Before I met my husband, kids were always this fuzzy part of my vision of our ideal future. I knew I wanted to have them someday, but had no idea when or even how many. Before we tied the knot, Chris and I had the “do you want kids?” talk and shared a hazy notion that we’d have two.
But during my pregnancy with my second son, Chris, said something that threw me for a loop: “I’ll get a vasectomy soon.” I was floored by the idea that this would be it for us — after all, we loved being parents and were so excited for our new baby. Motherhood has turned out to be so much more amazing than I thought it would be, and despite our at times complex schedules, parenting has been more seamless than I anticipated. So I assumed the possibility of more kids was on the table… but my husband was thinking otherwise.
Chris is a chef and works long, odd hours, and it tears him up to miss T-ball games, family dinners and bedtimes several times a week. He also dreams about us owning a bigger home one day and helping to put our kids through college. Having more children could put that in jeopardy and potentially strain our relationship, he argued. “I don’t want more than two kids,” he said plainly.
So, I did what any pregnant woman would do: I freaked out and starting ugly-crying. It was overwhelming and emotional — and we needed to get through having the kid in my belly first, anyway — so we agreed to table the discussion for the future. Our second son was born, and he turned out to be pretty much a dream baby — incredibly laid-back, sleeps and eats well, adores his big brother. At some point during this easier-than-expected postpartum period, Chris implied that he’s open to the idea of baby No.3, but still leaning toward “no.”
I know that I’m so lucky to have two healthy, happy boys, and I’m obsessed with our little family. I also completely get Chris’ argument — but a friend’s mom once told me something I’ve carried with me: “You’ll know when you’re done.” And I don’t feel done. I keep bringing up the topic, hoping Chris will suddenly say that he’s changed his mind, but we don’t seem to be getting anywhere beyond talking about our different viewpoints. I’m terrified that one day, he’ll say he absolutely doesn’t want any more children — and I’ll be devastated.
I feel very alone in this disagreement, but according to Jocelyn Charnas, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Manhattan, we’re not the only couple going through this. “I’ve worked with a lot of couples on this,” she says.
Licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?, agrees. “It’s not uncommon,” she says, pointing out that just like the question of whether or not people want to have kids at all, how many kids to have can be a deal-breaker in some newer relationships.
But Chris and I have been married for years and we’re committed to each other and our family — we’re just at odds on this topic. According to the experts, here’s what we and other people in our situation should do.
It’s easy to think your relationship is in deep trouble if you can’t agree on the kids issue, but Charnas says it’s important to take a step back before making any assumptions. “It’s a doozy, and we can’t pretend that it’s not a difficult and complicated thing to address,” she says. “But it doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed and one partner is relegated to unhappiness. There is room to work with this.” Take a deep breath, then proceed to the next step.
Have empathy — and ask for it in return
You’ve heard it before: Marriage is a compromise. But Charnas points out that compromise doesn’t really work in this situation. “This is something that’s ultimately a yes or no answer, and it can feel in a marriage like there is someone who wins this battle and loses this battle,” she says. “By virtue of that, it can be very emotional and painful.” That’s why it’s so important to ask your partner to be understanding of where you’re coming from or at least try to.
But it goes both ways. Having more children is “a life-changing decision and one that cannot be changed down the road,” says Durvasula. “There are also practical considerations like money, housing and time.” Your partner may have these arguments as a reason for not wanting to have more kids, or they might be different. Either way, it’s important to also try to understand their point of view.
Hear each other out
It’s tough to put aside your feelings in the midst of such an emotionally charged topic, but it’s incredibly important to listen to each other without judgment or interruption. Licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago, says couples need to have an in-depth conversation about what having more kids (or not) means to them and actually listen to what their partner says.
“Perhaps there’s strong meaning associated for each partner on what it would mean to grow their family,” he says. Some people worry about losing a sense of freedom, feel like their dreams will have to be put on hold or are concerned about losing out on something that can come with having a larger family, he says, and those are real concerns. “Making sense of the roots of the desire can deepen the conversation and make it easier to potentially problem-solve and move forward,” he says.
Consider talking to a therapist
There’s a lot of opportunity for resentment and bitterness to build up in this situation, Durvasula says, and that can be a tough thing to deal with for the rest of your life. That’s why she recommends bringing in a professional to help you both navigate the issue in a loving way. Of course, a therapist might not be your go-to solution, or your partner may be hesitant about the idea of bringing someone else into such a private decision-making process, but Klow says it can be especially helpful when you feel “stuck” in the conversation. A mediator can do wonders in helping you execute the rest of these steps (having empathy, hearing each other out and more).
Plan for the aftermath
There’s often work to be done to process the final decision, Charnas says. If you want more kids and you ultimately decide as a couple that you’re done, it’s a loss and should be treated as one. “A loss takes time to process,” she says. But if you decide as a couple to have more children, it’s important to give your partner reassurance and allow them time to process that too. “There’s a lot of emotional work that can be done before and after the decision is made to help you and your partner get through this intact and possibly even stronger,” Charnas says.
As for me, I’m not sure if we’ll have a third baby or not. Chris and I have an open dialogue and talk about the issue when it feels right. While I feel deeply that our family would be even more wonderful with another child, I’m grateful that I have a partner who will hear me out and two amazing, healthy sons — that’s a lot to be thankful for, whether or not we bring another child into the world or not.