March 13, 2007

Childfree Optional?

A single man I met recently shared this intimate story with me. With his permission, I am sharing it with you. He is thinking it over...his childfree status that is.

"I've been going through some intense stuff around the childfree issue. The best relationship of my life ended in October because my girlfriend dreamed of having three kids. I told her that I could be open to one child.

Just a few days after that last meeting she came back to me and said that one child could be a possibility, so we are once again talking. Living childfree is an attractive option - one that I would choose under the right circumstances.

I am trying to live my life honestly and open-heartedly. That has meant not closing my heart to the possibility of children. At the bottom of everything, my love for this woman is bigger than my attachment to the childfree ideal.

If I do end up becoming a parent, I certainly won't be a judgmental and tiresome one."

We all start out childfree, and different adults evolve in different ways, some parents, some not. Ideally, it is a conscious choice. We are all part of God's village. We all have something to contribute; we all make a difference. We are all deserving of love and kindness, unless our actions warrant otherwise.

Purple WomenTM, whether single or married, can you relate? The question I had for him was, how long had you been dating before this topic came up? There is no right and wrong, but it could be painful if you wait too long and the answer to the question, "Do you want kids?", is not the same.

In my case when dating my future husband, I let him know very early on, because I was very drawn to him, that I was not able to bear his children. To my surprise, he kept coming around, and I love him all the more for it. To me, having the man I love was more important than raising children. I had the desire, but not the equipment. Just the opposite for my groom-to-be.

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AlphaGirl said...

It's definitely something that I have addressed early on in relationships. Being childfree is a part of who I am, just like my ethnic heritage, hobbies, likes and dislikes. To not discuss it early on would be dishonoring that part of myself and dishonoring the other person. An honest "It's important that you know that children are not in the picture for me" is all that it takes for me to let the other person know where I stand and that I won't be changing my mind. Foolproof!

M said...

To me, the relationship always comes first. If one person changes their mind about not wanting kids, in a strong relationship, that would not be more of a priority than being together would.

Of course ideally it's best when both feel essentially the same about the kids issue but if that wasn't the case it still shouldn't have to become an obstacle. There are lots of things couples don't agree 100% on. Yet if the relationship is important enough, you find ways to deal with them.

I think if you don't love someone enough to put being with them first over the desire for kids (or anything else) that person is probably not the person you should consider having children with anyway. When someone leaves their spouse because the spouse doesn't want kids and they do, it sends the message (to me) that having kids is more important than being with their spouse.

I agree with you about discussing this fairly early on but that doesn't necessarily prevent problems, because people do change their minds. It actually happens a lot. I think the only thing that would really work is being devoted enough to the relationship to not let a difference of opinion about having kids be more important than being together.

And since having kids when one doesn't want one or is incapable of raising one is wrong and seriously harmful to the child (and parent), I think the default option should always be not having kids if one party wants them and the other doesn't. And if someone leaves their spouse over it, then they probably aren't meant to be a couple anyway, in my opinion. I'm sure some would disagree but this is how I see it.

cf friend said...

My husband and I had a really interesting interaction over new year's even with two other child-free couples. We stayed up into the wee hours discussing how we got to the idea of being childfree and what would change it. We all said that if we had a surprise pregnancy at this point in our lives (we're all in our thirties), that we wouldn't terminate, and that if children came into our lives unexpectedly, that we'd wholeheartedly embrace them.

For example, if something happened to my sister, we have agreed to become guardians of her two little boys. Or as another woman put it, if a baby in a wee boat came floating up to shore along Lake Merritt, she'd take it as a sign from god....

I found it fascinating that we all were on the same page on both fronts. As a conscious choice, we all choose to be child-free; but if children came into our lives, it would be as if the choice were made for us (by the children themselves? by god?)...and none of us in the group is particularly religious (though many of us have some spiritual leanings).

I also think it's totally understandable for this single man to be open to having one child, despite his child-free leanings. I think if my husband decided tomorrow that he desperately wanted kids, I'd say, OK, let's give it a go (though I'd probably put my foot down that we'd only have one!).

Another woman I know did not want kids at all, her husband did, they compromised on one kid, and their 3 year-old daughter is her pride and joy. She LOVES her. She won't have another, but she is totally loving being a mom.

cipher said...

cf friend...that is a exactly how I feel about it!!

Jay said...

What would happen if my husband had wanted kids?
I wonder that a lot, and still don't have an answer.
He was less adament on the issue than I was; if I had wanted them, I'm sure he would have kids. I can't help but worry that one day he might regret it...and if so, then what?

AlphaGirl said...

For me, kids are a deal-breaker. I let go of a relationship once my other half changed their mind and really wanted It wasn't fair to them to ask them to stay with someone who clearly does not want kids, and it wasn't fair to me to deal with someone who was intent on getting me to change my mind. I let that person go, and we both were much happier for it. It pays to know oneself, and what areas are negotiable, and what areas are not. =)

Amber said...

My hubby and I didn't know that we both didn't want kids until after we were married. Luckily for me, he felt the same way I did about remaining CF. Thank goodness! Of course, now everyone (especially the inlaws) blames me for not "giving" him any children and try to make me feel like I'm not a woman.

Elise said...

I completely can't relate to the idea that if a child just "came along", it would be a sign. If a child "came along", i.e., showed up in a basket on my front door, I would make certain to work like a dog to make sure I helped it get a wonderful home --- with people who really want to be parents. I have lots of pals in human services and social work, and I'd be on the phone in two seconds.

The only possible exception would be if I were a Godparent to one of my brother's kids (which I'm not -- I'm just Auntie). But since I'm an atheist, or at the very least a staunch agnostic (I teeter back and forth), nobody in their right mind would ask me to be a Godparent anyway --- one of the tasks of the Godparent being to look after the religious upbringing of the child (not just its physical and mental wellbeing).

All of this talk of God's will and God's family completely eludes me. If there is a God (which I generally don't believe), he made me a type 2 diabetic with only one functioning kidney (as well as probably infertile due to polycystic ovarian syndrome). Achieving pregnancy would be difficult for me; further, carrying to term would likely be quite dangerous.

This God, if he does indeed exist, has also allowed medicine and science to dream up the idea of vasectomy and sent me a vasectomized man --- now my husband. Some of my friends say "Elise, if you ever got pregnant, somebody would have to call the Pope --- on the Red Phone!".

So maybe, by being CF, I'm living according to God's plan after all. Most church-going people would certainly beg to differ with that idea, though (as do I --- but for very different reasons)!

Anonymous said...

I agree with alphagirl and elise (somewhat). Kids are an absolute deal-breaker; if he says he wants kids, i say auf wiedersehen. It's too big an obstacle in a relationship and I staunchly, adamantly, refuse to be a parent, no exceptions.
Which brings me to elise's argument.
I only disagree on the religious aspect (I'm Catholic). But I agree in that, I, too, would not just accept a kid that accidentally came into my life. If I have to get 5 abortions in my lifetime (yeah, I'm a bad Catholic), I would. I'm just one of those people for whom having children would be devastating.

Anonymous said...

When my husband and I married, we both agreed on a childfree marriage. A few years later, much to my surprise, my biological clock started ticking so loudly that I couldn't sleep at night. My husband agreed to have a child since it obviously had become so important to me.

I wouldn't trade my eleven years of childfree marriage for anything, and I wouldn't trade my years as a Mom for anything either. I feel as if I have been able to have the best of both worlds.

SingleGuy said...

I'm "the single man".

In answer to Teri's question about how long we had been together before this issue came up: It was almost 4 months into the relationship when I brought it up. My girlfriend was 29 when we started going out.

Had she been 34, we would have talked about it on the 2nd date I'm sure. Although we both felt the gravity of this issue (and questioned whether we should stay together), we decided that our connection, our commitments to knowing ourselves through therapy and meditation, and our ability to communicate clearly honestly were not things we were not ready to throw away.

We did part ways just after our one year anniversary. At that point I
was open to 1 child and she felt like that was too big a compromise.

I've done a lot of soul searching about children - read books, pro and con children, attended childfree groups, and raked the issue over and over with a good therapist. I'm open to 1 child, with the understanding that we may stop there.

An important question for me has been: Do I want to risk losing the parts of this relationship that I treasure in the hopes of finding a
childfree woman?

I believe that there are no relationships free of compromises and negotiations. What will the issues be with my fantasy
childfree partner? Will they be an honest, open communicator? Will
they be aligned with my values? Will they want monogamy? Will we have the same attraction that I have now? (In spite of my childfree
fantasies, am I attracted to women with mothering/care-taking qualities???)

Every person needs to find their own answer to: Is this a deal-breaker?" Am I settling? Is the compromise too great? Or...does my gut tell me this is right, in spite of the challenges?

Casey said...

How do you say S E L F I S H! If one of you doesn't want children and you made an agreement, I don't believe you should cross that line if the basis of your relationship is no children.......please don't have any children. Because anyone can make a baby not anyone can parent it and there surely are enough children born into families that are not wanted. If one of you feels strongly about having children and the other does not, that is grounds for divorce. I respect people who know they can't parent, as much as a person who wants children and chooses to raise a family. Nothing is worse then the two car, suburban house and a boy and girl for the sake of the " Jones". We have enough messed up unwanted children. Respect... people need to respect. I think if you have such strong difference in your relationship,it's going to slowly dissolve anyways.
Having children and family works best in a loving caring warm atmosphere.

Teri said...

Casey -- Your post disturbs me. You break a few rules to make a point. And you do have good points.

I really don't see the label you apply to be a fitting one. It is tossed about far to quickly to cover all childfree people. What I think a lot of folks don't give credit for is that period of indecision, the part where one thinks it over. Not everyone is hard-wired to be sure on their life choice, but it is important to think it over. I give this man a lot of credit for his thought process and for sharing it here (bravely).

In the end, it is up to him, not us, to decide if he will make a good parent, or wants to be one. The one thing perhaps we can all agree upon is that all children should be wanted.

Tiara Lynn said...

When I met my husband, he wanted a large family, and it was a constant concern for me. So many times I would tell friends that I really thought this guy was the one, but my gods, I definitely couldn’t do more than a single child, nevermind a large family. It’s just not me. By some I was reassured that when it was my own kids it would be different (you’ve heard it, surely), or that our relationship was too new; when we started talking about marriage my feelings would change.

As the years went on, people in our lives started having families, and I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of having any children at all. The dialogue started. And we ended up with The Compromise: I would concede to one child, but my husband would be primary caregiver.

And then our friends and family had more children, and I realized that I was really not okay with having children at all, even if it was with this man. But, in an epiphany that proved to me we were soulmates, he turned to me, just weeks before our engagement and said “you know, we’d have to be crazy to have kids. I always wanted kids because I thought that was just what you did when you grew up.” I was in shock. “You showed me that it’s a choice, and I choose not to have children.” Before I had the change to issue the ultimatum that might have ended the relationship, he and I were seeing eye to eye.

I often wonder if he wavers in his conviction, but after a thousand conversations since, I trust that we’re both on the same page. We’ll have some thinking to do if one or other other does succumb to pressure resulting in a change of heart, but that remains to be seen, and for now we’re making the best deciison we can make.

I am thankful, though, that I never had to issue that ultimatum. While I believe 100% that the decision to have a family or not should be a unanimous decision, it was hard to look at the man I was so sure I wanted to grow old with and know that we didn't agree on such a fundamental part of our relationship.

kim said...

I have some friends who had a disparity: she wanted kids and he wasn't sure, he thought he didn't. While they were discussing it (and using birth control), she got pregnant. I predicted he'd fall in love with the baby when it was born, and he did. He was the stay-at-home one for a while. They even had a second child (also by accident).
I am happy for them, but the story sort of scares me. I decided when I was 2 that I didn't want any kids. I've never wavered on that. I've heard those people who say, "your OWN child is different; you'll change your mind." To think they might be right is scary, that we are that out of control of ourselves and slaves to our emotions or genetics or whatever. But I also don't think it would have happened to me. I was too unwavering.