In a new twist on Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems
Here, she offers advice to a woman who doesn't want to be a mum but her boyfriend wants a child.
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My partner and I have been together 3.5years. I’m 33 and from Canada, and he's a Londoner, 29. We talk about marriage and our future a lot – I’d like to eventually move back to Canada with him.
I had shared with him very early on in our relationship that I do not want children, never truly have. My childhood was rough, and I feel like if you have children you should provide them with a better life than the one you had growing up. Financially and mentally, I don’t believe that I’m capable of that. I also fear that having children puts added pressure and stress on a relationship and I don’t want it to change what we've created.
Very recently the man that has been his father figure for the past several years has passed away. And since then, he has brought up having children, asking me my stance, and sharing he is "scared of what my answer is". This resulted in an argument on the phone, where I ended up crying and confused. We then didn't speak for 10 days (never has that happened before), as he needed time to gather his thoughts and what he wants.
Last night he came over to speak in person, he said he thought he was sure of what he wanted but upon being there he didn’t know what to do. He explained that being at the funeral it confirmed he wants to create and build a family with me because of all the sides of me he loves. And he wants the two of us to live on through our child.
He shared he also can’t imagine not being together and that it doesn’t feel right to end. I again shared my fears and why I don’t want children. I asked what his head is telling him, he said, "I don’t want to say goodbye to the person I love but what else is there to do?" I broke down as I thought that was the end. He held me for about 15mins then said: "I haven't made a decision". He asked if I could wait for him as he needs time to process not having children with me and being ok with that.
So, I say all that to ask, am I being selfish, and do I regrettably need to let him go? I don’t want to convince or guilt him into being together, and I do not want to be the reason he misses out on an opportunity, or for him to end up resenting me. All I want is for him to be happy.
This is a sad situation, and unfortunately there is really nothing that I, or anyone else, could say to make it easier. Let me start by saying that you aren’t being selfish, having children is a huge decision, especially for women. The reality is that the biggest burdens of parenting tend to fall on women.
Pregnancy can be tough and physically gruelling, childbirth is extreme, post-partum recovery is intense, and despite it being 2021 – the lion’s share of childcare still often falls on mothers. It is us whose careers end up being paused, and us who usually end up being the main carer. So, it is beyond important for a woman to be completely certain about her decision to have children.
Not wanting children is a great choice, it’s equally as great as wanting children, neither is better than the other. Society is slowly waking up to the fact that not all women want to have kids, it’s becoming far more accepted as a very valid life choice. As a general rule I would never even dream of saying anything other than ‘Good for you!’ if a woman told me she didn’t want children. There is no need to ask why, or to question if she’s sure, or to let her know that she might regret it (which are all things that people often say), it’s likely that she will have thought it through and that she certainly doesn’t need anyone else’s opinion.
However, because you have mentioned that your reasons for not wanting children are based on fears which stem from your own experience of being parented, I think it may be worth exploring this. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a legitimate reason to not want them, it’s just that if you feel that parenthood would be for you if only you weren’t so scared of not being good enough at it, then that can be worked on.
I spoke to Pascale Lane – a therapeutic relationship coach (www.youfulfilled.co.uk) who said: “As we approach our late thirties it is a big decision to say ‘absolutely not’ to children (a valid and reasonable decision, but a big one nonetheless) so I would want to unpack her reasons with her a bit more, especially if it has stemmed from childhood trauma.
"Ultimately, if he really wants to have children and she doesn’t it may lead to resentment in the relationship later on, either because he will continue to hope that she will change her mind, or he may feel denied of children. Equally, she may hope that he may change his mind or feel like she’s disappointing him in the long run by not having kids. So, I would suggest that the first thing they need to do is explore both of their reasons for wanting/not wanting children, but she should do that alone first and then look to do it as part of couple work. Therapy for you individually, and then later as a couple, will really help you to work through this.”
You have nothing to feel guilty about. You have been clear from start of your relationship about your views on children. He also has nothing to feel bad or guilty about, it is perfectly normal for our views to change on this subject as life progresses. It is worth exploring whether he only wants children with you to continue your legacy as a couple, or whether he now feels that he wants to be a Father because he wants to experience raising children regardless of who he is in a relationship with. Would he want them no matter who he was with, or is it just something he wants with you?
Men’s fertility declines at the same rate as women, and whilst men can father children well into their 80s, it doesn’t mean that the quality of their sperm is ideal for making healthy children at that age, but nonetheless, he is slightly less time limited than you, and he is still young enough to have plenty of time ahead of him to make babies if he wants to in future so there isn’t a desperate need for you both to rush to a decision. You both have time.
There is no way of knowing how things may pan out. You could both remain very happy and childless by choice. You could have a child and suddenly find that you were made for motherhood. You could have a child and deeply regret it. You could stay together and build resentment because one or other of you feels trapped/denied by going with the other person’s choice. The only way to really tackle it is through individual and then couple therapy as Pascale said. If you cannot come to an agreement that you both feel truly at peace with then it may mean that you have to let go of this relationship.
Whilst this would be incredibly difficult and would likely result in lots of feelings of pain and regret, it is far preferable to feel those feelings about a relationship than it is to feel that about your own child.
It’s better to lose a good relationship than to have a baby that you really don’t want. It is important for you to let go of the idea that it is selfish for you to not compromise on this matter. Selfishness is not a negative when it comes to something like this. Having a baby that you don’t want in order to be selfless would be a terrible idea and I don’t think it would make him happy. I really hope that you can find a way for you to both be happy and content with whatever decision you make.
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