Dear Therapist Within:
After having my son at 19 and splitting from his father, I have decided that I do not want any more children. I am now 24 and have been dating a man for a year who has no children. At first, he said that he did not want any children either. But now that we are getting more serious, he has told me that since he is the only son and since his sisters aren’t having any children, he feels the weight is on his shoulders to give his parents a grandchild. He also knows that I am working hard on my career goals. I am still young and am still physically able to have children and we do want a future together (we are very happy with the things the way they are now), but I won’t budge on having more children. What would you advise? Caught in a pickle.
ANSWER: This is a tough question, phrased in such a way that I can just hear you begging me to come up with a solution that allows you to have your cake and eat it too! Unfortunately, a large part of maturity is the ability to make tough decisions and live with the consequences. This is what I see as your choices:
- You can re-iterate your resolve and let the relationship go forward without children. In all likelihood, in this scenario, the issue of having kids will become a bone of contention – if not between the two of you, then between you and/or him and his parents. Their resentment toward you – and their son – would certainly add one more critical element to overcome in any future marriage and may in fact doom it to failure. Not a great choice.
- You could give in just to keep your boyfriend happy and keep the peace. You would probably end up resenting him, his parents and possibly the child as well, taking your anger out on them when you were frustrated or felt overwhelmed, or, despite your good intentions, you might try to blackmail your husband, “I went ahead and did this for you and you owe me!” Another not so great choice.
- You could have a discussion about what additional responsibilities he is willing to assume if you do decide to have another child. Might he be willing to be the “house-husband and father” for the first few years so that you can continue your career unabated? Could he, would he be willing to work at home? And would this make any difference to you regarding your decision? What if he says yes now, but changes his mind later? If you feel comfortable that he will step up to the plate and agrees to do the tasks that will allow you to grow your career, you might be able to have this child with a magnanimous heart, and as a gift to him and his parents. This choice has some possibilities, but only if your guy is very mature, and knows himself well enough to know that he won’t change his mind. It certainly would be a generous and loving gift, one that your guy would probably always appreciate and love you for. And if he is true to his word, it would also be a gift from him, one that you will always admire him for.
- Or, if you are certain that you will never be able to compromise on this issue regardless of his willingness to compromise, you can let him go – with love and respect as well as firmness of mind – so that he is free to find someone who is willing to have children. This one is tough – but it is also a good choice for you. The pain will be real, but the two of you will recover – or – the pain will be so great that you will decide on choice 3 above.
No one can make this decision for the two of you. It will require brutal honesty – what you truly feel, what you are willing to give, what you cannot give, the strength to face the issue now and not procrastinate, and perhaps the courage to walk away. Whatever you do, don’t put it off. The process will teach you something about the ability each of you has to compromise, the courage you have to face painful issues, and the strength of your resolve.