My Serious Boyfriend Doesn’t Know If He Wants to Have Kids

I am 33 years old, and have been dating a 32 year old man I met online for one year. He’s wonderful, and I don’t doubt his commitment to me. However, we are running into a bit of an impasse over the issue of children and parenting. I knew from the beginning that he was ambivalent about having kids. Part of him is definitely open to being a father someday, but he also has a lot of reservations about the changes in his life that it would require and can’t say for sure if he’ll ever come around to definitely wanting kids.

I am open to the idea of adopting, so I’m not totally panicking over my ostensibly-waning fertility.

All the same, I’ve realized that parenting is something I want to experience in life, so at some point it doesn’t make sense for me to be with someone who doesn’t share that goal.

I’ve communicated all this to my boyfriend, and I’ve avoided giving him any kind of ultimatum or deadline. But I have let him know in the course of these conversations that at some point, I will need to have a partner who shares the goal of one day being a parent. He’s worried that I’m going to walk and frustrated that I’m focusing on this complicated issue rather than just “letting it breathe.”

I’m feeling very torn, because on the one hand I don’t want to walk away from someone I love. On the other hand, I suspect that if he doesn’t want to have kids with me now, he never will, and I’ll have wasted valuable time I could have spent looking for a partner who does want that.

At what point do you think a couple should be able to have some kind of consensus about kids and parenting? Is a year too soon (or too late) to be expecting clarity on this? Do you think it’s wise to allow more time to let the relationship develop if it’s otherwise meeting my needs? Lastly, what kind of advice do you have about how to approach discussions of this issue?

Sincerely,

Allison

After a year, Allison, you need to have a heart-to-heart.

But the thing about religion is that you CAN split it down the middle. With kids, you can’t. You’re either a parent, or you’re not.

The tone of your heart-to-heart isn’t that your eggs are drying up, or that you need a ring on your finger tomorrow. It’s about clarifying your mutual aspirations, and making sure you’re on the same page moving forward. If you’re not, you’re just treading water.

I’m really sympathetic to you, because I’ve been through a version of that myself. I waited six months to talk about religion with my girlfriend, because I was afraid it would become a deal-breaker – and I didn’t want the relationship to end. So on a weekend away in Napa, I brought up my concerns about what we’d do about our future children.

We quickly and easily struck a compromise where we both felt understood. And our relationship kept moving forward. If she had told me that there was no room for negotiation, we would have ended, sadly, right then and there. It would have been the right decision for both of us.

But the thing about religion is that you CAN split it down the middle. With kids, you can’t. You’re either a parent, or you’re not. Which means that it’s all the more urgent that you get clarity on this life-defining issue.

You can love this guy madly, but if you’re not willing to give up on the dream of being a mother, you need to know if he intends on being a father.

If he loves you – and I presume he does – he’s going to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Is it possible that he’ll say he wants to be a dad and not mean it? Sure. But it’s more likely that he’ll say that he can’t make that commitment now, and that if you choose to leave him, he understands.

All you need is the security of knowing that he wants to have children. And if he can’t give you that security, you’re going to have to think long and hard about whether your relationship has a future.

Face it: your boyfriend may or may not want to be a father someday, but he definitely doesn’t want to decide right now. That’s his prerogative. But it’s equally your prerogative to assess your future prospects. It’s no secret that it’s harder to date and conceive after age 35 than it is right now, so I would take this seriously.

Just know that conversations reveal a person’s intentions, they don’t determine them. What I mean is that talking about children is not going to influence his opinion on children. He already knows where he stands; he just hasn’t told you yet.

So when you ask him, don’t give him an ultimatum. Couch this in terms of what you need right now. You don’t need a ring right now. You don’t need a house right now. You don’t need a baby now – or even in five years! All you need is the security of knowing that he wants to have children. And if he can’t give you that security, you’re going to have to think long and hard about whether your relationship has a future.

Deciding to put your foot down in this instance doesn’t make you demanding, Allison. It just makes you smart.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    JuJu

    Okay, Evan and others, I am a woman who is now entering her 30′s, and I am ambivalent about having kids. I just said precisely what I meant. If someone tries to have this conversation with me, I won’t know what to say.

    I am not presently in a relationship, however, and perhaps it would all change if the question was asked by a particular person (as I am probably more likely to know whether I want children with HIM), but then, at this point in my life, I probably wouldn’t even get involved with someone I don’t deem worthy.

    Still, losing my life as I know it is of paramount concern, regardless of the candidate’s genetic material. Nor am I particularly keen on the idea of going through pregnancy and childbirth. And I really, REALLY, don’t know whether I’ll ever feel more certain.

  2. 2
    Karl R

    Allison,

    I feel for your situation. My last exclusive relationship ended because we had irreconcileable issues on this matter.

    While we were both sad that the (otherwise terrific) relationship ended, we both understood that we’d encountered a dealbreaker issue. Neither of us was unreasonable in what we wanted. But we both understood that we wanted different things in life.

    ————

    Juju, (#1)

    As someone who doesn’t want kids, ambivalence isn’t a problem for me … provided the lady realizes that I’m not likely to shift my stance on the issue.

  3. 3
    Honey

    I absolutely, positively do not EVER want children. If the BF wasn’t on the same page as me, we’d probably have to break up. It’s an important enough issue that no one’s ever going to feel really right about compromising–you have to find exactly what you need.

  4. 4
    BeenThruTheWars

    I got married at 24 to a man who definitely wanted kids. I told him I did, too — someday. In the future. Probably. Yeah, sure, why not. We’ll discuss it. Later.

    I lied. I never wanted kids. I’ve known it my whole life. Now, I actually like them in small doses; back in my 20s, I could barely tolerate having them in the same room.

    It was a passion-free relationship, so after 12 years together I asked him for a divorce. One of the reasons I cited was, “You want kids and I don’t.” He said he was willing to forego having kids to stay together. I told him, “This marriage isn’t so fabulous that it’s worth staying together if it means you have to make that huge life sacrifice.”

    We parted friends. He met a woman (she was 42, he was 40) within weeks after the divorce, married her inside of a year, and the following year they had the first of their two kids, boom-boom. Obviously, I made the right decision, letting him go. He loves being a family man and is a great dad. I’m delighted for him.

    When I met my current husband, he was adamant he did NOT want kids, ever. I said, “Good, because I’m getting myself fixed next week, the appointment is already made.” I did it (I was 44 and he was 33 at the time), and we are both completely happy to be childless. Neither of us is willing to make the sacrifices needed to raise children, and neither of us has any biological urges to reproduce. Some people just don’t. It isn’t evil or selfish or anything else; it just “is what it is.” I’m glad we recognize that and accept that about ourselves as individuals and a couple. We have a great life and are very fulfilled without children. I feel this marriage rests on a much stronger foundation than my first one did — not only because of the kids/no kids issue. We are just plain more in sync re what we want in life.

    Think long and hard about marrying a man who, when he is still in the “courtship” phase with you, is being honest about his ambivalence toward having kids. Ambivalence seldom turns into enthusiasm — take it from me. When I was dating between marriages, I dated guys in their 30s almost exclusively. You wouldn’t believe how many of them said to me, “If it were up to me, I would never have kids. I really don’t want any. But if I married a woman who wanted them really badly, I suppose I could be okay with it if I had to be.”

    Is that the kind of father you want for your future children? Someone who would have them under duress, but didn’t really want to be a family man?

    A lot of the men I dated also said the reason they enjoyed dating me over someone their own age was because I was “no pressure” on the subject of kids. The women they had dated who were still in their 30s and dying to start mating and reproducing drove them insane. To them, these women seemed super-needy and demanding, and started in hounding them about kids after only a few dates. Understandably, they quickly lost interest. Men hate being viewed as either an ATM or a sperm donor (and who can blame them).

    If a man tells you he isn’t sure if he ever wants kids — believe him. If children are important to you, do heed Evan’s advice. He’s right on the money (as usual).

  5. 5
    Steve

    I’m one of those people who knows 100% for sure that I do not want to be a parent. I’ve noticed on match.com that my “mutual search” results go way down when I check off that I am only interested in women who have picked “don’t want to have kids” or “probably not”.

    I’ve added “not sure” to the “about my date” criteria thinking that a woman aged mid 30′s – mid 40′s is likely ( though not definite, thanks JuJu) has made a decision about being a parent and possibly put “not sure” on her profile to not scare people away.

    In the back of my mind I am terrified of getting hooked on somebody only to have this issue end things.

  6. 6
    Steve


    BeenThroughTheWars
    Neither of us is willing to make the sacrifices needed to raise children, and neither of us has any biological urges to reproduce. Some people just don’t. It isn’t evil or selfish or anything else; it just is what it is.

    In a world with 6 billion going on 12 billion and the oceans dying within 40 years it be selfish to choose to bring more children into the world.

  7. 7
    A-L

    Evan’s advice is right on here. I’m one of the “not sure” people concerning having kids. I don’t feel any burning desire to have kids, but at the same time I think I’d make a good parent and if the dad was super-involved, it could be fun My future spouse’s feelings will probably be the determining factor as to whether or not I end up having children.

    But I will say that my older sister used to be the same way as I am, or perhaps even more leaning towards not having kids when she was my age (I’m 28). But as she got to be about 37 or so she all of a sudden felt this huge desire to have kids, and she ended up having two. So even for those people on the fence, sometimes the answer isn’t always no; sometimes it’s a big yes.

  8. 8
    Kris

    Sadly I’ve never gotten to negotiate this one…not yet. Maybe it’s because I know I want kids so men who do not probably don’t come near me! Sigh.

    But, I’ll tell ya, I had a woman friend who (at about your age) DID give her bf the ultimatum, and they broke up, dated other people, decided that was hell, and got back together. During the course of this time it sounds like he did some soul searching and put his finger on his own concerns about being a dad, and apparently got over it. They now have two healthy, happy children, and are great parents. So, there ya go. At some point I think you have to be willing to walk, and that doesn’t mean it won’t work out, but it does mean you have taken a stand for what you need.

    Good luck!

    Kris

  9. 9
    Cute Redhead

    It’s really weird that this issue has come up. I was with a guy for almost 7 years and we were mad in love with each other but I wanted kids, he didn’t (it turns out), but he led me on about it. Eventually I realized that he wasn’t moving on the issue –he was much older and had already had a child from his first marriage — and I broke up with him over it. I was so angry about him leading me on like that. It’s cruel, I think, given the female’s biological realities.

    Haven’t found anyone else with whom I have had even remotely the kind of closeness and love and gentleness I had with this guy, though.

    I didn’t speak with him for four years and refused all contact with him. Until just very recently. We met through work initially and are now working together again on a great project (I relented) — and there’s no chance I’ll go back with him. Here’s the kicker: Right this very second I am going crazy inside because I might be pregnant (all the signs are there and I have to take that test) — and I don’t want to marry the guy I’ve been seeing, I don’t think. I’m a little weirded out but not too freaked — I meant it when I said that I want a child, even though I’m not actively trying to have one.

    (Lest anyone think I “tricked” the guy or whatever — no. In fact, the opposite. He really wanted it that night — he just had to have it — and he asked me jokingly if I wanted to start working on a baby. We’d been talking serious relationship talk — and I was completely unthinking about where I was in my cycle and he didn’t care. Believe me, this guy is always all over me with never a thought or a question about the consequences. And like I said, I would be happy to have a child and can take care of it by myself if need be — a very nice position — finally — to be in.)

    The other curious thing — if I were pregnant I wouldn’t be able to complete the long-term project with the ex. How ironic that would be.

  10. 10
    Selena

    I agree with Evan. On everything, but particularly that after a year together it is the time to have a real heart to heart on the subject. At 32 it’s okay for your guy to be on the fence about parenthood, but how long are you willing for him to stay on that fence? Til he’s 37? 42? He may decide he wants kids when he’s older, but what happens if he finds he really doesn’t?

    I hate the idea of giving up a good relationship over an unknown, but how resentful do you think you might be towards him if he’s still on the fence, or has decided “no” five- ten years from now? The person you need to give the ultimatum to is yourself. Decide how long you are willing to stay in a relationship with someone who is undecided. I know it’s hard, but I do think you need to be prepared to walk once that deadline has been met.

  11. 11
    Ruby

    “You wouldn’t believe how many of them said to me, If it were up to me, I would never have kids. I really don’t want any. But if I married a woman who wanted them really badly, I suppose I could be okay with it if I had to be. Is that the kind of father you want for your future children? Someone who would have them under duress, but didn’t really want to be a family man?”

    I’ve got to disagree with this statement. I’ve known a few men who have said this who ultimately became fathers (and are now quite happy about it) because that’s what their spouse wanted. As one man said to me, “I wasn’t sure I wanted kids, but now I’m so happy I have them”. Men aren’t always as clear on this subject as women are. In every case, though, it would have been a deal breaker for the woman, and the men knew that. Women have the babies; they’re the ones who have to raise the issue. Evan stated it very well.

  12. 12
    lisaq

    The advice is dead on. An ultimatum is definitely not the way to go. At the same time, you need to know where you stand. You need to have the conversation and be ready for the chance that, because it’s so important to you, you may have to walk away.

  13. 13
    Karl R

    Steve, (#5)

    I’ve found a similar pattern with women who list they are “not sure” about having kids.

    There’s something simple you can check before contacting them. Scroll down their profile into what they are looking for. About 40% of the women who are “not sure” are looking for men who are “not sure”, “someday”, or “definitely”. About 20% of the women listing “not sure” are looking for men who are “not sure”, “probably not”, or “don’t want kids”. I consider this to be a fairly clear indicator of what a woman wants. I avoid the first group, and date heavily from the second group.

  14. 14
    Relations learner

    I think it’s never too late and never too soon to find out whether your boyfriend wants have kids with you. The sooner the better; more often than not the a person who is not sure if he want be a parent doesn’t want it, he or she just try to fit a common stereotype that a good person should love kids.

  15. 15
    Selena

    Umm Relations learner, I think I have to disagree with you. Alot has to do with the age of the person. There are people who are convinced they don’t want children when they are in their 20′s who find they feel quite differently as they get closer to 40 or beyond.

    I’ve dated numerous men who were in their 30′s. Those in their early 30′s were often like the poster’s bf – they weren’t sure they wanted to have children, or thought they *might* want them “later”. (Define later? 37? 42? 50?) Men in their later thirties were either more decisive about wanting children or more receptive to either having them or not depending on how their relationships worked out.

    I know there are people who definetly know they do not want children. But there are also people who really are on the fence about it at different points in their lives.

  16. 16
    Steve

    Karl, post #13. Thanks for the useful tip!. I tried it out for a bit and I did notice that useful pattern as per your advice.

  17. 17
    hunter

    One of my relatives was afraid of having children. She has since become the best mom of them all.

  18. 18
    old flame

    @ Steve: “In a world with 6 billion going on 12 billion and the oceans dying within 40 years it be selfish to choose to bring more children into the world.”

    Conversely, it’s absurd to insist all human procreation stop. So some people have to keep our species going. Who, by your standards, gets a pass?

    Sorry, but I found the value-judgment characterization that people who have kids are “selfish” was unnecessary.

    That is all.

  19. 20
    cinnamon

    Honey, sorry I can’t help….
    “One of the most accepted and completely unquestioned urges promoted in our society is the desire to have children. Despite our supposed position in the animal world as creatures of reason and users of tools, in this regard we are considered completely helpless-slaves to our instincts”.
    and
    “For us, sex is still a means to an end-however, that end is connecting with each other, reinforcing our emotional, physical, and intellectual bond through the creation of moments that are shared with no other.”
    From the biological perspective sex is an instinctual urge developed in order for human beings to procreate. I imagine it is so pleasant, because in the prehistorical times it had to be pleasant enough to make people want to risk their lives for it (a hungry tiger could bite your ass). You can ascribe high spiritual value to it – good for you. I do, too. But if you believe people should stop following their animal urges, sex would be a good place to start. Oh, and this would naturally lead to a decrease in the number of children. So easy to save the world :-)

  20. 21
    Honey

    It’s also so easy to not take responsibility for the problem (not you per se, but society as a whole) until 2 or 3 billion people die of war- or famine-related causes that are rooted in issues of overpopulation.

    Society didn’t care about the environment until it was (arguably) too late. This is just the next issue that we’re going to procrastinate caring about until it affects our standard of living, and by then it’ll be too late once again.

  21. 22
    Kenley

    Honey,

    If there ever comes a time in this world when the government or some authority gets to decide who has children that will be a sad day indeed as I can assure you that as a woman of color from a poor/working class family, it’s very unlikely that my parents would have been deemed worthy of procreating. Overpopulation is indeed a serious problem but unfortunately I don’t think there is human being on this planet pure of heart, unbiased, and smart enough to decide who gets to have children and who doesn’t. I strongly believe no matter what criteria is recommended, some group is going to be eliminated or greatly reduced in numbers. In your scenario, a good percentage of people of color would be prohibited from having children. While some might like that idea, I certainly would not.

  22. 23
    Honey

    @Kenley, Well, in the blog post I linked to, I argued that the government should provide access to whatever educational or financial resources are needed free or at a reduced cost, specifically to enable those who are interested in parenthood but can’t afford it the opportunity to play that very important role. So, in short, I agree with you completely.

    Of course, I think options like adoption should be partially or completely subsidized (many countries with lowering populations pay their citizens to have children; I think this is the wrong way to go because even if some countries are underpopulated, the planet is overpopulated and we should take care of those who already exist first).

    But as I said, in the end the very argument that you make is going to be used to justify doing nothing, and then many of the same populations that you argue would be unfairly penalized by not being allowed to have children will instead starve to death, die of disease, or be killed in someone else’s war. So I guess that’s the way it will be.

  23. 24
    cinnamon

    Honey,
    I just suggest that a global campaign agaist having sex would be easier to administrate than your system. And as human beings we are reasonable enough to understand the issues of overpopulation to follow it. Picturing sex as a primitive animal urge would just help the case. Would you and BF be willing to rolemodel?

  24. 25
    JuJu

    Guys, can we stick to relationships, please?

  25. 26
    Honey

    @Cinnamon, I thought that’s what the Bush administration was…

  26. 27
    Honey

    Of course. My only larger point is that relationships should be about more than raising your own biological children. There are many, many other options. Perhaps the person in this relationship who wants to have children could consider compromises like adopting, volunteering for a child crisis center, or starting a babysitting business in the evening to fill her perceived need to have children in her life? Why is it the person who doesn’t want kids who is being asked to compromise?

  27. 28
    cinnamon

    Honey,
    As I understood from the post, Allison’s problem is not whether or not she or he should compromise, but how long or if at all she should wait for him to take a stance on what he wants.
    My own opinion is that there is not much place for big compromises in this area. As Evan said – it’s a life defining issue. You’d better find a partner who wants more or less the same.
    It’s different if your partner can’t have children. But if they can, but just don’t want to lose their time/resources/freedom then it’s better to part…

  28. 29
    Selena

    Re: #27

    Honey, re-read her letter. She states she is willing to consider adoption.

  29. 30
    Honey

    @Selena–oh yes, I saw it. I just think it deserves another mention for those in similar situations. Thanks for pointing that out!

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