would be not only a wonderful father, but a good co-parent with me. And now I am officially a yes kids person, with him. So I very much agree with other comments that feelings can change with time, and with different people, however I never changed my mind while with any one person. If my partner had said he didn’t want kids, I would have been heartbroken, but then I would have wished him the best life and then moved on. I should also say that I am now in my 30s so I feel more time related pressure than I did in my 20s and we actually even have a timeline where we’ve set out when we want to start trying!

    • Michela

      Same for me!

  • honeycomehome

    I think ultimatums get a bad name, and they aren’t the solution to everything. But this is a situation that needs one. I think the limbo is the worst part of this conversation. It’s ok for him to ask for time to figure out his answer. And it is also ok for you to put a limit on that time.

    I also think that however much time you agree to (three months, six months, a year), you should also take the time and maybe speak to a therapist. No matter what his decision, it’s going to be a big transition. Because even if he does agree to have children, you probably won’t get an enthusiastic 100% turnaround where he shows up, giddy about babies. You might always have to be the primary parent, and the primary source of enthusiasm.

    And if his answer is no, or he’s still not sure, it is ok to walk away. It’s ok to say that what you want for your life isn’t possible in your current relationship. It’s not a failing on his part, or yours.

    • Sara

      Beautifully said. I also believe there is a time and a place for ultimatums – not in a negative way. But how else are we supposed to shape the lives we dream of if no difficult decisions ever have to be made?

  • maja

    why only is he in therapy? what about her joining with the aim about finding out, why so eagerly she NEEDS to have children?

  • EF

    I’m firmly, firmly, in the no kids camp. Second date with my partner, I turned to him and said ‘I’ll never have children. It’s cool if you want to, but I’m kinda over dating people who want kids.’
    His response: ‘Thank god. I don’t want kids either!’

    Now, I think if there had been an awesome person who really, really wanted kids, he’s probably the sort of person that could be persuaded after many years to do something because he loved that person…but probably not because he actually wanted kids.

    So I do think it’s worth the LW considering: if her partner comes home tomorrow and says, alright, for you I’ll have a child….is that good enough? Or will she want him to do it because *he* wants them, irrespective of her? Kids need to be loved. Please don’t bring children into the world who aren’t really wanted.

    • Sosuli

      That’s a really good point. There’s a whole lot of potential for resentment in any situation where someone ends up doing something they don’t want to do “for” their partner.

    • raccooncity

      True. I’ve seen in many couples the minute things get stressful the words “you’re the one who wanted kids” coming out of mouths. Or, alternatively, those words are unspoken but the behaviour says it (like refusing to do any of the work kids bring.)

  • Michela

    I always assumed I wanted kids because that’s what society tells women we want and I grew up in a home with a (wonderful) mom who repeatedly told me all she wanted in life was to be a mom. Not a lot of room for exploration of alternatives. After several tanked relationships with men who would’ve been terrible co-parents, I examined the issue and realized I would be ok without kids. My career is important to me and I knew I wouldn’t want to stay home with kiddos, I love to travel, and I’m a huge introvert who loves alone time– not incompatible traits for a mother, but maybe not ideal en masse. However, when I met my fiance (who is a kids’ soccer coach), I realized that in a vacuum on an island I wouldn’t choose kids, but with him- I wanted kids. It was him specifically who changed things for me. Not time, not therapy, not life circumstance- him. Much of my fear about having kids revolved around the idea that I would have to do it alone with my previous partners, and I knew I’d grow resentful of that. Now that I’m with someone who is supportive and sacrificial and kind, I know that parenting with him is the right choice.

    This isn’t to say time/therapy/circumstance can’t or won’t change the kids/no kids issue for folks- many beautiful APW commenters here have said that t/t/c changed things for them! My point is that sometimes those solutions just won’t cut it for certain people. I was in the no kids camp after years of thoughtful consideration, therapy, and stable life circumstances. I think this is important to point out because it sounds to me like t/t/c are the solutions LW is banking on- she’s offering to wait for five more years, she mentions he’s in therapy, etc. What if he isn’t someone who will be swayed by time/therapy/circumstance? I would recommend LW consider that question next.

    Sending lots of good vibes your way, LW. This is really tough, and I admire your strength.
    xoM

  • c-bear

    If you truly want kids in your heart, that then that desire is a huge part of who you are. This guy can’t love all of you unless he loves that part, too, and you can’t love all of him unless you love the part of him that doesn’t want kids. Your fertile years are precious, and you deserve to share them with someone who will love you entirely and join you in attempting to fulfill your fullest self. It’s your job to listen to your intuition and protect yourself – ain’t nobody gonna take care of you like you.

    • c-bear

      Also, like all this stuff, you have to love the person in front of you right now, not the person that could be.

  • Morgan D

    Your situation sounds so eerily similar to my own from not so long ago that I actually checked my email to see if I’d written this post and then forgotten about it. You’re getting lots of sage advice from the other posters, all of which rings true in some way, and is I think important to consider thoughtfully. From a less distance place of “wow, that was basically me/us 9 months ago”…

    In our case, partner actually really did just need time and space. But it wasn’t only time to decide he actively wanted children. It was really about him having time – and me making space for him to have that time – to decide that us having children together actively made sense.

    From the perspective of us-9-months-ago… Things were really hard for three or four years of our relationship. We’re both stubborn and thought we could make it – and not just make it work, but make it thriving – if we could just work through some of our individual and joint issues. But if I’m really, ruthlessly honest, 9 months ago, our ability to do that was still questionable.

    And it was super uncomfortable having that be an honest question. I was in the “you just know” camp for a long time, and so fought – internally and externally – partner’s need for time. But things really softened/eased for both of us once I accepted/respected what he consistently voiced as a need for time/space. And then things softened even more when I decided to see this time/space as an opportunity to do my own introspection and decision-making, too. Basically, I made the hard choice to see myself as an agent, and not play the role of someone passive/waiting. This, to cut things short, required cultivating a sincere willingness to walk if needed, and a deep commitment to cultivating a little more self-awareness and integrity in relation to that awareness. …Which meant that – while I didn’t give partner an ultimatum – I did say I was nearing that precipice and that one of my needs if we gave more time/space to this question was to see more active effort (i.e. not just to have time, but to use it proactively/with some rigor of intention and action).

    It turns out that me taking on that kind of agency in our relationship was a critical turning point for both of us. And it also turns out that partner was right in asserting his own needs, too, and – beyond that – actually naming a need for time and space that we both shared. I was too ashamed to admit it then, but we BOTH needed time. Time for us to figure out how to be a little bit better together. Time to unravel old stories about ourselves and each other and our expectations for marriage and parenthood and partnership in general. Time to heal. And then, increasingly, time to nurture and build the positive.

    Long story short: Partner now very openly wants kids, and also increasingly openly wants to get married – soon, but not quite yet. The key difference is that now, we’re on the same page about that timeline.

    So, I think you really have to ask yourself: 1) What IS my truth? Do I want kids in general? Or do I want kids specifically in the context of this relationship? Do I think having/raising children in the context of this particular relationship is the right thing to do? 2) Am I willing to accept and respect and make space for alignment with these truths, or is there some internal resistance? If there is, where does it come from and how can I serve its needs with both courage and compassion? and 3) How can I – no matter my answers to the other questions – assert a leading/active role in my life?

    (Ugh. Sorry if that was too long and/or not useful. No idea if any of this applies in your case, or if I would have been ready to hear/understand this 9 months ago even if I guessed that it did.)

    • I like how you separate wanting kids in general or wanting them in the context of a particular relationship. Before I assumed I would have kids, then with my ex, we spent a couple years going from “probably” to “maybe” to “maybe not.” And then when that relationship ended (for a completely nonrelated reason), I wondered maybe I would want kids after all, now that there was a chance of having a different co-parent.

      I questioned that a couple years, and have read quite a few books and blogs, etc., on the subject. And now I have been with my boyfriend for almost a year. He is leaning towards no kids (and if he does want them, he doesn’t want bio kids). I am leaning towards no as well, though I have no certainty about it. But I am almost 40, and my friends have been having kids for the last 10+ years. And now it’S all the procrastinators having kids, and the more I see of what it entails (and the older I get)…the more I hesitate.

      So, I guess I might be one of those people whose indecision becomes the decision? I remind myself that if it was clearly important to me, I would have probably known. Unfortunately, a part of me knows that if I had met my husband younger, or if my marriage had not ended how it did, or if my life had gone a different direction and I wasn’t living a less-financially-stable artist’s life…I probably would have had kids. There are parts I think I would LOVE. But somehow my life has only presented about a two-year window where I would have been comfortable to maybe try (when I had both health insurance and a long-term partner), but that was the ex who was not sure about kids and who preferred to avoid unfun things, which wasn’t a good match for raising kids. I figure this is an issue I will always have mixed feelings about. And I may come to regret whatever decision I make (or didn’t make soon enough!), but I know that I have spent a lot of energy thinking about this and I don’t know what I could have done differently.

      Anyhow, all that to say, I might have ended up not wanting kids in the context of my last relationship, and now I am wondering if I just don’t want my own kids at all. I enjoy kids, but I wonder if I enjoy other people’s kids most.

      • Morgan D

        Thanks! Also, THIS: “I figure this is an issue I will always have mixed feelings about. And I may come to regret whatever decision I make (or didn’t make soon enough!), but I know that I have spent a lot of energy thinking about this and I don’t know what I could have done differently.” I love the self-awareness and assurance this exudes. I feel like we often expect our lives to follow neat timelines and come in neat packages but THIS is actually the space we spend much of our lives in. Been thinking a lot lately about how to get more comfortable with and actively thrive in the mess :).

        Also: I appreciate how your contribution highlights that having children in one’s life doesn’t necessarily mean having children of one’s own, bio or otherwise!

        • Yes, learning to be comfortable in the state of unknowing…not very easy, but something I seem to get a good amount of practice at. :)

    • LW

      Thank you xx

  • clarkesara

    I’m starting to feel like, if you love someone enough to marry them, and if your relationship is strong enough to make that a viable option, you should be able to say to your partner, “I want to have kids in X timeframe. If you don’t know if you ever want kids, this relationship is not going to work. If you can’t decide whether you might ever want to have kids within Y timeframe, you will officially be wasting my time and I’m going to have to bail.”

    I asked my now-fiance whether he ever wanted kids on our third date. Not only was I overjoyed that he said yes, being able to put my priorities on the table so easily really communicated to me that this was someone I felt comfortable with, and who I wanted to form a team with. I worry a lot about women in very long relationships where they’re not able to bring up big life stuff in an open way with their partner. Like, if you can’t say, “Baby, I want kids, I want them with you, are you in or out?” after 6 years (for example), maybe your relationship isn’t as strong as you want it to be. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but, like, why would you want to spend your life with someone who either doesn’t share your priorities, makes you feel shitty for wanting things, or doesn’t respect you enough to make a decision?

    Unless you guys are 23 or something. Then long relationships without the Big Life Talks make a little more sense. But you should probably start practicing for the Big Life Talks, because they’re coming up sooner than you think.

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  • Monica Scott

    My husband has abandon me and the kids for the the past 8months now, and refuse to come back because he was hold on by a woman whom he just met, for that, my self and the kids has been suffering and it has been heel of a struggle, but I decide to do all means to make sure that my family come together as it use to, then I went online there I saw so many good talk about this spell caster whose email is LAVENDERLOVESPELL@YAHOO.COM so I had to contact him and in just 4days as he has promised, my husband came home and his behavior was back to the man I got married to.I cant thank the spell caster enough what what he did for me, I am so grateful. I even spoke to the spell caster over the phone, to confirm his existence. His email again is: LAVENDERLOVESPELL@YAHOO.COM

  • LC

    Thank you for your post, because I’m in a similar position and I am at a crossroad and trying to figure out the same thing as you. This kind of makes me feel better that I’m not the only one facing this issue. My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 6 years too, and I’ve always wanted kids and to get married. However, he does not feel the same. He says that he already feels married and doesn’t know if he wants to get married and he says hes not sure if he ever wants kids.

    Everyday this issue breaks my heart and its getting harder as I see all my friends have kids – 7 babies this year – when all I want is to have one myself. The truth is, I knew this was an issue from day one. He was always honest with me, but I always thought and still think i can change him. I fell in love with him and still love him dearly and we have lived in five cities together and made it through long distance and through the hardest times so its really hard to give up after we have invested so much time, effort and love. But we started when I was 30 and now I’m 35 and the baby clock is hitting me big time. I’m like you, I’m hoping he will change, but I dont know if I can wait anymore as I definitely want kids.

    At this point, we have decided to go to couples therapy – which I’ve heard has done wonders and even helped my friend get married with kids. But we have also decided to give ourselves a timeline of 6 months to try our best to make it work and see if he will open up to the idea of kids and save our relationship. He knows how much I want kids, but I do feel like I’ve pressured him immensely, so I’m hoping that an outsider will give us both clarity and the root of why he’s unsure.

    My suggestion is to give yourself a timeline – and not too long. I’m not sure how old you are, but time is of the essence when you are in your 30s. Sometimes I regret not doing this before and I have held on because of love. But you don’t want to be in the same position as me. I honestly don’t think its worth it to give him another 5 years. Maybe another year, but definitely not five unless you are truly ok with not having kids. I have been in the same boat, hoping he will change and saying its ok not to get married or have kids. And for 3 years, I have compromised. But every year we would always come to a point where we would fight over this issue. However the heartbreak of breaking up was too much and I always caved and we stayed together. For me, now is the make or break moment because I’m not as young anymore. I don’t know what will happen and if we will be able to make it through this or not, and honestly it terrifies me to start over again. But I need to remain true to myself and stick to what I want and believe in. I have also heard of other inspiring stories of couples who break up after a long time and then start on the “express train” and meet their husband right away and have children within a year, so I’m trying to stay positive in all this. I wish you good luck and as do myself. Feel free to email me if you want. Goodluck.

  • Drunk Uncle

    The fact that he’s talking to a psychologist about this is absurd. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting kids. I would take him at his word he doesn’t want kids and if you pressure him into it, he will likely harbor some resentment.

  • LW

    Update from LW.
    Thank you so much to everyone for your thoughtful advice. I have read this whole page many times and meditated on much of what you’ve said.
    The current situation is we’re giving it 6 months. After that, anything other than a definite yes (to children within the foreseeable future) will be a no. It’s still hard but as soon as there was a timeline it did relieve a bit of that stress.
    Oh, and since a few people were wondering, we’re both mid-20s.

  • I agree with what they’ve said and how it’s not so much about what age the letter writer is, but at what stage of their life they’re in. She said she would wait another 5 years if she knew it was a guarantee, so that makes me think that she may not be over 30 (just a guess- no judgement!). I know for myself that having a partner that doesn’t want kids is also a deal breaker. When I first started dating my soon-to-be hubby (in 18 days- ahhh!) he wasn’t sure if he wanted kids at all, but always knew that I wanted a family (even just one!) and could name the reasons why. He just never really thought about it. So, I gave him some time to do some soul-searching. We were both in our mid-20s at the time, so I could understand his point of view. BUT, I did make it clear that if he ever realized at any point that he did not want children that he had to let me know. But he did. After having his own niece and nephew and being around kids and talking about it more openly, he really did realize that he did want one someday when the timing was right for us.

    I agree with her– I think he’s made his decision and is waiting for her to change her mind. There’s always exceptions to this of course, but I couldn’t imagine waiting 11 years to find out at then that he didn’t budge on his thoughts and was still unsure. I wouldn’t want either of them to resent the other for not swaying or feeling that their relationship – which could be fantastic in all other aspects – was a waste of time.

    Having these tough conversations are crucial, although still incredibly difficult. I know a couple in their 30s that have been together since they were 15 and he wants kids and she absolutely still does not and I have no idea why they’re not having real conversations about it- they’re completely in avoidance. And so many couples still are.

    Communication is everything in a relationship. And please- do not say I Do before having these tough conversations. It’s worth it in the end- no matter the outcome, trust me.

  • Nadia

    hi
    I dated a man who was a maybe on kids and was unable to have them naturally due to health problems and knew from the first date this was a deal breaker for me. My heart was broke when the relationship ended and my guy says he had made a decision to be child free but lied to keep me in the game. He allowed me to invest my heart and I am still battling with fear of hurt and self doubt over not reading the signs. In my view if a man chooses child-free he needs to be honest upfront.

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