I do not want children, but my boyfriend (and his mother) feel differently

This isn’t just your wishes against his, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith, it’s the wishes of the person they’re asking you to make

I am a woman in my mid-20 who does not want children. I am sick of people telling me that I will change my mind or that I don’t understand or that I am too young to know, when it is a decision I have thought through for years and is completely in line with my life goals and desires.

I have been with my current partner for several years, I love him and we both see a future together. Naturally, he wants children. His mother has even told me that I “must have kids”.

I am starting to resign myself to the fact that I will have to have children if I want a future with him. I’ve discussed this with him multiple times and he is very aware of my stance. For the moment we are ignoring the issue, but it is something that I have frequent anxiety about. Is it wrong of me to prioritise my own wishes over his?

Eleanor says: It’s a pretty hard and fast rule: don’t deliberately have kids unless you really want to.

I know you know that. You sound firm in your decision and proud of the way you made it. But it also sounds like maintaining that choice in front of others makes you feel selfish – as you wrote, like you’re prioritising your wishes over his.

I wonder whether you could make your position seem less arbitrary in their eyes by pointing out that this choice isn’t just between you, your partner, and – in her mind at least – his mother. The person most affected by your decision here is the child you’d bring into the world, and the adult they’d become.

Kids can tell when their parents resent them. They might not understand the concepts of “pregnancy” or “reluctance” or “compromise” yet, but a hazy version of the truth seeps through to them in what their parent doesn’t say; the joy they don’t see. It’s the kind of thing that snakes around a heart and makes a psychic wound that lasts well into adulthood.

Of course, there are many people who accidentally become parents and turn out to love it. But anyone who asks you to have kids – despite the way you feel – is asking you to gamble with another person’s life. They’re asking you to risk creating someone whose parent doesn’t really want them. If your partner and his mother really value kids, they should care about that possibility. That should be a cost of error that matters very much.

So if your partner or his mother approach this discussion as though you’re just plugging your ears and saying “I said so”, you might be able to reclaim some gravitas by pointing out that you’re not the only person you have in mind. This isn’t just your wishes against his; it’s the wishes of the person they’re asking you to make.

That does leave you with the problem that you and your partner might still want different things. Just as you’re allowed to hold on to your decision, he’s allowed to pursue his. If you have truly incompatible visions of how life looks when it’s going well, it will be difficult to make a long-term relationship feel like a mutual celebration instead of like someone’s sacrifice.

But I don’t think that means you have to force the question just now. All you can do is be clear. If you’ve said you don’t want kids, and you haven’t misled him into thinking you might waver, he can make a decision at his own pace about whether to stay.

I won’t pretend there’s no chance he’ll leave. That might be an anxiety you can’t get rid of. But the relationships we have in our mid-twenties are the beginning, not the end, of the people we can love. There will be many more exciting futures to imagine, and many more mothers-in-law to resent. The only heartbreak really worth avoiding is the one that comes from betraying yourself. Don’t have kids unless you really want to.

***

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Eleanor Gordon-Smith

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