Your Call: Why Can’t You Decide About Kids AFTER You Marry?

We get a lot of advice questions coming in at EMandLO.com, but sadly, we just can’t answer them all. Which is why, once a week, we turn to you to decide how best to advise a reader. Make your call on the letter below by leaving your advice in the comments section. 

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Dear Em & Lo,

I was just recently broken up with by the guy I thought I’d marry, over the issue of having kids. We’re in our late 20s and had talked about getting married quite a bit. My thought on the issue was that we would make a realistic, mindful decision about kids when the time was right, taking in all the relevant factors. He was initially fine with this, often saying he’d be happy either way. But one day, a few months ago, he just changed his mind out of the blue and was all of a sudden talking about how deeply he wanted kids. I really don’t think he was lying to me in the beginning — it honestly seems like a sudden change of heart. After this, for a few months he was saying that he preferred to stay with me than to have certainty that he was with someone who definitely wanted kids. But clearly he changed his mind on that, too, as we are now no longer together.

So I have a couple questions related to this. Firstly, public knowledge has plenty to say about the female biological clock — how there’s a time in most women’s lives where it just suddenly blows up and then you MUST HAVE BABY. But what happened to my ex seems to be very similar. It floored me to have him change so suddenly, especially as a guy who has zilch experience being around children, who has little patience for the unexpected, and who likes his peace and quiet. Is this type of change in guys’ thinking/feeling about kids more common than I thought? Are there triggers or causes?

Secondly, after talking to a few close friends about the break up, I came to notice that almost everyone seemed to think that whether or not to have kids is a purely emotional decision. Is there ANYONE out there who shares my stance of the spouses deciding together, when all the relevant factors are in place? When I say “relevant factors” I mean, careers out of the budding stage, marriage going strong, finances strong, health strong, and then assess whether kids is happening or not. I just can’t divorce the idea of having kids from all of the factors that that decision affects; hence my need to wait until I know more about how life is gonna turn out. DOes this make me a freak?

– Kid-Shy

What should Kid-Shy do? Let her know in the comments below.

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  1. Your feelings on the issue are completely reasonable, but so are his. I’ve known my entire life I want children. I’ve also know for about eight years that I only want one pregnancy (I don’t say one child because jerks like to say “What about twins?!?!” like I’m stupid and also because I’m very open to adopting a second child).

    Having kids is one of my few nonnegotiables, and at least in my friend group, that’s pretty common. For many of us, we need our partner to be 100% on board with children, or marriage just won’t work out.

    However, it sounds like you have a different feeling about it, and like I said, that’s completely understandable. You just need to find a partner who shares that feeling.

  2. It’d be better if you decided about kids before you get married. If one person is adamant about having or not having and the other is wishy-washy, it’d be better for everyone involved if they decided this before they had to get a divorce.

    Now, if you end up with someone else who is undecided and willing to make that decision based on life circumstances, that might work for you. But I honestly don’t think that approach is the best one for most people. He definitely knew he was a yes, and you did not. If you weren’t enthusiastically on board after marriage when he was ready, then you’d have a painful divorce going on. It’s better to end a relationship over the kid issue before you have to bring in lawyers.

  3. You are certainly not a freak just because you are cautious. I think more people should stop and think about their limitations before they have children, be it personal, financial or whatever. Breeding is serious business. I have tried to discuss this topic with people lately, since I found myself in a relationship with a wonderful male who says he does not want children, saying the responsibility scares him. Unsettling for me since I hope I will have some later in life but it’s not a deal breaker at this point so we are still together since we are on the same page regarding everything else besides this major issue that is having kids or no. Now what I found is that when I spoke to people about this, a lot of them remained flakey about the matter and seemed to think that having children should happen ‘organically’ and that it’s not something to be planned or deeply discussed since there is no right time for it to happen anyway. I was surprised to find that some of my friends who are in relationships don’t use contraception but still claim they don’t want children right now. It seems to me that there is an emotional want for children but no balls to stand up for it and make that adult decision consciously. It’s probably easier to play the victim and have an ‘accident’.

  4. Firstly, biological clocks run in both genders. However, the focus tends to be on women since, biologically, their reproductive cycle ends before men (thus, the stereotypical older man looking for a younger woman with whom to start a family, or a second family, after the first wife reaches middle age).

    Secondly, if you do not believe that marriage is disposable, that is, it can be easily changed at the whim of one of the partners, this is one of the issues that need to be discussed and understood before the contract is signed. While attitudes and views can change, some do not. Being raised on Disnified fairy tales, we tend to view marriage as ending with everyone living happily ever after. Jerry Springer tell us otherwise.

    Any of my friends with children point out that there is no convenient time. Whether the child is planned, or not. If the career is going strong, are you willing to put it on hold for maternity leave? Is your spouse willing to put his career on hold and become a househusband? Finances is a completely different set of questions, particularly as the recent economy has shown. You might think things are going well, with money in the bank. What happens the, with junior on the way and the car needs a major repair, or the roof on the house needs to be replaced. Or, worse, the job that seemed to be able to survive the economy suddenly goes overseas?

    You’re not a freak for not wanting to address these issues right now. It’s just that you’re probably not ready for marriage.

  5. I can say with certainty that you are not the only person who finds external factors (health, money, career) the key to deciding when (or if ) to have a child, because that is exactly how I view the entire process.

    However, it does seem a bit surprising that your boyfriend had such a wild u-turn on the idea of having kids. I’ve never known a guy that did that, but I’d be interested in finding out if others have seen it happen. As crappy as the entire situation is, it’s likely for the best that your guy figured out what he wanted before heading into marriage — the choice about whether to have kids can really kill a marriage if people aren’t on the same page about it. It seems like I see a sad story about people leaving each other over the decision far too often in Dear Abby-type columns.

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