Do We Need to Decide About Kids NOW?

AAPW: I feel like I have to pick between my partner and my future children

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW


Q: I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years (living together for one year). We love each other deeply and envision a long future together. However, he doesn’t want to get married until we sort out the kid question: I am almost positive I want to have children, while he is very uncertain. I love him and want to be with him. His current financial and job situation is very uncertain so part of his unwillingness to think about kids comes from that present instability (as well as the fact that his parents were recently divorced). I am praying that he becomes more open to the idea of having children as we get older. Then again, I also don’t want to get five or ten years into the future (and five or ten years more invested in this relationship) and still not be married to him and still have him feeling uncertain about children, or worse, feeling certain that he doesn’t want them. What happens then? We break up and I hunt for the father of my children? That seems wrong.

We’re still young (mid-twenties), so I know this isn’t a decision that needs to be made immediately, but I’m struggling with how to proceed. I’m a very future-oriented, planning-type person. Do I just need to calm down and not worry about making this decision yet? Or will I need to, at some point, pick between the love of my life and having children?


A: Dear Anonymous,

Yep, figure it out now. Sorting out the big picture things is just a plain smart idea. Where do you want to live, what are your long-term goals, and yeah, the kids question are all pretty significant choices that will impact your relationship. It only makes sense to figure out if you’re aligned, and prepare yourself if you’re not.

You’re right that he may change his mind eventually. But you can’t bank on that. All that you can do is make a smart choice with the information in front of you. He says he doesn’t want to have kids, so assume that means he won’t have kids. Can you live with the idea of never having kids?

But you’re not necessarily setting that choice in stone. He may change his mind… but you may also. Or maybe one of you will face some kind of infertility issue. Or maybe something tragic happens, and you end up raising the kids of a loved one. Make the smartest, most informed decision you can about where you both stand, if you’re aligned about the big things. But it really comes down to, “Do I want to be with this guy, kids or not?” and “Do I want to be with this guy no matter what happens?”

Same goes for all the rest of the big questions that come with steps toward marriage. Sort out where you stand, come to some agreements about the plan moving forward, but always be prepared for the unexpected. You’re not building a life with a static, unchanging person. Minds change, people change, and circumstances definitely change.

Being prepared for the swerving unpredictability of life isn’t the same as closing your eyes and hoping a point of discord magically goes away. Do what you can now to get on the same page about the future, while asking yourself, “Do I want to be with this guy, kids or not?” If the answer’s “no,” it’s time to move on.


Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • kestrellowing

    My husband and I are still somewhat undecided on kids. But this works for us because frankly both of us at this point (and for the past 5 years) have been in a “take it or leave it” kind of situation. Neither one of us has super strong feelings.

    I think if one of us for certain did not or did want kids, I’d have wanted to nail that shit down before we got married. As it is, we can basically both gradually work towards or against having kids in the future. We have regular discussions, and we both have the same mindset – kids could be a lot of fun, but they also mean a lot of sacrifice. We’re also in agreement that we need to decide in the next 5 years – so by the time I am 30, we’re either for sure having kids and we’ll be trying, or we’re for sure not having kids and someone will be getting ‘fixed’.

    As it is, we currently have regular discussions concerning kids and the future. So we’re constantly bringing up any new thoughts we’ve had so we both stay up to date on each other’s current mindset. I don’t think we could have those same conversations if one of us was certainly pro or con having kids.

  • Nell

    The kids question sucks – but unlike every other decision you make together, there’s no “compromise.” You can find a neighborhood that meets half your needs, you can alternate between city and beach vacations. . . but you can’t have half a kid.

    So yeah, I think you guys have to talk this one out before you get married. As the child of someone who didn’t really want to be a parent . . . please, please wait to have kids until your partner is SUPER enthusiastic about baby-having.

    • Eenie

      I’d just like to offer the opinion that you can be a good parent even if you’re not super enthusiastic about kids before you have them. There’s a lot the makes a parent good or bad, and while the initial desire has some impact on that for sure, I don’t think it’s necessarily the defining factor of how good a parent will be.

      We decided kids are in our future even though I was probably falling into the no kids camp without his influence. Am I super enthusiastic? Nope. Did we make this choice together? Yes. I was not bullied or guilted into the decision. And I think that’s the key for me – I’m not going to resent our children because we had them to save our relationship.

      I really related to this piece by Lady Brett posted on APW almost two years ago:

      • Lisa

        Great minds think alike! I posted the same Lady Brett article in my response, too.

      • AP

        We are in the same boat, but flipped. My husband is meh about kids (and right now I am on the fence) but we got married with the understanding that if I decide I feel strongly about having them, he’ll be on board 100%. But if it were up to him I think it would just be the two of us. The important thing was that we talked it through over a period of time and eventually made this decision together. To me, it does feel like a compromise of sorts. The part that’s a little scary is wondering what if one of us changes our minds, or we experience infertility and one of us wants to stop trying and the other doesn’t? Like Liz’s advice, we can only make a decision with the best information we have now, and trust that we will do the same in the future.

        • Eenie

          I really really loved Liz’s advice. You can only make the best decision with the information you have at the time.

      • Nell

        Fair enough – I take it back! It’s not about being super enthusiastic – it’s about not twisting someone’s arm to make a life-altering decision.

        • Meg Keene

          Yes. I think you need to have someone decide they will do it for you, even if that’s why they’re doing it. Not because of a threat of you leaving them, for example.

          • TeaforTwo

            And in some ways, this is good preparation for parenting: doing things not because you are enthusiastic about them, but instead because they are important to someone you love.

            One of the many reasons I married my husband is that he is the most dutiful person I know. When we were dating, he showed up in a snowstorm to move heavy furniture for my dad with a 104F fever. Because he said he would. He doesn’t commit to things easily, but when he does, he’s there come hell or high water.

            That – more than excitement about having a baby – is why I know he’ll be a great dad. Marriage and parenting should both involve a lot of laughter and cuddling and good conversation and adventures. But they also both involve a lot of washing the dishes and bodily fluids and literal heavy lifting and doing things you’re not excited about.

        • Alison O

          Yeah and I think the other piece of value inherent in your original comment is based on the fact that having kids is the assumed position in our society. So a basic “yes” or “sure” that comes from a place of just assuming you’ll have kids because that’s what people do strikes me as different from a basic but not especially enthusiastic “yes” or “sure” that comes from a place of having put a bit of critical thought into the decision.

          That said, personally I don’t think I would be interested in having children if my partner were substantially less enthusiastic about it than I. I think I like to be on the same page as my partner generally, but also maybe it’s related to the fact that my partner has an intense career and ADHD. I think he’d need some real enthusiasm to effectively manage life with children, and not let the burden of parenting fall totally on me, the more enthusiastic and conscientious parent/person. Different strokes.

    • Lisa

      I don’t know if the partner has to be SUPER enthusiastic about kids to have them. There have been several commenters here who weren’t sure about kids, and Lady Brett even wrote a great piece about being ambivalent towards kids but choosing to move forward because her partner wanted them so badly.

      I read this as the partner is uncertain about kids because of several life factors right now. That doesn’t mean that he might not be willing to get on-board the baby-train if he wants to stay with this woman, and it doesn’t mean that, if he does make that decision, he would necessarily be any less of a father for it.

      • Eenie

        Great minds think alike ;) Just made the same comment, and referenced the same article!

        • Lisa

          Haha, and I just commented on your comment with the same thing you said! We’re on-point this morning.

      • Liz

        Yes yes. It’s the difference between begrudging, shrugging, being dragged along and willingly signing up for the challenges of something you don’t prefer.

        • Jess

          “signing up for the challenges of something you don’t prefer.” I really like that phrasing.

      • TeaforTwo

        I agree. I think it’s pretty common for one partner to feel way more strongly about kids than the other: getting on exactly the same page at exactly the same time is HARD.

        My husband wants kids (although not as strongly as I do), but if it were up to him we’d wait ten years. I’ll be in my 40s in ten years so…we’re having a kid now. I’m super enthusiastic, and he’s supportive. For us, supportive was enough.

        • Eenie

          Yeah, and I’m not the driving force behind kids, but now that we have decided to go through with this, I don’t want to wait until I’m 35 (I have a strong feeling we’ll have some infertility issues on my end due to family history and personal medical history). So I’m the opposite of you, but still the person that is pushing for kids in 2 years vs 5 or 6.

      • another lady face

        “I read this as the partner is uncertain about kids because of several life factors right now. That doesn’t mean that he might not be willing to get on-board the baby-train […]” – I think this is the distinction that he/they need to make… is he not willing to have kids RIGHT NOW, but might be willing to have kids in the future if xyz changes happen? Or, is he not willing to have kids EVER because of abc situation that may not change? Is SHE willing to NOT have kids if he does not change his mind or if xyz situation does not happen? Those are the things that he and she need to think about and decide on together or separately. My partner was not willing to never have kids. I was not willing to have kids when we met (26 and 27 years old), but I saw myself having kids eventually when certain situations changed. A destinction should be made between “I can’t see myself having kids right now,” and “I don’t want kids ever!”

      • tr

        I think the key thing is that you both have to be on the same page about things.

        Growing up, my mom really wanted kids, and my dad wasn’t so into the idea. Ultimately, they agreed that they would have kids, but that the bulk of the “parenting” would fall on my mom. As such, she was the one who got up in the night to take care of baby, she was the one who changed 98% of the diapers, she was the one who booked the pediatrician appointments and scheduled play dates and chased monsters from under the bed. It wasn’t easy, but going into it, she knew she’d be the one doing those things, and it worked out pretty well. If she’d expected my dad to be an involved father, but she knew he wouldn’t be, and she weighed that appropriately when deciding whether she still wanted kids.

        Similarly, my fiance is 110% enthusiastic about having kids. He’s been dying to be a father since he was a little boy. Meanwhile, I’m open to the idea of kids, but I don’t really have any desire to be the primary caretaker. FI knows that and accepts that. Most likely, we’ll have children, but he knows from the outset that if we do, he’ll probably be doing 80% of the work.

        You don’t have to be equally enthusiastic about having kids. You do, however, have to know what page your partner is on, and you have to be willing to deal with the consequences of that.

    • NotMarried!

      Yes! ” unlike every other decision you make together, there’s no “compromise.” You can find a neighborhood that meets half your needs, you can alternate between city and beach vacations. . . but you can’t have half a kid.”

    • js

      I think it helps to be super enthusiastic because pregnancy may or may not be smooth sailing.

      • TeaforTwo

        But…you can be super enthusiastic about your partner, even if you’re not super enthusiastic about parenting.

        I’m only 13 weeks pregnant right now, and my husband doesn’t feel bonded to the baby (which is fair enough…I feel excited about the baby, but I wouldn’t say bonded), but he does feel bonded to and excited about me.

        I know this isn’t exceptional in terms of difficult pregnancies, but ever since week 6, I’ve come home from work and gone straight to bed with a sleeve of crackers and a can of ginger ale. My husband has had to do EVERYTHING around the house, and has spent a lot of time comforting his sick, exhausted, crying wife. Not because he loves the baby yet, but because he loves me, and sees me sick, exhausted and crying.

        • another lady face

          exactly – I am at 20 weeks, just had the ultrasounds and husband is just starting to get ‘excited’ about the pregnancy. I have been told that the guys (or non-pregnant partner) doesn’t usually get into the pregnancy and everything until shortly before or after the birth. for us, the first trimmest was just a list of symptom and issues that he had to work through with me. now, it’s getting to be fun now and is becoming more real for us both. you and your husband will get there, too!

          • Liz

            Interesting! My husband was super into the pregnancy from the start of the first one, whereas I was like ARE YOU KIDDING ME THIS IS FUN FOR YOU.

          • TeaforTwo

            I think it’s a personality thing. My husband is not a planner. Not in a detail-oriented way, but also not even in a “let’s idly dream about the future” way. So I think it was really hard for him to conceptualize the first trimester. I don’t LOOK pregnant. The baby’s not kicking yet. I declined the NT scan and other ultrasounds. So other than the exhaustion and nausea…the baby is practically imaginary at this point. His excitement is mostly around the fact that we have ice cream in the house now, which he dives into with glee, announcing “We’re pregnant!”

          • Anon

            Mine too. He was way more into asking about the baby and how I was doing and excited about it actually happening than I was. Part of it was for me I think a lack of control thing. For me, there was this thing making me feel shitty, and tired and run down, and worried, and for him it was this awesome thing we’d talked about and tried for coming true, and while it wasn’t easy for him (all the cooking and cleaning and chores for about 20 weeks, while he was in school and working), it wasn’t like a weirdo alien taking over his body too. Plus he could drink beer.

        • Meg Keene

          YES. YES. YES.

      • Meg Keene

        I wasn’t super enthusiastic. And my pregnancy (the first one in particular) was BEYOND SHITTY. But… it worked out. It was just rough there for a little bit. But as my grandmother always said, with reasonable cheer, “Life is hard!”

        In short, it was really hard, and the outcome was really good. And it’s ok if it happens that way sometimes.

    • Kara

      Exactly. There’s also no “undo” option. Buying a house, getting engaged, getting married, etc., they all have an “undo”. There’s no “undo” for having a kid.

      • Abe

        I was about to say the same thing. The kids question is unique because it changes the course of your life so completely, and there’s no going back. Moving, changing religions, big financial decisions, even marriage, you can change your mind or compromise. But bringing a person into the world? There’s no undo — you’re responsible for them, you’re a parent for the rest of your life.

        The LW is in for some difficult, maybe heartbreaking conversations… but the heartbreak of being fundamentally incompatible about kids would be so much worse down the road. Best to get on the same page for the future (as much as two people can be).

    • jb123

      I think there is a little itty bit more give and take than you outline here.

      My FH was on the fence about kids whereas I knew I wanted them when we met. We had a lot of conversations about what that means. The part of him that didn’t want kids came from how his parents raised him- they dropped out of their social lives, didn’t keep up with friends or hobbies, scheduled EVERYTHING around him and his sibs. My parents were always attentive, loving, and available, but they got babysitters for us sometimes on weekends, my mom worked full time, we could do a “special weekend away” with grandparents, etc.

      My vision of what a family with children would look like as parents was completely different form his and once we figured that out and mapped out what kids would mean for us, his feelings on it started to change. Not all at once, but over time and planning. Now I think he’s more ready than I am.

      All of that just to say that I think maybe sometimes there is some middle ground.

      • Anon for this

        Totally. I posted about this in my comment below. I was on the fence about having kids when my spouse and I were engaged. During a premarital counseling session about six months before our wedding, our counselor suggested that it wasn’t that I didn’t want kids — it was that I was raised in such an unhealthy and abusive environment that I was terrified of having children and recreating that dynamic. She was right. I sat on that for about eight months before I finally came to terms with it. I started reading parenting blogs, combed the archives on APW and other websites, etc., and I finally began to internalize the idea that my future family will not look like the family I had when I was young.

        Honestly, I wish my spouse and I had started having these conversations earlier. We’ve been together for four years, and I’m 31 years old. I think it is important to really dig into the “WHY” of the decision of whether or not you want to have kids (assuming there IS a “why.” I think some people just don’t want kids, full stop.). I sorely wish I had started doing this work in my 20s instead of in my 30s.

        • laddibugg

          What your councilor suggested is what I think my boyfriend went through. He was worried about having own bio kids because he was sure he would somehow pass down the terrible things that went on in his childhood to them, and that he thought by adopting he’d have a better chance of not doing that. We talked a lot about that, and I always said that even if terrible childhoods were hereditary, then good ones must be too, and I believe good is greater than evil (cliche I know). IF anything, being conscious of the bad upbringing you had may make you a better parent because you know what not to do.

          • Amanda

            “being conscious of the bad upbringing you had may make you a better parent because you know what not to do.” This is my mom to the letter. She jokes now, but she says in difficult times with us growing up, she would stop think about how her mother would respond, and do the exact opposite. Or, she would call her mother in law, who is a wonderful supportive, loving person.

        • Meg Keene

          OHHHH THIS. Separating having kids from difficult circumstances in your upbringing is hard. Important and hard.

        • Josephine

          This is something I’ve struggled with. Do I not want kids because I don’t see how to be a good parent, having no role models and two generations of awful parenting? It was a major discussion topic with my therapist who strongly argued that I was nothing like my mother and wouldn’t repeat her mistakes.

          I think for me it currently comes down to the fact that I finally feel like I’m in a place where my hard work of the last decade or more is paying off and I’m reaping the rewards after being poor, working all the time and I want to enjoy my life. So, maybe in a few years I’ll feel the mental capacity to add kid(s) to my life and my partner says that’s enough for her for now, as she doesn’t want kids right now either.

          All of this to say, I began as a hard “no kids” and now I’m a maybe… If there was ever someone to do it with, this is that woman. So don’t just write off your partner because he doesn’t want kids now, give him space to think about it, explore his assumptions and then see how you both feel.

          • Anon for this

            Thanks!! I am not giving up on her…I think I’m just having a hard time being patient, and I’m feeling a little anxious about not having a timeline. We’ve been hit hard with a lot of things that have made her nervous about kids lately. Within the last couple of months, we have had: (a) one set of friends experience a traumatic, near-death birth experience — and then begin discussing divorce when the baby was ~1 month old; (b) a friend develop toxemia and deliver her baby at 25 weeks, and the baby has been in the NICU for a month and will have severe developmental delays; and (c) repeated and prolonged exposure to our neighbor’s 7-year-old child who has serious behavioral problems.

            My partner had almost no experience with kids, so this stuff has been hard on her. But she is not completely off the boat; I am having some fertility testing done at a clinic soon so that we can see where we are (I need to be the pregnant one because she has a medical condition that makes it dangerous for her to get pregnant). She seems at least interested/excited about that.

            The biggest problem is that I have a hard time communicating my own feelings about this topic. Usually, I am a GRADE A COMMUNICATOR, but this one is tough. It has brought up so many issues for me, and I feel pretty vulnerable and raw about the whole thing.

        • Anon

          This is a pretty old post but seeing if I can get some idea about what my partner is going through at the moment. I definitely want kids, he vacillates between maybe and probably wanting them. He’s agreed to see a psychologist to hopefully get to a more definite standpoint. Having been through something similar, any advice on how I should support him? I don’t know whether him talking about it with me is a good idea, since I am obviously hoping for a very specific outcome…

      • laddibugg

        My boyfriend and I had to have a serious talk about kids and ‘separation’ after I bought up a conversation that I had with a coworker whose wife refuses to go anywhere without her children (said coworker sounds kinda unhappy about that)

        He always resented the fact that his mother and stepfather always went on vacation without him (sometimes without him, but with his siblings…yeah). I definitely want to take a vacation or two without my child(ren) once they aren’t babies and if I have family willing to help. I think you need some alone time as a couple to be better parents.

      • Rita

        Yes, definitely–I totally agree, there is some middle ground and it’s possible to get there! It might mean changing some things about the way you raise kids, or about how many you have or how you space them. For my partner and me, it meant arriving at “we’ll have one kid, see how that goes, MAYBE have another but not necessarily. And no less than three years later.” (Whereas what I had wanted, which was part of what was frightening my partner, was definitely three kids, definitely 2-3 years apart). Once we brought a little more flexibility into the scenario, he felt a lot better about it.

    • laddibugg

      There can be a sort of compromise on the kid issue–some folks are against having biological children, but may consider adoption. If their partner just wants children it might work.

    • Meg Keene

      I’d push back about the super enthusiastic about baby having. I never was, and if we’d waiting for that, we would have waited forever. That’s just not even part of my personality makeup, so it never would have happened. I was willing to give it a go, in the end, and I’m obviously beyond glad I did.

      I just feel like the idea that you have to be “super enthusiastic about baby having” is a little bit of a myth that’s been constructed somehow. I think most folks don’t hit that mark about a decision SO complex, with so many upsides and downsides.

      • TheOtherLiz

        This is an important point. My fiance and I had this awful fight because while he wasn’t a hard no on kids, he wasn’t an enthusiastic yes. I was in tears, thinking, do I really have to break up with this man who wants what I want out of life in every other way, because he’s not ALL IN on kids? He wasn’t saying no, but he wasn’t saying “hell yes” – and finally we communicated better, and I realized that I could not ask him to magically become as enthusiastic as 30 years of thought on the subject had rendered me. In the end, he basically said, I know that this is a given part of life with you. Knowing that, I am choosing life with you. And that’s good enough for me! Who knows, maybe we’ll have fertility problems or I’ll change my mind. But he’s willing to walk the path with me. Maybe Monica from Friends messed us up, breaking up with Richard who was willing to have a baby for her, but didn’t want one on his own. Not everyone has the magical epiphany, and if they do, they probably don’t know all that much about pregnancy and childbirth, haha!

      • Josephine

        As someone considering whether to have kids… It’s really great to hear from people with this perspective. So much of the narrative is about how you have to desperately want kids and I’m sure that will never be the case. Thanks Meg and everyone else

      • Charly

        I know women, however, who never really emerge from the postpartum fog who do regret having kids. I think I’d be one of them.

  • travelerk

    We got married on the fence, but both agreed we’d try to have a family. Infertility told us otherwise and after a year-and-a-half of trying, we agreed mutually to stop trying and to be happy with our little family of two (plus two rescue dogs). A year after we went back on birth control, we’re both extremely at peace with how our happy life looks – both now and in the future.

    Get on the same page. Life may be different than you expect now, but I don’t recommend getting married thinking this will work itself out. It might, but I know a heck of a lot of women and men who haven’t changed their mind at all about having children (or not) and it can break down your union. If it is a deal-breaker for you not to have kids, then unfortunately, you should break up. Big hugs- this stuff isn’t easy!

  • Anon

    “Swerving unpredictability of life” yes yes yes. We’re currently going through infertility. My husband’s desire to be a father is so strong (and was a major reason we married!) that I’m not sure our marriage will survive without kids.

    Some things you can control, and some things you won’t be able to. You can have some things you want, and not others. Figure out if kids are a deal breaker for you and go from there.

    • ruth

      Anon, my heart goes out to you! We are in the same boat. We had so many discussions prior to getting married about wanting kids and how many kids we wanted and who was going to stay home with them etc…….we thought we had it all planned out…and then the infertility diagnosis hit us like a sledgehammer. It sucks, there’s no way around that. My husband and I have been trying to combat the stress of infertility by focusing on the other parts of our relationship, the parts that are still good and fun and “us.” It doesn’t mean we’ve given up on having a child, but it helps not let the infertility eat up all that is good about our relationship. Good luck! This stuff is hard

      • Anon

        Thanks for this perspective. My husband is still pretty clear that no kids = deal breaker for him. Of course he never imagined we’d be in this position. I think in many ways it’s harder on him because he doesn’t blame me for problems I didn’t even know I had, but it’s testing his vows in incredible ways.

    • TeaforTwo

      When we were going through fertility treatments, I was the one who wanted kids more than my husband did, and more urgently.

      I am sure that he worried about our marriage, but surprisingly, I didn’t. I was devastated by the idea of a life without children, but seeing his willingness to try whatever we needed to try, and the way that he supported me through the treatments made me fall in love with him all over again. (This would not have been obvious to the casual observer, as there was still a lot of crying and some hollering, but truly: he took great care of me.) I was very surprised – and grateful – to realize that I actually could picture a life for the two of us without children, that our marriage could sustain that blow if it needed to.

      I don’t know how this would have played out if we had different “breaking points” i.e. if one of us wanted to give up on IVF before the other. And I’m eternally grateful that I got pregnant before we found out. But infertility was the hardest thing we’ve ever done as a couple, and has had the best payoff in terms of realizing our marriage is better than I thought.

      Good luck to you – it’s such a terrible and dark and confusing struggle.

      • Christy

        Oh, how I would love an entire thread about “this would not have been obvious to the casual observer” with regards to relationship support and happiness. There’s so much good and bad that we can’t see as outsiders to a relationship, and friends aren’t always the most reliable narrators when they’re under stress, and so we totally can’t tell from outside a relationship how another relationship actually is. And that’s so rough. (I recently learned that my friend’s crappy (former!) relationship was actually abusive, and it was tough to realize that it was worse than I’d thought it was, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot.)

      • js

        Just want to second the part about realizing your marriage (and your partner) is stronger than you think. I had an extremely hard pregnancy and post partum and my husband was amazing. Going through that, I realized I didn’t trust or have faith in him as much as I should have. It was a huge shift for the better in our relationship.

  • Christy

    I want to gently push back on the idea of “the love of your life”. If you’re sure that you want to have kids, and you need to have kids (or at least try to have kids) to be happy, then “the love of your life” will want the same thing. If you don’t need to (try to) have kids, then the love of your life could be this guy. But if he doesn’t want kids and you desperately do, then he’s not the love of your life.

    • Leah

      Yes, the ‘love of my life’ phrasing caught me as well. The LW is still young, as she points out, and framing it as a choice between ‘true love’ and kids is quite unnecessarily binary. Many many people do not end up with the person they were in love with at 25, for many many reasons. People change, their partners change, their priorities change. The LW’s future is wide open, she could end up with this guy and kids, or some other guy and no kids, or who knows what. There is every possibility that she will end up with a person she loves deeply who would like a family (whether it’s this guy who changes his mind, or some other guy). So whether she at some point breaks up with her current partner or not – and eventually, they might have to because of continued non-alignment on this point, or for any other reason – framing it as this ‘either-or’ questions doesn’t feel super helpful.

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    • tr

      Yup, I’m a firm believer that your “true love” or “the love of your life” is the person who wants the same future that you do. A person who doesn’t want the same things out of life may be lovely and romantic and handsome and wonderful in bed and a thousand other great things, but by virtue of not wanting the same things long term, that person is not “the love of your life”. They’re just a lovely, fabulous, passionate fling.

  • Violet

    You want kids, and you say your boyfriend’s uncertain. He also has uncertainty in his financial and
    occupational lives as well. That’s a lot of uncertainty he’s dealing with. It must be an overwhelming amount of uncertainty for a future-oriented planning-type person.

    I completely agree that the kids/no kids thing does not have a real compromise like other issues that come up in a marriage. But it still is ultimately just another topic to work through, like any other in a marriage. Especially since while we can make plans, life sometimes takes us on other paths (infertility, unplanned multiples, etc.). To give some context why I think agreeing on kids is not the be-all-end-all: my parents were very certain they both wanted kids. They were so clear on that hypothetical life choice, that they didn’t make sure they were certain on their factual life choice, i.e., each other. So yes, they were on the same page kids-wise. But that doesn’t mean they learned how to be in a marriage, just because they happened to make sure they agreed on that pre-requisite. Not shockingly, they divorced.

    While coming to an understanding on the kids issue is necessary for a marriage, I don’t think it’s sufficient. That you both are not on the same page is actually a good opportunity to start flexing those joint-agreement muscles now. Other couples who just happen to align on those big issues don’t get that chance as easily. So take it!

    Your boyfriend is clear on one thing- he doesn’t want to get married until you both figure out how to work through a challenging topic. I see where he’s coming from, since marriage is full of working through challenging topics. But if I were in your shoes, I’d want to know what working on it looks like. Is his plan just to wait for the other uncertainties in his life to clear up? Are you having conversations together? Talking to parents you know and trust about how they figured this out? If he’s saying he won’t marry you until he’s certain either way, you’re allowed to find out what the path to certainty looks like. I think the BIG tell is whether that path is one you explore independently, or walk down together. Best of luck!

    • lady brett

      “Other couples who just happen to align on those big issues don’t get that chance as easily. So take it!”

      i love this framing; it’s so sweet. and we were (and generally are) definitely one of those couples that aligns easily. i think that is one of the things that made the kids conversation so hard (other than that it’s…hard) – we had no experience working through big differences, and so, shockingly, we didn’t do it very well.

    • I think, too, it’s important to acknowledge the societal pressures men face around parenting are directly lined to finances and occupational stability. I know my husband was very scared about the kids question until we hit a point where our jobs and finances were stable. It was like a weight lifted for him, and all of a sudden talking about having kids was fun instead of scary.

      Patriarchy deals women all sorts of baggage around motherhood, and men get a dose of their own bs from the patriarchy–specifically about “being a provider.” Your BF might just need some time to work through the job and money questions, which probably feel more immediate and are likely directly tied to his anxiety about the kids question.

      • Violet

        Yes, thank you for saying this! I’ve seen that same thing play out with my male partner as well. He always said on a theoretical level that he wanted kids, but only once he started making what he felt to be sufficient money did he ACTUALLY start wanting them. And let me tell you, the difference in him between those two states is palpable.

  • Amy March

    Break up now! Before you waste the better part of a decade on a guy who is telling you that he does not want the future that you want. Yeah, it sucks. It will hurt. It will be painful. But this decision will be so much more painful ten years from now when you’re faced with both the stay or go choice and the reality of a ticking fertility clock.

    • TeaforTwo

      I don’t think it’s uncommon for people in their mid-twenties – especially people who aren’t settled into a career path they can envision long-term, or who aren’t financially stable and don’t see that happening soon – to be uncertain about having kids.

      Uncertain isn’t the same as “certainly no”. It can often just mean “I feel like that’s really far away, and certainly not right now.” And in your mid-twenties it’s not nearly as urgent as ten years later. (i.e. at 39, “maybe someday but who knows” might quickly turn into “we missed that window”)

      I started dating my husband shortly after he started law school. He absolutely could not consider marriage while he was in school. He had a major mental block about even thinking seriously about it before he had finished law school and passed the bar.

      His last year of law school was acutely terrible for me. I was in love with him, wanted to marry him, and had no idea whether he would graduate and THEN start thinking about it and THEN decide “Nope, not with her!” I couldn’t imagine why a person couldn’t be in school and also thinking about a totally separate thing like marriage. I was sure he was stalling, and thought a lot about whether we should break up.

      He finished the bar on a Thursday, bought a ring on Friday and proposed to me at breakfast on the Saturday. He really did just need to finish the bar.

      • chrissyc

        A little off-topic, but as the spouse of a law student your cute proposal timeline resonates so much with me. There are many things that we’ve put on hold until after the bar; it will be odd when it’s actually over and we’ll have all these major life decisions to make!

      • A.

        “Especially people who aren’t settled into a career path they can envision long-term, or who aren’t financially stable and don’t see that happening soon”

        This is so key. My husband and I were married a year ago (age 26/27 respectively) and we have quietly begun aiming for a 2-3 year timeline for biological children, so we’ll likely have our first child (fate willing) on either side of the 30 cusp. This is WAY earlier than we would have said when we were in our early 20s and, to our friends who are less settled/financially stable than us, it’s completely unfathomable.

        When I told my best friend, she immediately blanched and just squeaked out, “But you’re too young!!” Objectively, we’re not, but from her perspective, it is so unimaginable to be thinking kids at this point that she couldn’t think of another way to articulate her discomfort with the very concept. And she’s someone who has a decent-ish job (if not a “career”) and has a long-term boyfriend…but the idea of having kids can be panic inducing when the direction of your life hasn’t been actively aiming towards it. I’m sure if her boyfriend asked her if she wants kids, she’d have an equally panicked or uncertain response as the LW’s partner, even though theoretically she’s in favor of the idea.

  • emilyg25

    Your boyfriend is smart to want to have this more figured out before you get married. As others noted, this is an area where there is no compromise, and there can be extraordinary heartache if you don’t agree. Personally, having kids was mandatory for me. By the time I hit my mid-20s, I was bringing it up pretty early in the dating timeline because I just didn’t want too far into things and then have to end it. Put your relationship on pause for now while you have some conversations and give this serious thought.

  • pajamafishadventures

    Is your partner able to hypothetically discuss children with you, or is he too caught up in the “we can’t have them now!” that you’re not truly sure how he feels in general? I’ve found that sometimes one partner just isn’t able to think in those hypothetical terms and gets caught up in what would or would not work at the moment- and it certainly sounds like this is not the right moment to have children! If he is sure that he doesn’t want kids even after you two have more stability then you need to decide if it’s a deal breaker for you, and it’s perfectly fine if it is.

    • Jess

      R is a Present-Day kind of thinker on most things (surprisingly the only thing he’s not that kind of thinker on? Children. Those, he’s sure he wants.), so this is totally a real struggle. We’re having it on house-buying – we’re so not ready, but I’d like to know what to look for when that comes!

  • js

    Long distance relationships are excellent for having to hash out the big discussions in a relationship, I’ve found. I already had a child when we met and with the distance, I found myself facing questions like would I have another right off the bat. It wasn’t in a creepy, pressuring way, just in a sort of, “I’m deciding how far to get into this relationship if our goals are not aligned” way. LW is living with this guy and has invested 3 years. I definitely agree it’s time to decide. I love so much APW has said about this, in regards to questions to ask each other before marriage, counseling before marriage, etc. This feels like a no-brainer (though I’m not minimizing how hard it is when you’re the one in the relationship ) based on what I’ve learned here, as something to definitely not wait on.

  • Kara

    I can only give my perspective, but early in our relationship (about 10 years ago), I assumed I’d have kids with my husband. We loved each other, we knew we would get married eventually, and we did. We’ve been married for 6 years, and the longer time passed, and the older I got, the more I realized that I don’t want kids, hell, I don’t even like kids (yes, that means babies through about 20).

    I’ve changed as a person, and so has my husband. However, he’s always said that the kids/no kids decision was mine to make since it was my body. He’d make a great father. He loves kids. But, it’s always been my choice.

    So it’s possible the LW will change or her boyfriend will change. Either way, conversations must be had early and often. Hugs! I know it’s hard. Once I came to the realization that I didn’t want kids, I had several tearful, sobbing, “I think I’m going crazy” discussions with my husband.

    • Ashley

      I want to second the notion that it’s possible to change your mind. When I met my now husband I had always assumed I’d have kids and I use the word assumed intentionally because it turns out I hadn’t given it much thought, it was just kind of a given in my family. Fast forward a year or so and my then boyfriend told me he knew he didn’t want kids, ever. It was a gut check for me and I over time and lots of soul searching, I found that for me, I wanted to be with him “kids or not” as Liz says it. It turned out that I was actually kind of ambivalent about kids when I gave myself some time to process that decision. We’ve now been together nearly 8 years, married 1 and I could not be happier about my decision to choose this man and be a family of two.

      So all that to say, things change and definitely conversations need to be had. I had many sobbing conversations as well and to some degree still do, now they’re not about the decision not to have kids but about living in a world ( and in my case community) where we don’t “fit in” because we’ve chosen not to have kids. The kids/no kids question is a tough one and it doesn’t go away over night.

      Lastly just another thanks to APW for talking about this kind of thing. When I was going through my decision this was the only place where anyone was talking about the fact that it’s a choice and it’s okay to choose either side.

      • Kara

        Yes, yes. Thanks to APW for being a sane, sounding board. When everyone else around me was like “what’s your deal”. This has always been a great community (see: married 6 years ago) that I’ve cherished!

    • zero

      I had a somewhat similar experience, although for me the change was from “definitely wanting kids” to “I’ll stay with this guy even if he ultimately does not want kids”.

      With a past boyfriend, the kids issue was even part of the (perceived) reason for why we broke up. He was really unsure and at that point I thought I definitely wanted them. But the thing is, it was still right for us to break up and I don’t regret it in the least. So I think these issues have to be tackled as they present themselves at that moment: If there’s a conflict regarding kids now and she’s worried it will be a deal breaker then this needs to be resolved now. It doesn’t matter if it turns out years later on that they would ultimately have agreed anyway. It’s affecting their relationship now and that’s the important thing.

    • Lisa

      Solidarity on the sobbing, “I think I’m crazy” phase. I was like Nancy Drew, desperately seeking evidence of what people found so rewarding about having kids. Because from the outside, you can’t see all the love and joy and heartfelt emotions, but you CAN see all the frazzled chiding, marital bickering, and ground-up goldfish crackers in the couch. :)

      I think it was hard because I felt like none of the standard “I don’t want kids” stuff applied to me; for example, I think I’d be a great mom, I think my husband would be a great dad, we have the financial and emotional resources to have a family, we don’t dislike children. So I couldn’t figure out: but WHY don’t I want kids? Why don’t I want this thing that everyone else around me is so sure they want that they don’t even really question it? I finally realized that modern parenthood looks so, so hard and stressful to me that it has put me off the idea, but my desire for kids must not have been that strong to begin with if I could be dissuaded so easily.

  • Emily

    I think it can also be helpful to frame scenarios where you would / wouldn’t want kids (or at least it has in my marriage but we’re both spreadsheet types. My husband jokes I would need to do a discounted cash flow analysis before having children) I think everyone imagines the halcyon experience of living in a lovely neighborhood and dropping your kids off at the lovely school down the street – but would you still have children if it meant really seriously cutting corners / scraping by? Where are the pain points for you personally.

    I don’t mean this to be judgemental at all, people raise kids successfully in all manner of personal situations, but I think it’s important to understand your own personal trade offs / decision matrix. I grew up with a mother who didn’t do this (really wanted children / to be a stay at home mom but didn’t think through the fact that then she would have less disposable income) and there was a lot of resentment and anger in my childhood as my mother blamed her children (mostly me for whatever reason) for her choices.

  • Alexandra

    There is so much more freedom and choice in the western world today, and it’s a good thing. But choice has unintended consequences, and this sort of angst seems typical.

    For me, after many years of evolving on the topic, I came to understand marriage for myself as a traditional, defined institution that necessarily includes a family. Once I arrived at a very clearly defined understanding of what marriage would be for me, it made it easy to identify good and bad partners for myself. Looking for “the love of my life” wasn’t 100% about chemistry, it was about finding someone who wanted to share my dreams and goals, and who had the same definition of marriage/family life.

    Dating became a very intentional process, and I didn’t waste time with men who clicked with me and had chemistry with me, but who didn’t share my vision. I stopped trying to convince men to have my values just because they shared my sense of humor or taste in literature. Huge time and energy suck to try to convince somebody to want something they don’t want. Cut him loose.

    PS Now I’m married and have a fifteen month old with a man who very much wanted to be married and very much wanted children. And we’re now trying to decide on the timing for number two, and I’m (a little bit) cursing the power to choose these things! Because I LOVE having a fifteen month old, but I did not love being pregnant, giving birth, or suffering through the first two months with said fifteen month old. The blinders are off. I know how hard this whole thing is, and I’m terrified of doing it again, this time with a toddler to care for.

    Sorry for the rabbit trail, but how do you decide to rip the bandaid off and get it over with to have another child? I can’t wait to have a sibling for number one, but oh sleep…And did anybody preemptively get anti depressants for post partum? I was such an emotional wreck for months after I gave birth and now that I’m back to normal I’m recognizing it must have been a hormonal thing. I’m wondering if there’s something I can do to make the second time more bearable.

    • Kayjayoh

      If it helps in any way, my two siblings and I were about 3 years apart. Close enough to be playmates/friends growing up, but not so close together that everything happened at once.

      • Lisa

        Not sure if you mean 3 years between oldest and youngest or 3 years between each sibling, but if it’s the latter, that’s how my family is structured, too, so there’s 6 years between me (oldest) and my youngest sister. My mom’s logic was that with her timing she’d only ever have one kid in diapers at a time. It’s an added bonus that we weren’t on top of one another in school but are still close enough to be best friends!

        • Kayjayoh

          Like your family: I was three when my sister was born, my sister was three when our brother was born.

        • TeaforTwo

          I think that any way you do it, there will be hard years. I am one of four, and there are 4 years, 5 years and 3 years between us, respectively.

          So there was never more than one of us in diapers, but there was at least one pre-schooler in the house for 17 years without a break. That is a A LOT of daycare drop-offs and trips to the library and years and years of interrupted sleep, etc.

          Some parents might prefer to just embrace chaos for a few years and then breathe a sigh of relief when all of their kids are in school!

          • Liz

            It can also depend on what age you really enjoy with kids. I know lots of friends who are just sort of sucking it up during the early years, having kids back-to-back as much as possible to get the diapering/needy part out of the way and enjoy having a big family of older kids. I personally really enjoy the toddler, footy-pajamas, munching-cheerios-and-watching-sesame-street age, so I kind of want a nice gap to savor that phase with each one. Which was a lovely plan, until we found out that, oops, we’ll be having the third when the second is 17mos old.

    • Amy March

      It’s interesting that you chose to frame this choice as a “traditional defined institution” and argue that choice has unintended consequences and “angst” seems typical.

      I want to be married to a man and have children. But I don’t think in doing so I’m shielding myself from any sort of angst or unintended consequences, nor do I feel like I am hoping for any part of a “traditional defined institution.” I’d prefer to own my own property, and vote, for starters. And as for “necessarily includes a family” isn’t your spouse family? Are you less married if, for whatever reason, you can’t have children?

      I’m very glad you have found a happy marriage, and I think knowing yourself and what you want and taking concrete steps to get it is a key part of finding a successful relationship, but I see no reason why that has to tie into a traditional definition of marriage, or any evidence that people who want something you define as less traditional suffer more angst.

      • If I’m reading Alexandra’s comment correctly, the “angst” she’s referring to is the fact that she has a choice about when to have another child — which is great, but also makes the decision more weighty. I think she’s saying that she wouldn’t be upset by a “surprise” pregnancy, but that with the advances in birth control, pregnancy is usually a choice, and sometimes having to choose is hard.
        (Or maybe she is referring to the op’s angst. But again, I didn’t see that as privileging “traditional” marriage — if a no-kid person finds another no-kid person to be their partner, there probably won’t be much angst on this particular topic. If a kid person finds a kid person, ditto. The angst comes from the possibility of one person wanting partner-plus-kids and the other wanting partner-no-kids, and in the past, most people looking to marry would have been in the partner-plus-kids camp, whether by natural desire, social force, or resignation to basic biology.)
        I agree that I, as a woman, enjoy having all the rights of citizenship, something that wasn’t true 100 years ago. But Alexandra’s dilemma, and the op’s dilemma, probably wouldn’t have existed 100 years ago either.

      • Ashley

        Yes agreed. Family doesn’t always = kids. We don’t have kids and never will but we’re very much a family.

    • Magi

      I dunno if this will be any help to you about deciding on the spacing for your kids, but I’ll share my personal experience. I am a woman in my mid-twenties with two brothers, one seven years older and one 21 months younger. My big brother was like a mythical demigod to me growing up, he was so much older he was practically on a different planet! We get along great as adults but weren’t close as children. My little brother and I were super-close as little kids, total BFFs. However, our closeness in age was an accident (Mom and Dad believed that old wives’ tale about breastfeeding, ha) and as we grew older I heartily wished they’d waited a little longer before going for #3. I never felt like I got the attention and time I needed from them because the baby of the family was so close behind me. Your mileage may vary, but there’s one perspective from a now-adult!

      I felt compelled to chime in because my best friend is in a similar place to you right now; she has a gorgeous, cheerful, wonderful 7 month-old baby boy and is starting to think about when he will get a sibling in the future.

  • Anon for this

    I am on the other side of this, and it has been painful. When my spouse and I were engaged, we were both on the fence about kids. She was on the fence about when we would have kids, and how we would handle it; I was on the fence about whether I wanted them at all. I had an abusive upbringing, and the idea of “family” was just…terrifying. We assumed we would figure it out together over the next couple of years. I’m 31, so I figured we had a good handful of years to work it out.

    After we got married, something just clicked for me. I woke up one day a couple of months after our wedding, and I was like, “THIS is my family. THIS is what ‘family’ is to me.” And suddenly, I couldn’t imagine not having kids within, like, the next two years.

    Last week, in the middle of the night, my partner told me that she didn’t know if she wanted kids at all. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. It was like getting hit in the face with a Mack truck. I still don’t really know how to make sense of it, and honestly, I don’t really know when to bring it up again or what I am going to say when I do.

    I think Liz’s advice is 100% right, and I just want to emphasize that there are a lot of things that happen AFTER you get married that can change the decision too. If you love this person and you want to be with him no matter what, you may get married and then he’ll quickly decide that he 100% wants kids. Or he 100% doesn’t. Getting married does not mean the end of risk and uncertainty.

  • Cathi

    When my husband and I sat down to talk about the “kids issue” it was a relief to know we were mostly on the same page, except not a relief at all to know we were on opposing sides of the “maybe???” line. He was pretty certain he wanted to be a father someday. I had no clue how I would feel in the future, but in that moment would have been perfectly happy being childless for the rest of our lives.

    The one thing we agreed on, regardless of anything else, was that if it really came down to it for whatever reason that we both thought we’d be okay if we never ended up having kids.

    This was a bigger struggle for my husband–he had to do a lot of reflection, especially if the “whatever reason” was if I came down with a case of Unrelenting Nopeitis rather than infertility, but he ultimately decided that his version of a happy life definitely included me, and only sort of included hypothetical kids.

    On the other side of the coin, I also agreed that if (when we were older) I was still “meh?” and his baby fever had jacked up to 104* that I would be happy to make him happy and try to have kids.

    It was a very hard conversation to have and an even harder concept to really, truly reconcile within myself. It was probably only because we were both at least a little uncertain that we were able to for some semblance of a compromise–I can’t imagine how hard it would be if one of us were sure.

    • MC

      This sounds really similar to the kids conversation my husband and I had once we got engaged. We were both on the fence but he was more on the kids side than I was. We agreed being together was the most important thing and we would both be willing to adjust if one of us became closer to 100% sure. Now, 3 years after that conversation, we’re feeling like we don’t need kids in our lives – but we’re also open to still changing our mind. The main thing is that we talk about it a LOT. I think what we’re both afraid of is the other person waking up one day and saying, “I want/don’t want kids” and feeling blindsided by the certainty. So communicating constantly will hopefully make that scenario less likely.

      Also, my MIL told us before we got engaged that we should be on the same page about kids and about where we want to live, and both of those have changed in the last three years. So I think if there is uncertainty, the best thing is to be on the same page about trying to be on the same page in the future as things change and evolve. (And as housing prices go up in certain places.)

    • Vanessa

      just +1 for “Unrelenting Nopeitis”

    • toomanybooks

      “On the other side of the coin, I also agreed that if (when we were older) I was still “meh?” and his baby fever had jacked up to 104* that I would be happy to make him happy and try to have kids.”

      Love the way you phrased that! My fiancée and I are both in the camp of “I’ve never particularly wanted kids and don’t think I want them now, but could possibly see reconsidering, especially if the other partner decided they were super into having kids.” If one of us gets a baby fever of 104!!

  • Anon

    As with all advice, take mine with a grain of salt. But for me, I think Liz’s question is by far the most important piece to sort out: “Do I want to be with this guy, kids or not?” This is a scary, hard, and almost impossible question to ask. But it is the one you must answer, individually and together.

    In our case, it was my husband who had to decide whether he wanted to marry me, given both a medical diagnosis that would make it highly unlikely to conceive, and my total ambivalence toward kids (likely driven by such medical diagnosis). As in, I figured if I couldn’t have them, I should accept it and move on…and I did, 100%. He, on the other hand, has always wanted children and we – as a couple and individually – had to do a lot of soul searching before deciding that the answer to that all-important question was “yes.” We got married two summers ago and while we have since talked about adoption, fertility, and other options, we have never fully “decided.”

    Because here is what you should also know, as you discuss this with your boyfriend. You should know that you just don’t know. As it turns out, we had one too many drinks this summer and a night of incredible, but unprotected sex. I ended up being the one who had to come to terms with whether or not I wanted to have kids. What ultimately helped get me through that decision, and what will help me get through the next 1000 decisions we make as parents was that I knew the answer to that question – for both of us – was yes.

    Of course you want to make the best decision you can, with all of the available information you have. But the single most important data point, at least for him (then) and for me (now), was whether this lifetime partnership was one we each wanted, no matter who else we might introduce to our household. The answer might be different for each of you – and that’s ok. Unfortunately, this is another case of “there’s no right answer, there’s only adult-ing.”

    • zero

      This really spoke to me. Since I’ve gotten together with my boyfriend, I’ve shifted more and more towards the position that what matters is whether he’s the right person for me to be in a lifetime partnership with, and having kids, while very important, has become secondary to that. At this point I can’t really imagine breaking up over having kids because I find it really hard to believe that it would be worthwhile giving up on this relationship in order to be able to have kids. If I want them, I want them with him, not with anyone else. (We haven’t decided for sure, but might very well have kids. I just think at this point it’s not a deal breaker issue for me anymore.)

  • Anon

    I also want to chime in on the enthusiasm level of your partner. My husband and I got married with the understanding that he leaned towards no kids and I leaned towards kids but if I decided I wanted to go ahead he’d be with me. That was after YEARS of discussions on the topic before we were married that resulted in a gradual progression. I decided that I did want to try to get pregnant about two years ago and frankly it resulted in brand new tough discussions to get there. I was ok with that because we had been together for over ten years and I knew that his resistance was coming from fear of change and that when the time came he would be an amazing dad and a committed parent because that’s the kind of person he is. We had a baby a little over a year ago and he is just as in love with that little bean as I am. My path is not for everyone and definitely had it’s risks but I wanted to offer it as an alternative to the usual path.

  • Alison O

    “We’re still young (mid-twenties), so I know this isn’t a decision that needs to be made immediately”
    I tend to agree.
    “I’m struggling with how to proceed.”
    I’ve been there.
    “I’m a very future-oriented, planning-type person. Do I just need to calm down and not worry about making this decision yet?”
    I would say yes.
    “Or will I need to, at some point, pick between the love of my life and having children?”

    I don’t think you need to figure it out NOW as Liz suggested. If you don’t need to get married NOW, then I don’t see why you have to figure it out NOW. I would definitely say you should have this figured out before you get married. If this relationship feels right to you right now, knowing what you know about his current preference for children or not, then I say live in the now and take it one day at a time. From my perspective and experience, mid-20s is young, especially for a guy to have clarity about the question of raising children. However, if you have specific goals about getting married and starting a family in the short term, or you want to be with someone who already has a crystal clear idea about the kind of life they want in the future, then maybe it is worth it to you to consider making radical changes to find someone else sooner rather than later. In my experience, however, a lot has gotten sorted out in the fifth/sixth year of my relationship and around age 30.

  • Not Sarah

    This letter could have been written by me with a few modifications:

    “I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years (living together for one year). We love each other deeply and envision a long future together. However, I doesn’t want to get married until we sort out the kid question: I am almost positive I don’t want to have children and he hadn’t thought about it until I came along, but always assumed he would. I love him and want to be with him. I am praying that his uncertainty about having children means not having them. Then again, I also don’t want to get five or ten years into the future (and five or ten years more invested in this relationship) and still have him feeling uncertain about children, or worse, feeling certain that he does want them. What happens then? We break up and I hunt for a new partner in my thirties? That seems wrong.

    We’re in our late twenties, so I know this isn’t a decision that needs to be made immediately, but I’m struggling with how to proceed. I’m a very future-oriented, planning-type person. Do I just need to calm down and not worry about making this decision yet?”

    For me, the answer has been yes, I need to calm down and not worry about making this decision yet. We’re sort of in the opposite case of you that I definitely don’t want kids and my boyfriend is uncertain. I’m convinced that he’s uncertain enough that if we’re together long enough, he’ll conclude that not having kids is acceptable.

    My sibling, however, was in the case of they absolutely must have children or their life will not be as they want it and their partner was on the side of never wanting to have children. In my sibling’s mid-twenties, they had a heated discussion spanning days over this and the partner eventually conceded on one child rather than the many that my sibling wanted, which was an acceptable compromise to my sibling (sibling’s minimum requirement was > 0 children).

    For you, I would say that you don’t need to make this decision now, but you do need to make it clear to your partner that this is very important to you and you are willing to go to counseling to help figure it out. You need to be discussing this.

    • Aggrocrag

      This letter could have been written by me three or four years ago.

      Except, when we started dating, my partner was adamant about having kids. I was on the fence about having kids, but was happy to let him take the lead on that decision. Cut to three years later, he decided he no longer really wanted kids and I had begun to think having kids was important to me.

      We had a tearful discussion about it and I told him that if kids weren’t in the cards for him ever, then I’d rather break up now and let us both heal so we each could get what we wanted. He told me that with our current financial and work situation (long hours for enough for us to be somewhat comfortable as a family of two – if either of us were to lose our jobs, we’d be able to scrape by for a month, if we lived very frugally), he couldn’t imagine bringing kids into our lives. If our situation was to improve, it would be a conversation he was willing to have. He asked if that was okay.

      I thought for a couple weeks, long and hard, about those implications. If I stayed with him, someone who wasn’t motivated to have kids, maybe it would never happen. I asked myself the question Liz posed – “Do I want to be with this guy, kids or not?” Ultimately, I decided the answer was yes.

      He’s become more open to kids in the past couple years, in terms of a “someday” thing, as our financial/career situation hasn’t yet changed. And all those considerations he’s worried about make complete sense to me and I’m glad I don’t have kids at this point because of it. But I haven’t stopped wanting them (especially after I held my friend’s 5 day(!!!) old baby over Thanksgiving weekend).

      Anyway, wanted to share my similar struggle. And, LW, if you decide that you can imagine your life without this guy, but not without children, it’s okay to break up. He’s not necessarily, like others have said, the love of your life forever…just the love of your life SO FAR.

    • Audrey

      I don’t know if this is your situation, but I find in general women have been told to be much more proactive in terms of “do I want kids?” I was always being told about “work-life balance” in college, etcetera whereas he hadn’t given it ANY thought at all.

      Partially because of that, I had to give my then-boyfriend (now-husband) a lot of room and time for him to think about what having kids actually means. Honestly he didn’t truly have an opinion until the first of our friends had a kid and he really understood what having a kid means.

  • jubeee

    I think its interesting that so many people have changed their minds or evolved over this issue. I am in the firm discuss it thoroughly camp. These are true compatibility questions, the kind that people will divorce over if partners really don’t see eye to eye. You should count on taking him at his word, do not hope for a change of heart after marriage. If you can see a future where it is just the two of you and that seems like a relationship you can be happy with, go forward. But if you need to have kids (and really there should be no shame in that) you should consider your best options to have the life you want. It might not include him though.

  • laddibugg

    Even at 25, I knew I could not date someone seriously who was anti-kids, or who was uncertain enough to almost be a no. I did date a guy for a while who was super uncertain AND had a physical problem that would have necessitated some sort of medical intervention to procreate, but at some point, I knew our relationship wouldn’t have worked long term because of that. I just feel that past a certain age, kids aren’t a ‘someday’ thing if you want biological ones–for men or women ( and gay or straight). You have to nail down a timeframe.
    My boyfriend was a little uncertain about having his own kids–he was very open to adoption though. I kinda really wanted my own kids, too, but adoption would be an acceptable compromise. Eventually, he changed his mindset to a ‘if it happens, it happens …..and it is currently ‘happening’. We’re expecting a little boy in April :)

  • TheOtherLiz

    First, I want to say, that anytime in your twenties is NOT way too early to think about this! I’m a planner by nature too, and I feel you on the self-deprecating approach to your inner planner. But I just turned 30 and I am watching so many of my single or not-ideally-coupled friends realize, the closer they get to 30, “oh crap I’m almost 30 and not making progress toward this life goal” because we are taught to live it up in our twenties. For me, the timing is working out fine because if I’d met someone who wanted to marry me sooner, well, it wouldn’t be my fiance, so I’m happy to be getting married at 30. But I also know that we can only enjoy so much kid-free wedded bliss before we start having kids if we do, because, biological clock and stuff.

    This post could have been written by me 3 years ago. I had been with my boyfriend for two years. The relationship was progressing steadily, he had moved in with me, we were very close. But I was so scared to bring up kids, and even bringing up marriage was scary. So after our 2 year anniversary, I got up the nerve to ask, “What do you think about marriage?” and he said “I don’t.” So…. fast forward 6 months, I asked again and got the same answer. So at that point I realized I had to choose between this man that I loved and all of the possibilities that I wanted for myself. This was the beginning of the end of that relationship, and it was incredibly difficult. I chose the gut feeling that pulled me towards marriage and kids because I’d been in love with that future longer than I’d been in love with this guy. And the next year, I was newly seeing someone. And it took us about a month to become official, and maybe a month after that, I decided to be brave and ask that same question: “What do you think about marriage?” and this man’s response was, “Obviously, that’s the hypothetical destination of this path we’re on.” And a few months after that, I asked, “What about kids?” and while he wasn’t sure – we talked for months – it’s ended up that now we are getting married, and it feels wonderful to be able to bring up the idea of kids whenever it comes to mind, without fearing that I’ll scare him away. Those weren’t the only factors that made those relationships differ, of course, but I wish for you what I found for myself: the gumption to say out loud what you want, what you need, and to be respected for those wants and needs and taken seriously. Whatever that might mean for your relationship, it is important to own your dreams! And as soon as possible. Don’t wait around until you think it’s convenient and you won’t bother anyone by bringing them up – talk about them now, own them out loud now.

    • Anon

      I agree and I’m a little confused about some of the “mid-twenties is SOOOO young don’t even worry about this!” responses. Because 25 is young, sure, but is it really *that* young? I think of most 25-year-olds as full-fledged adults and think that planning for the future is something most, if not all, should engage in, so considering whether your long-term partner is on the same page as you is pretty crucial and not something that Future!LW should be left to deal with, when she’s Older and Wiser and More Prepared. Because in my experience, that doesn’t necessarily come as neatly as people think it does, especially if you’re currently thinking about these things. Is that nuts and/or naive?

      • TheOtherLiz

        Well said. It made no sense, looking back now, that at 25 I thought “why pressure a guy about marriage? We’re so young, we can worry about that later!” when I was so proactive about things like grad school, living abroad, pursuing my professional dreams, etc. I didn’t assume that at 30 I could jump right into the career I wanted – I knew I needed to invest in that dream ASAP. Why did it take me so long to realize the same about my dreams for my personal life? Maybe because marriage and parenthood sound so “Adult” and I was, as they say, waiting for someone adultier to come along and start the process. To quote Anne Lamott: “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do.”

      • chrissyc

        I agree with you, and I also wonder if sometimes I’m a little naive for thinking this. Given that I am in my mid-twenties, I may not really have the perspective to know whether 25 is *that* young or not. In fact, I’m positive that 35-year-old me will look back on 25-year-old me and laugh at how young and dumb I was… but isn’t that just how life / growing up works? I’m sure 65-year-old me will think 55-year-old me was pretty clueless, too. I think that people shouldn’t let the possibility of getting “wiser and more prepared” be an excuse for not moving forward with their plans and dreams, even if they may need to modify their plans along the way. People don’t usually “arrive” at adulthood; it’s a constant learning process.

        • Violet

          I agree: as long as I keep my know-it-all attitude in check and regularly remind myself that things sometimes change, I totally am on board with taking myself, my opinions, and my goals in life seriously, no matter how old (or young!) I am.

          I get that this “Relax! You’ve got time!” response has emerged as a reaction to many women being pressured at very young ages to marry and have kids before they were ready. The time to explore options is a hard-won one. But I’m not in favor of living my life completely swung the other way on the pendulum, where I’d want my own desires to plan and think carefully about my life to be met with “Don’t worry about it!”

          • chrissyc

            That’s a great point; the other extreme of feeling pressure to figure out everything RIGHT NOW is just as bad as feeling like your goals aren’t being taken seriously.

      • z

        I definitely don’t think 25 is too young to think about parenthood. It’s just *thinking*, for Pete’s sake. Let’s not forget that prior generations became parents in their early 20s as a matter of course. People think about careers, grad schools, all kinds of stuff at 25 and I don’t think this is any different.

        I thought about parenthood extensively at 25 and made it a dating priority, and I’m very pleased with how that’s worked out. It can take a long, long time to get from dating to marriage to baby-ready, with all the financial and professional and medical stars that have to align. So it makes sense to allow some breathing room in your timeline, especially if you want to have more than one child. I’m very glad I did.

      • Lindsay

        I tell so many people about this ted talk/book and its so applicable to this conversation – Meg Jay: Why 30 is not the new 20
        (and the book: The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter). She talks about how we can’t just throw away our 20s thinking things will magically work themselves out once we hit 30. If we want solid careers, solid relationships etc – you need to put in the time and the work, and the time and the work has to start in your 20s. Most people think this is just in terms of career but it’s relationships too. As TheOtherLiz says – why don’t we realize we also need to invest in our personal lives? Solid relationships that are leaning towards marriage/kids take work and time to build.
        Anyway, tldr: Listen to Meg Jay’s podcast and read her book!

        • Greta

          I read this book when I was 25 and it really really helped me think about my life, career goals, etc. I recommend it!

    • Not Sarah

      I really resonated with your comment even though our situations are relatively different. When I ask my boyfriend what he thinks about marriage, his answer is “that’s the hypothetical destination of this path we’re on.” Neither of us is certain about when we might want to get married, but we at least agree now that we want to marry each other! The most important thing is that we’re on the same page. I was upset for a while when he was saying he didn’t want to get married until he clarified that he wants to marry me, but doesn’t know when he wants to get married.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    I love this advice and think it’s spot on. I think generally speaking, you should take people at face value and believe what they say. If BF says he’s not sure he wants to have kids, take that to the bank and understand he may never know if he wants them. And then decide are you ok being with someone who is uncertain or doesn’t want to have kids. Maybe you’re ok with that now. Maybe you’re not ok with it. You get to decide this.

    What I am not saying here: that sometimes people are ambivalent about having kids and he could be too (I was) or that you won’t change your mind or he won’t change his mind. In the realm of possibilities, all of these are totally possible. But if having kids is something that is absolutely on the table for you and you wouldn’t be happy with someone who doesn’t want kids and if the person you’re with is saying they’re not sure, you have to accept that this person may never want kids. Don’t bank on “they might change their mind.” Go with what you know today and what you want.

    Lastly, does this have to be sorted today? No. Does it have to be sorted before you marry? See first and second paragraphs. What do you want? What are YOU ok with?

    • Lawyerette510

      You summed it up perfectly! And for anyone reading this who has a partner who is unsure about marriage, I’d encourage them to read your response and replace kids with marriage.

  • Christina McPants

    My wife and I nearly broke up about a year into our relationship because at 26, I was positive I didn’t want kids. I changed my mind three years later and gave birth to our daughter 4 years after that. Your feelings may shift. In my case, I couldn’t see myself parenting at that time in my life. Once my career stabilized, I could see it happening and then found myself wanting it.I don’t have any regrets about having kids (don’t ask me when she’s crying at 3am), but that was a journey I had to take.

  • I have been thinking about whether or not I want kids a lot over the last 5 years, and before that as well. When I was a kid and teen, I always figured I’d have kids when I was 25 or 27. Then life happened and I didn’t get married until my early 30s, and then with immigration and a lack of insurance, kids weren’t financially possible until about 4 years ago.

    Then there were about two years of being 60% sure we wanted them, then 50-50, then about 60% sure we did NOT want them. Even my best friends having kids didn’t trigger the urge. Then my ex left and we got divorced, etc., and I was again left with a wide-open possibility of having kids, if I met someone else someday. Except I was in my late 30s and single.

    Did I want them or not? How much had the feelings of my ex-husband played into my decision? I realized that if I were with someone who wanted kids and all the responsibilities that they bring, I would probably want them. But with my ex I had chosen to prioritize our relationship, because what was most important to me was having a partner in life, even if it meant no kids, and I was worried having kids might have a negative effect on our relationship.

    I guess I am a either-way sort of person? I can theoretically envision myself happy without and happy with. I think I would be a good mom. These days I am feeling the pressure of time because I am 39, but I still am feeling like I might not want them. Wouldn’t I know if I wanted them by now? If I only had 10 years left in life, I don’t think I would want to have kids. Does that mean anything?

    And I am now dating someone younger who is leaning towards not having kids, but could be open to adoption in a couple of years. A while back I wondered if I should be spending the last of my (possibly still) fertile years with someone who doesn’t want bio kids. But breaking up with the best guy I have dated when I don’t even know if I want kids seems like a stupid move. So I am trying to take it as it comes, and make the best decision I can with the information I have. And I am trying to listen to myself to see if some sudden urge to have kids hits.

    I think for people who definitely do or don’t want kids, it’s important to find a partner who feels the same way (though like people mention, feelings and circumstances can change, so even that’s not a guarantee). But for people who are less sure…not sure what to do. I guess time well tell because no decision will eventually become a decision (if it hasn’t already)…

  • Figure it out now. I married at 23 on the premise that we would consider children at 28-30. We hadn’t discussed it in depth but I was a YES and he was borderline, considering no children at all. 18 months later he decided he was a NO and that for me was the end of our relationship. Now? Divorced and with someone new and we are very excited about children in our future.

  • gonzalesbeach

    I’m picking up on Liz’s comment that “Or maybe something tragic happens, and you end up raising the kids of a loved one.” – doesn’t look like others have posted about it. My partner and I have been spending the last couple months discussing timing for children. And one thing that has come up for me is who I would choose to be the future kids guardian if anything happened to us. While I love my only sister to the moon and back and she’d be great with kids, her fiancé/partner of many years does not want kids [note: she wanted kids before they were together]. So knowing they’ve made that decision, I’ve removed her from the potential guardian list.

    • Audrey

      Have you discussed with your sister? Just a personal anecdote, but despite being about 90% sure I won’t want my own kids I still can envision a future where we are the right parents to someone in that sort of situation. Especially if you suspect she will end up being very close with your kids.

      • gonzalesbeach

        Great point about discussing – I haven’t broached the subject since it’s still so early & we’re not even actively trying to get pregnant for a while. This is silly but it reminds me of that Friends episode where Ross and Rachel say that Monica and Chandler get baby Emma if they both die- but if Monica also dies then Emma gets taken from Chandler and goes to the grandparents. But Chandler wants kids/Emma where my sister’s fiancé is very clear about not wanting to raise/parent or be responsible for kids.

        • MDBethann

          What we did with our daughter is make my SIL her legal guardian and my sister the “back up” – since my BIL is not a blood relation & already has 2 kids, we didn’t want to saddle him with raising our daughter if something happened to my SIL. Our sisters are joint executors of our estate and joint trustees of the trust established by our wills. So even though one will have legal custody, both will be very involved in making decisions about our daughter’s life.

          So you can still have your sister be the guardian of your child if she’s interested and then have a back up if something ever happens to your SIL but not her fiance.

          • gonzalesbeach

            thanks – this is a useful idea. certainly we’ll have much to think about when (hopefully) we get to it!

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  • Rebekah Jane

    I have to say, this could be me and my significant other, to the point of where I read this and immediately asked him how his opinion on babies is currently leaning.

    The back story is I’ve always been gung-ho about babies, but my partner is not. His reasoning, which is completely fair, is that throughout his life, he has been taught that a baby is the #1 worst consequence of a physical relationship. Add that to the fun fact that I’ve been taught my whole life that “I’m only allowed to date so I can eventually give my parents grandchildren” and you’ve got a fun conversation. (Yes, that has been said to me and him multiple times in my life. Gotta love those gender roles.)

    But, as we have navigated our time together, we’ve noticed that even in the short two years we’ve been together, our previous hard lines have blurred to accommodate the life we’ve built together. My dream of two children four years apart just like my parents? Not as feasible if we want to accomplish our career and life goals. His joke of adopting a teenager so that we skip the “hard parts?” Not that appealing after his nephew was born and he saw how fun a toddler could be.

    The point is, we know that our final decision on children is at least four years away and we’ve still got some growing together to do – after all, we need to navigate that whole “married” thing first! But, as he has kindly told me after I get baby fever from cuddling my squishy toddler cousins, he’s aware of how much we have changed over just the past two years and he knows that his thoughts now most likely don’t reflect what he will feel in four years. So, for now, that answer alone makes me happy.

    So, LE, don’t assume that the hard line in the sand will stay so clear after years of weather together. Yes, know where you stand, but never assume that the current version of yourself will stay the same. The greatest danger to a relationship is the idea that you’ve found with the one person you’re with your whole life. You’ve found the love that you want to grow with for the rest of your life and that could involve two new people in your relationship in just a few years.

  • Amanda

    I generally agree with a lot of what’s been said & Liz’s advice. I will wave a red flag around the fact that your partner is in a very precarious financial situation, feel unstable in his home life, and kids are the sheer meaning of instability. Perhaps the kids and family question, for him now, is just not being able to see what it looks like outside of the chaos? Just as a for-instance, my long term (7 years) partner, with whom I’ve lived with for 6.5 years, was really hesitant to start the marriage process. It was difficult for him to communicate clearly, because it felt fuzzy at the time, but it was deeply rooted in financial insecurity on his part. But then, he got a promotion at work, a salary, health insurance, and the weight it lifted from him opened his mind to getting married & getting ring, etc together. I would really hesitate to ask your partner what he thinks about kids in a time when thinking beyond the next paycheck feels impossible. The question could feel like, “I don’t know what two weeks will bring, how can I know if I’ll *ever* be stable enough to have kids.”

  • Lauren

    I’d say it’s a matter of how important it is to you to have kids. If you MUST HAVE KIDS to be your best self, then this isn’t a match. But, if you’re on the fence and he’s on the fence, or maybe both of you prioritize your relationship above the possibility for future progeny, I’d say go for it. Sounds like you’re in the former camp. Me personally? I’m not keen on the kids idea – my husband is – but he’s made it very clear to me that being with me is The. Most. Important. Thing. He’s okay if it doesn’t happen. I’m working on being okay if it does. But it’s not a point of contention between us because our priorities are the same: Being together and loving every second of it.