What to Do if Only One Parent Wants More Kids
It's not easy when one partner wants more kids and the other doesn't. Experts weigh in on how to navigate this emotionally-driven scenario.
When I was married to my first husband who was adamant about never having kids, I learned through a routine gynecology exam, I had a longitudinal vaginal septum (LVS), or essentially my vagina was separated into two cavities. My rushed and frantic doctor at the time told me having a child would be incredibly painful and probably not possible. My dream of becoming a mother ended as did my first marriage.
Four months into my second marriage, however, I became pregnant with our first child. My husband, who initially didn't want children, took it hard at first, but then embraced the idea of fatherhood better than I could have imagined. And, as it turns out, my LSV by no means prevented pregnancy or caused any complications. After giving birth to my daughter, my new doctor simply snipped and removed it.
Although raising our daughter has been challenging, exhausting, and hard, it has changed us irrevocably and makes every single day an incredible adventure. Which is why when I turned to my husband one night, after weepily looking at her photos of when she was first born, and asked, "When can we have another?" I was shocked with his answer: "I don't want any more kids. She's perfect for me."
We've had the conversation a hundred more times, and the answer is always the same. I've talked, exhaustively, to my friends and family, and they all know how passionately we both feel about what we want. "It is a common challenge for couples," says Amber Trueblood, MFT, a licensed marriage therapist in San Diego. "Parenthood is hard on a marriage, and for some partners, the idea of doing everything all over again isn't exciting—it's terrifying."
But how do you deal with two differing opinions on such an important life decision? Experts explain the best ways for partners to work through this.
Create a Safe Space to Talk
Open communication is imperative to seeing and understanding the other person's perspective. Know what you want before going into the conversation but try to avoid any aggressive language. "Using 'I feel' statements during your conversation will help to minimize defensiveness and conflict as well," says Trueblood.
Also, make sure your partner feels safe entering the discussion and is in the right headspace for the chat. Choosing to approach this after a fight, a hard day at home, or a rough workday is ill-advised.
"Start off a difficult conversation with, 'I have something I would like to talk about, is now a good time?' This gives your partner an opportunity to check in with themselves and their feelings about a big conversation," says DeAnna J. Crosby, M.A., clinical director and licensed marriage and family therapist of New Method Wellness in San Juan Capistrano, California. And if it's not the right time, scheduling another moment to have the talk is a good idea.
Understand the Why
There's a reason my husband doesn't feel comfortable having another child, just as there's a reason I want another one—and that's likely the case for any couple going through this. "Perhaps one partner feels financial pressure or fears passing on a genetic anomaly, rendering them incapable of imagining the benefits of having another child. Or one partner fears raising their only child without siblings because of their own very special sibling relationships, rendering them incapable of imagining raising an only child in a happy and complete way," says Trueblood.
Either way, it's important to fully understand the reasoning behind each of your opinions, says Trueblood. Learning why your partner feels the way they do might not change their mind, but it will give you insight into their frame of reference.
A change of mind isn't out of the question for some couples, so don't be too quick to write off a happy ending.
"Do not assume 'not now' or 'as of now, no' means 'never,'" says Michele Paiva, a licensed psychotherapist who runs Michele Paiva Psychotherapy.
Along the lines of this, changing the dynamic of the conversation may also change your partner's point of view as well, which is what I'm learning as I deal with this in real time with my husband.
"Without feeling that pressure, each person is much better able to absorb and explore both their own feelings and their partner's feelings. You may find a shift happen in one or both partners if neither feels they are being challenged or manipulated," says Trueblood. "When seeking only to better understand, a space opens up. A space that just may allow for some common ground to form."
Instead of empathizing with my husband's concerns, I attack them, and often overlook the positivity in our current life for that desire of wanting "more." While that's normal when discussing emotional topics, says Trueblood, it's important to appreciate the positives you already have.
"Spend some time and attention acknowledging what is working well in the family and in the relationship first," adds Trueblood. "Offering gratitude, appreciation, and empathy for what you already have, is a vital first step before you can get something more or different."
Consider Couples Therapy
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can't manage to see the other person's perspective, or the conversation always ends up in an argument. When you hit the point where you are no longer able to discuss the topic respectfully, that's when it might be time for some professional help.
Couples therapy offers partners the opportunity to get all their thoughts out in a safe space. In today's environment, many therapists are providing virtual sessions. And there are also apps like TalkSpace, BetterHelp, or Doctor on Demand that offer couples therapy too.
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Should You Leave?
Deciding to end a relationship is never an easy one, but neither is forgoing your desire for a larger family or the importance it has on your happiness. In this case, Trueblood says partners need to ask themselves this question: "Can I release my frustration and resentment toward my partner so that we may have a strong, healthy, loving relationship moving forward and a happy home for our current child(ren)?"
For some, it's an easy decision. They want another kid, their partner doesn't, and they aren't willing to negotiate. While others opt to find ways to be fulfilled in their current life or hope that their mind will change as their child grows up without a sibling.
"The most important thing—no matter what your feelings—is that you don't miss any opportunities to let your partner know what is really important to you, and then find out what is really important to your partner," says Crosby.