Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My wife and I have been married for five years. We are in our mid-30s. When we started dating in our 20s, one thing that drew me to her was how independent she was. In fact for the first few years we dated, we talked about not even wanting to necessarily ever get married. But then as we approached 30, she said, after all, she did want to be married — she hadn’t realized it mattered to her, but it did. Well I was fine with that; I love her so much, I’ve never known anyone like her. Proposing was easy. We had a really laid-back wedding at a park, with a barbecue after.
From the beginning, I thought we did a pretty good job talking honestly about what we wanted out of life. We both love to travel, we’re both very athletic and outdoorsy, and we talked about having a life with low living expenses that was high on adventure. For example, we have always had a goal of at least one international trip a year, and a plan to spend at least one full week each summer off work and camping someplace new in Alaska. I love this about our life. It’s just fun and exciting and we have such a great time doing these things. We both agreed, before we got married, that we didn’t want kids. We agreed being a parent wasn’t as important to us as having a life of fun and adventure. Maybe it sounds selfish, but we both have nieces and nephews and being an aunt and uncle to them definitely felt like enough.
But something has changed. Suddenly my wife brought up that she has reconsidered and she wants to have children. I was shocked, I didn’t even know how to react. To hear her say this after hearing her say for eight years that she definitely never wanted kids just stunned me. I suggested maybe it was just a phase; her 36th birthday is coming, plus two of her closest friends recently had babies. She said no, it’s not a phase, she’s been thinking about it a long time, and her “clock is ticking” and if it’s something I’m not interested in, she needs to know because that means she has “big decisions” to make. I was scared to ask what these “decisions” are — does it mean she could divorce me to find someone who wants to be a dad? Or what?
I love my wife, I love our marriage, I want to make this work, but I haven’t changed my mind: I don’t want kids! What can I do here?
First of all, there is nothing selfish about choosing to not have children. On the contrary, having children for the wrong reasons is incredibly selfish, whereas understanding your priorities, goals and dreams and recognizing that children don’t fit into the equation is incredibly self-aware. But there’s still a remarkable volume of stigma around adults who choose the childless life. When women say they don’t want children, they are often told, “You’ll change your mind.” Generally, men aren’t as exposed to this smug rhetoric, but you’ve likely heard it from time to time. It’s an infuriating sentiment to folks who don’t change their mind, who know from a young age that they don’t want to have kids, and have built a life around that.
Every now and then, people do change their mind. It can be any number of things that trigger that flip-switch — from age, to changing perspective, to seeing others’ lives develop and wanting to pattern that domesticity. Or it can be some mysterious internal shift where as one ages and experiences the world, they feel the strong, underlying and inescapable urge to bring their own children into this fabulous universe we populate. And so, your wife has awoken to that desire, and now that she has, she’s not likely to hit snooze on this one. That’s what happens with time, and you can’t expect either of your hopes or dreams to remain the same in year five or 10 or 25 as they were in year one. That’s just not how it works.
This can go any number of ways, from digging in to compromise to divorce. Because relationships are about compromise, hint hint, let’s consider that first. It sounds like you’ve been living the dream, tromping around the Earth with your chosen partner, like a sexy advertisement for youth and virility; that doesn’t have to stop because babies enter the picture. Will it change? Yes. Will the frequency of foreign travel fluctuate? Probably. Will your financial priorities and flexibility be affected? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean you’ll turn into housebound hermits. There are plenty of ways to explore and have adventures with kiddos in tow. It just might mean more camping trips and less clubbing in Cabo, more Disneyland and less European hostels.
But if there’s no way you can budge on this, you will force a hard choice on your wife, who will then either have to spend a marital lifetime missing out on her dream of motherhood, or divorce her chosen life partner in pursuit of another who can fulfill her total vision of happiness.
Well, that would have been nice to know eight years ago, right? But life is strange. Priorities, emotions, goals and desires change, sometimes over years, sometimes with the wind. And really the only thing set in stone in life is that nothing is set in stone other than you’re going to die someday. (Meanwhile, the old guarantee of paying taxes every breath of your adult life is debatable among certain segments of Alaskans …)
While Wanda touched on the financial considerations of bringing a child into your life, I’ll dig down to the emotional level. Some people just don’t want, can’t handle, or don’t even really enjoy the company or proximity of kids. No compromise, flexibility and definitely no judgment. It is what it is. And just like it’s OK that your wife has changed her mind about wanting a child in her life, it’s also perfectly fine that you haven’t changed your mind about not having kids in your life.
So it’s time to let your wife know that you also have some big decisions to make in light of her recent change of heart and change of marital course. Yes, you love your wife and your shared life the way it has been, the way it is and the way you anticipated sharing it for the rest of your days. And that did not include having children. And it sounds like that’s not negotiable for you.
Communication and compromise are key components to a strong partnership and a relationship’s lasting success, but they can’t always overcome lifestyle deal-breakers. If kids are a rock-solid deal-breaker for you, then you’ve got to be true to yourself and your beliefs. Will it be devastating to lose your wife because of it? Yes. But is it fair for you to compromise and commit to a life that you truly don’t want for yourself? No. And if you’re miserable, your wife and child are probably going to be miserable, too. And your wife is probably thinking the same thing about if she decides to not have a child just to stay with you.
Tough situation, but continue to be honest with each other and with yourself, and advance in life accordingly. Good luck.