How do I talk to my Child-Free partner about maybe having kids?

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Want a kid? No? By: Nate GriggCC BY 2.0
My husband and I have been together for five years, and married for almost one. Up until recently, neither of us have ever wanted to have children. We’ve made this perfectly clear to all interested potential grandparent parties.

However… I’ve recently started to think about having kids more and more, and it hit me the other day that I would very much like to have a kid. I don’t have any idea how to broach this idea with my husband, and I doubt he’ll be very open to it.

Where do I begin? How do I get my husband to at least entertain the idea of combining our genes? — Holly

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Comments on How do I talk to my Child-Free partner about maybe having kids?

  1. Perhaps a first place to start might be to consider repurposing the first conversation you initiate on this topic. It doesn’t have to be about getting your husband to change his mind or entertain an idea at all. Going into a big talk with that idea IMO actually puts a lot of pressure on you both, you to curate a perfect conversation that will get you what you want, and him to potentially act or think in a certain way to make you happy. And that sense of pressure can actually lessen the odds of him reconsidering what he wants because it can push people towards retrenchment into familiar positions, rather than exploration of new ones.

    So perhaps you could start by letting your husband all the way into this part of your inner world as it looks right now. Rather than asking him to make any decisions or assess his own thoughts and feelings or change his mind in any way… you could simply tell him you’ve been having some new thoughts and feelings on a big issue that you wanted to share. And just air your thoughts and feelings, trying to keep them all about you and where you are at now rather than about the future or him. This gentle beginning will hopefully lead to a series of conversations on this topic over some time. Perhaps in one of the other conversations likely forthcoming, you will ask him to share his own current thoughts on the subject or even to consider the possibility of exploring some what-if’s together or changing his mind… but for that very first talk on your new take on this subject, I encourage you to make it about nurturing the intimacy in your marriage without asking for anything more than that. Let him see the fullness of what you are thinking and feeling about this big life decision, and see what grows from that sharing. You might even end up surprised to find out that the two of you are more on the same page than you think. Best of luck!

  2. Go on an outing where there will be lots of families having fun, maybe a local school fun fair or other neighbourhood event. Use your observations from this outing as an opening to the conversation.

    • Personally I think that going to a public place like this might show you examples of why you would NOT want to be a parent. Unruly, upset and rambunctious children, overworked and frustrated parents. Perhaps a visit with a friend or family member who has children would be a more predictable environment.

      • I’m not sure spending time with kids will have any positive impact at all on someone who knows they want to be child free. In fact, at the start of a conversation like this, it may actually have the opposite effect. My partner and I were together for several years, her knowing I’d always wanted children and me knowing she didn’t. We lived near her father, stepmom, and her toddler half-brother for a while, and spent lots of time with them. When her step-mom went into the hospital for brain surgery, we balanced major childcare responsibilities for that time so her dad could work and be at the hospital. We also faced the possibility that her step-mom might not make it through surgery and that we (she) would likely end up taking on a more permanent parenting role if that happened. I loved the time I spent with her brother, and I thought she and I worked really well together in terms of balancing our own work and childcare. My thought was, “I totally want kids!”. Her thought was “I love my brother and I’m so glad we could help out, but this shows me why I don’t want kids”.

        We’ve since broken up, gotten back together, and decided together that kids are in our future. But that has been a long process and had very little to do with exposure to kids.

        I agree wholeheartedly with Thekla Richter’s comment above. People change, and that forces relationships to change, but you can assure him that you know you’re bringing up a game-changer and that you’re not trying to change things but rather letting him know that this is evolving and you want to include him in the process of how you explore it.

        Also, in case it’s useful, my partner and I found Dr. David Schnarch’s book Intimacy and Desire to be unbelievably helpful in navigating what he terms “gridlock” in our relationship, at a point when we were desperate for a new ways of dealing with things. His focus is improving sex, but he lays out a framework for understanding how relationships operate and how to hold on to oneself without giving up on the relationship which was key for us. Given the potential magnitude of this type of conversation, maybe it would be helpful to understand (this perspective on) how relationships function before going in, so when one of you gets thrown off balance by the other as things get shaken up, you have some tools to identify what’s happening, stay in it and work through it.

        Good luck!

      • This comment and the one before it assumes that Holly’s husband doesn’t like kids or doesn’t think kids or cool or has never interacted with kids. There’s nothing in the comments that say he doesn’t like kids or hasn’t been around them.

        I’m not having kids, I had my tubes tied. That doesn’t mean I don’t like kids. I have an awesome nephew. He’s the best nephew in the world and always will be (unless I have another nephew and then they will be tied). I love playing with him and reading to him, I don’t get as much of a chance as I’d like because he lives so far away from me. But still LOVE HIM!

        There’s also a 9 year old who I get to spend time with. She’s a great little girl and spending time with her is awesome. We have some interesting conversations and hearing about her plan her birthday party and how it all went and what she does in school.

        I have relatives with kids – kids I love to be around – babies to cuddle! Kids to play with! There are kids who live in my neighborhood who I get to see out and have conversations with and play with them.

        My issue isn’t that I don’t like kids. It’s that I don’t want to be a parent. And that maybe Holly’s husband’s thing. Or it might not be. Not wanting kids doesn’t automatically mean not liking kids or not having spent enough time around kids.

    • I have to agree, to a point. My partner and I have always been ‘probably childfree, for now anyway’ meaning undecided leaning towards ‘no’. Lately I’ve been noticing that my partner very much enjoys being around children and comments about being parents ‘someday’ in a non-comital sort of way. Nothing can replace actually talking about it, but I have noticed this change over the past year or so, and have been feeling similarly myself. An interesting development, anyway, and not particularly helpful in the end, when it comes to deciding together if both parties actually want to have kids and what to do if one does, and one most certainly does NOT.

    • Spending more time with kids will only help if the goal is to demystify children. If your partner’s hangups include “I just don’t know what to do with them or anything about them,” this could help.

      But for most other hangups, I don’t think this would help. I’ve found (SO reassuringly) that lots of parents love their kids and being parents but don’t love other people’s kids. And that’s ok.

  3. When the topic of combining genes starting coming out of our parent’s mouths it was a lot of pressure on us to take on. Making a kid actually requires a lot of planning and can be really stressful when sex suddenly has an important outcome attached to it. After a lot of discussions we decided to just stop preventing pregnancy and then if our bodies synced up and decided to procreate than it’s the universe’s sign we should have a kid. If not, then we will continue on our marry ways.

  4. I’d say that before you approach him, you should spend some time solidifying your ideas of what you want for your future. Are there ways that you could act as a parental figure to kids that doesn’t involve procreating (like being a Big Sister, a teacher or a Girl Scouts leader)? What about fostering an older child (if dealing with an infant or adding more population to an over-crowded world is his concern)?

    In other words, look at what it is about being a parent that you want to experience. Then ask him what it is about being a parent that has made him decide to be child-free. Maybe there’s space in the middle where you can meet.

    I had to have this conversation with my boyfriend of 10 years when I changed my mind about child-free and neither of us were willing to force the other to “compromise” about something as important as a child’s life. So we broke up amicably since our paths were headed in different directions. Now I have a loving husband and a bubbly 18-month old. It was hard, but we’re both happier this way.

  5. I think first you need to think about what this change means for you. As in, how much do you want to have a kid? If he says no, is this a decision that you can accept in live with? Can it be an idea that you revisit in a year? Did it become a dealbreaker? Have you thought about what you would do about work? Your living situation?

    I say this only because you need to be fair to both of you. I totally respect your right to change your mind, but I think it’s fair for your husband to be thrown for a loop. And if you don’t know the answers to all the questions, you need to know that your husband is probably going to ask them anyway.

    Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised and he’s been thinking the same thing. But if not, I think that you need to come up with some plan for after the “big conversation.” You wouldn’t want to pester him every time you see a cute baby, but you don’t want to have the conversation once and then have it forgotten about, either.

    I would just bring it up sometime when you two have time to talk. Maybe you’ll talk about it a lot. Maybe for 5 minutes. But I don’t think that it’s fair to spring it on him in a public place or as a response to having some friends with kids over. It’s a serious change to the parameters of your relationship, and I think it deserves to be treated as such.

  6. I’m in the same situation, but on the opposite side; my partner likes the idea of a child someday in the future, but I’m childfree. We’ve touched on this issue, but we’ve both agreed that we don’t want kids now, and decided to shelve it for a few years to see if our feelings change.

    The best suggestion that I have is to talk about it and be honest. Maybe he’s been thinking along the same lines as you. Maybe not. But it’s a Big Decision and one you need to talk about. It’s not something to spring on him; warn him in advance that you have something you’d like to talk about — nothing serious, but important. Don’t pick right before bed or in public, especially if you think he’ll be upset. Stay in, order dinner or cook, turn the TV off. Take an hour, an evening, a day, or a whole weekend, however long it takes. Be honest, but don’t name call and don’t accuse — and don’t let him, either. It’s a sensitive discussion and tempers can run high, so if you need to walk away for a five-minute breather, do it. But go back to the table.

    Sit down and discuss your reasons for why each of you want or don’t want children, if you haven’t already and explore options to make both of you happy. Maybe his family has a history of genetic disorders that he doesn’t want to pass on to a child, but could be receptive to fostering or adoption. Maybe your desire for a child could be satisfied by reproductive donation. Maybe he’s just afraid of how your relationship will change, how your lives will change if you have a child.

    Just remember why you married him. You love him, and he loves you!

    I hope that both of you find a balance you’re both happy with, and wish you both (and anyone else in the middle of this situation) all the best.

    • I personally HATE it when my partner says “I need to talk to you about something” and then it’s hours/days until the conversation happens, because I will start imagining worst-case scenario stuff in the interim and work myself up into a spikey ball of panic. We’ve learned it works much better to just bring things up when it’s a good time to have a conversation (often during or after dinner) without a Serious Talk warning ahead of time. But that’s our dynamic; other folks may prefer the heads up method!

  7. I’m not a fan of surprising people with new ideas, since I think their first reaction may not be their reaction when they’ve thought about it for a bit. So for big concepts I like to say stuff like:

    “I don’t need a reaction to this now, but I’ve been wondering if we’re ready to/I’ve changed my mind about/we’re gonna have to address… . How about we talk about that in a week or so, or whenever you want to bring it up before then?”

  8. I don’t think wanting kids is something you can convince someone else to do. Or, even more, I don’t think it’s something you SHOULD convince someone else to do. You can share your own thoughts and feelings and process, but that’s about it. Think about it from the other angle; imagine your husband writing in to Offbeat Families asking “How to I get my wife to stop wanting children?” How would you want your husband to approach you?

    Another thing that might guide how you start the conversation is what you decide your priorities and goals are. Is your top priority now to have children, and if he’s never going to get on board with that your marriage isn’t going to work for you? Is your top priority your marriage, and if you end up not having kids you’ll be sad but ok? Are you not sure yet and want to work through the question as a team?
    If it’s Door #1, if you’re sure you want kids, I think you owe it to him to let him know that as soon as possible, and give him whatever time and space and conversation he needs to decide whether he’s in or out.
    If it’s Door #2, you’re sure your marriage is your priority, I think that’s a great thing to lead off with. That kids are something you’ve started thinking about lately and you’d love it if he changed his mind too, but it’s okay if it never is.
    Door #3 might be your best conversation, though. To me, the bottom of what marriage is, is tackling the hard stuff as a team. Go into it with an open mind–you’re not going to change his mind if you’re not open to him changing your mind. If one of you wanted to move across the world or change careers or any other major life change, hopefully you’d tackle it as a team. Tackle this the same way.

    • Definitely want to second this! “s your top priority now to have children, and if he’s never going to get on board with that your marriage isn’t going to work for you? Is your top priority your marriage, and if you end up not having kids you’ll be sad but ok? Are you not sure yet and want to work through the question as a team?”

    • this touches on so many things in my decision to have children.

      the main one of which is that both me and my wife were solidly in “door #2”. which changed the underlying fear in conversations about children from “oh no, you’re going to leave me” to “oh shit, you’re going to be unhappy about this forever with me.” not sure it’s productive, but it is substantially different.

      but also – my mind never changed about wanting kids. i never wanted kids – i just reached a point where i realized i would be okay with it, and that it was immeasurably important to my wife, which made it more than worth it. you can’t *make* someone want something, but you don’t have to *need* kids to be a good parent (and even love it).

      also, though, it’s really helpful to know *why* he doesn’t want kids. i can’t go through all the infinite reasons, but for me the primary ones were: i can’t stand/am afraid of babies, being a parent is *forever*. there were a lot more concerns, but those ones were what i wasn’t sure i could work through. right now we’re fostering – no babies (this, no babies, was the sacrifice my wife made for me in exchange). we will probably adopt someday, but it is giving me time to work through the idea that kids are forever (’cause actually some of them aren’t). not that i would recommend foster care as a “test run” for kids if you don’t have other reasons to want to do it – but it is *one* great thing about it for me.

  9. My way of approaching this is to see if you can get a handle on what’s caused the change in you. If you’re able to explain that clearly to yourself, I have no doubt that will make it easier to explain to your partner.

    FWIW, my partner and I want children… on some level I only “kinda” want them, and think being child free, if you were to put the pros and cons on paper, would be the better choice.

    Having said that, I mean I wholeheartedly *want* a baby, but it feels so much like a biological pull, and I’d kind of like to not want kids… but the pull is so strong, and I just don’t “not want” kids enough to ignore it, all of my being chooses to give in!!!

  10. More than anything he should know exactly what YOU are thinking and why. Tell him how you recently may have changed your mind and the future is wide and full of options. This may open the window of thought in his mind without being argumentative and making him feel guilty.

    I think it’s important to realize that the incredible desire to have children is equally as important and strong as the desire to NOT have children. Neither side is the correct or incorrect side to be on. There will be very valid reasons for wanting children but there could also be some very serious reasons to remain childless. (lack of patience, inability to make the sacrifices parenthood demands, unsafe lifestyle etc.) Having a kid isn’t just signing up for a cute baby and the fun side of parenting. You are signing up for a teenager rebelling, an awkward preteen, a seven year old barfing in the middle of the night and a kindergartener learning how to overcome bullying. Almost every aspect of your life will be altered in some way. It’s very scary to think about. And thrilling and promising and wonderful.

    From my own personal experience I can tell you that you will probably have to be very patient before he changes his mind (if at all). I was with my partner for 5 years before we were married and ten years before we had babies. I was ready about 7 years before he was. I treasure the babyless years we had together so much and I am glad that I waited until he felt the calling to parenthood too.

  11. It’s interesting I’m sort of going through the same thing in my own relationship. I’ve always been the child-free one and have no problem remaining that way. I’ve been married for about 10 years and over the time, my husband has grown to realize he might want children. So he mentioned it I freak out a few times here and there but after getting the idea in my head I try to imagine myself as a parent. Thinking about it in my own perspective and maybe there is a little part of me that wants to influence a small being and have another part of us in the world when we are gone. So it’s been a long journey for me to accept having one (emphasis on one) but there is a part of me that wants to make sure that I am still myself and not being defined as just “mom.” On the plus side of not having kids and watching other relationships with kids at an early time in marriage, I have really had time to find out who I am and grow with him and know who he is which I think we are better for in the long run.

    I’d say sit down at dinner and maybe open up the conversation. If he doesn’t accept the idea don’t worry, give him time to take it in. Seeing my husband having fun with other peoples kids really pulled on my heart strings too.

    • I worry about being thought of as “just a mom” also. (This is a personal identity issue, not a judgement on what it means to be a mother.) It seems like having a longer established relationship BEFORE children will help you see yourself differently. At least I hope so because this is might be the road I choose!

      • I know that culturally there’s a lot of emphasis on the idea that when you become a mom you suddenly transform into this sexless blob with no interests in life beyond chaperoning play dates – but that definitely hasn’t been my personal experience.
        I think if something’s important to you, you’ll make it happen.

  12. I WAS YOU ONCE. And I still kind of am. But I can tell you how I handled it.


    My husband and I established that if either of us every changed our mind, we should speak up. We should make it known. When we fell in love with our friends’ kid and that little guy became a part of our lives, it made the conversation more open and natural.

    When I finally decided to talk to him, it went something like this: “I have to tell you that, in all honesty, my feelings on kids have changed. I feel horrible about this, like I’ve betrayed someone. Like I’ve betrayed you. But I wanted to be honest. And I want you to know this doesn’t change the fact that I love you endlessly.” He said something like, “Thanks for telling me,” and said he loved him. And we left it alone.

    Since then, we’ve began the “if we have a kid …” game. We do this often. We make plans for the if-kid. We’ve even named the if-kid. We talked about how we’ll parent the if-kid.

    Still, s/he’s an If-Kid. We’re not there yet.

    But I feel good about where we are and where we’re going. If my husband never has a complete change of heart and a desire for a child, I’ll know it’s authentic and not for lack of trying to consider it.

  13. Almost the same exact situation with me. I never thought I wanted kids. I don’t like being around them. I am afraid of what they can do to marriages with the added stress, etc. I watched both my parents always put the kids before their careers, which was great for my siblings and me, but maybe not the best for my parents. I like my life right now and don’t want it to revolve around poop and loud terrible noises.

    BUT I’ve come to the realization that I want children. This isn’t babycrack- this happened backwards. I realized I wanted adult children first, then worked my way younger. I’m still not thrilled with the idea of an infant, but it’s a tradeoff for having children with your own genes (if that will even be possible).

    The worst part, though, is that I feel like I BETRAYED MY PARTNER. I thought I was child-free, too. Now something in me changed. I brought it up to him in the “I can’t tell if my hormones are messing with me or if this is something I actually want” way because that was the truth. I explained that I was conflicted within myself over this issue, and that I was just as surprised as he was. I explained a few of my specific reasons for wanted children, which opened up the conversation in more than a yes/no way. I told him my fears about having kids, too. That opened the way for him to tell me his fears. For example: He told me that in any medical situations or pregnancy complications where the life of mother would be put at risk to save the child, he would pick me every time, and I had to be okay with that. We both tossed out a few broad hypothetical situations as discussion points so we could more thoroughly understand each other.

    So I guess my take home message here is that you can’t plan out your entire lives together. Unexpected events and desires will come up. Treat this conversation as you would any other unexpected event. You aren’t trying to trap him or immediately change his mind, but this is something new that is going on with YOU.

    P.S. While I didn’t want to scare him (and myself) with talking about WHEN, I should have slipped in there 3+ years down the road. After our first conversation, he thought I meant NOW, which freaked him out.

  14. I also just wanted to say that I still think that Child-free is a real thing. I changed my mind, my husband is changing his mind, but I also know that not everyone will or should!

  15. Holly, I don’t know how old you are or when you and your husband first met, but I can share my experience with you. I’m childfree and lovin’ it — so is the LoML (Love of My Life). I never wanted kids when I was a kid. Never wanted them as a teen. Never wanted them in my early 20s. Then something weird happened during my first marriage, in my late 20s: everyone my ex-H and I knew started having babies right and left. Suddenly, I had to be part of the pack. I felt left out in the cold, as though I didn’t belong. The social pressure to procreate was untenable. My ex-H sort of felt the pressure, although not to that degree; all of his camping and pool night buddies were hunkering down in the ‘burbs with their wives and babies, and the only way to fit into their world seemed to be to do what they were doing. I’m so glad that we didn’t! My ex-H and I divorced for reasons unrelated, but he did tell me one thing when I was freaking out about babies, and I’ll never forget it: “You want what everyone else has, just because you want to fit in.”

    He was right. I did.

    The first thing I’d advise you to do is to really assess *why* you want to have a baby with your husband. I noticed that you didn’t say you wanted to be a parent. These are two distinctly different things. Pregnancy/childbirth is an isolated event; parenting is a life experience. Having a baby is happy, happy, joy, joy. Parenting? Not so much. It’s a done deal for however long you, your husband and your child(ren) shall live. So, now ask yourself: Do I want to be a parent, or do I just want to have a baby? Be honest with yourself. If you want to be a parent — and you want the lifelong commitment that goes along with that decision — then bring it up with your husband.

    • “Having a baby is happy, happy, joy, joy. Parenting? Not so much.”
      Or sometimes it’s the other way around. I always knew I wanted kids, and I’m one of those people who goes goofy over babies, but I found having a baby of my own rather terrifying. The older my daughter gets (she’s 17 now) the more I enjoy being her mother.
      Proving again that there really is no one-size-fits-all parenting experience.

  16. I really struggle with having this conversation, too – but largely because I myself feel so confused about the issue. So I guess my situation is a little different because it’s not so much “I know for sure, and I have to tell you now!” as it is “I’m not sure yet, but I’m sort of leaning that direction, and that’s scary since I know you’re leaning the other way!”

    It’s hard when you love someone and want to stay with them, but find yourself making decisions (or thinking about making decisions) that could pull you apart. For me, my love for my husband and desire to stay with him competes with some other desires I have for myself and my life – and that, at the core of it, is what makes these kinds of conversations so difficult: just the possibility that they could be so life-altering for both of us.

    And then there’s a certain level of confused guilty feelings involved, too – because in this situation, compromise or “meeting in the middle” isn’t really possible (you’re either in or you’re out when it comes to having kids). I feel like it’s wrong to ask him to do this if he really doesn’t want to, but then I also feel strongly that it’s unfair for him to ask me to not have children if I really do end up wanting them.

    It’s so scary because it’s so unresolvable if you reach that point – so you’re sort of broaching the whole topic with your fingers crossed, just hoping it works out okay.

    I think the advice above about determining the level to which this is gonna be a dealbreaker for you is really solid – but it’s easier said than done. Thinking about it in terms of “ok, I can’t stay with my current husband if I want children – would I rather stay with him and not have children OR split from him and have children?” might help you to clarify your own desires. That’s a heartbreaking choice to have to make and hard to do without the ability to see into the future, but if you find yourself leaning more one way or the other then that’s revealing.

    So far, I’ve leaned toward my husband and away from having a kid – but I feel like it’s still really fluid and that balance could shift at any time, especially as I’m getting older. I often feel like it shifts back and forth even just from day to day! I think it’s just important to be honest with yourself – and then to share that with him – each step of the way.

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