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Disagreeing on Family Size as a Deal Breaker?

Disagreeing on Number of Children: Dealbreaker?

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I discovered your Advice Smackdown over my spring break and spent most of it going through your good advice. I’ve got a question for you. I’m getting married this summer, and my fiancé and I are pretty much in line with what we want in the future. Except for one thing–number of children. I grew up the oldest of four kids, he has a much-older half sister who had graduated and moved out when he was in elementary school and a younger brother. It may not shock you to discover that I want four kids, and he wants two… maybe three. We are both graduating from college this spring and while we don’t plan to start having munchkins for a while, this is a question I want settled NOW! I’ve always wanted four kids, and when he says he wants fewer, it’s like he’s stealing my babies away from me. Of course, my logical-minded engineer doesn’t get it when I try to explain: after all, I don’t have any babies yet! What I really need is either a reality check that I can’t plan this far in advance or a surefire way to change his mind, or mine. Can you help?

Baby-Crazed

Huh. This is a different take on the USUAL pre-wedding debates and disagreements about children — typically I see stories/questions about how one partner doesn’t want any kids and the other does. Dealbreaker or something we can just kinda ignore and hope we find common ground in a couple years? (Or worse: one partner only SAYS they’re in agreement with the kids/no kids question, but secretly isn’t, and figures they can change the other person’s mind later, once they’re married. STOP DOING THIS, PEOPLE.)

In your case, you guys are having open and honest (if maybe a tad emotional) discussions about it, and both seem perfectly on board with kids — multiple kids! But you’re hung up on the final headcount. While the scenarios I mentioned in the first paragraph tend to make me cringe and want to smack people who think it’s perfectly okay to enter into a marriage with such a fundamental disagreement left unsettled and “out there,” your scenario honestly doesn’t ring QUITE as high stakes to me.

So I guess I’m going with “reality check” rather than a surefire argument to change his mind. While I don’t think you should start lying to him (or yourself) about your ideal family size, I do think you HAVE to realize that there is just no way you can (or maybe even should) plan that far out, especially to a dealbreaker-level degree. It reads as if you’re making the whole marriage conditional on him making some kind of solemn, unbreakable vow or signing an iron-clad pre-nup that as God is his witness, HE WILL GIVE YOU FOUR BABIES. NO TAKE-BACKSIES, YOU PROMISED.

(Also: “Stealing your babies away?” Gurl.)

So much can happen, love. SO MUCH. Just off the top of my head: infertility, difficult pregnancies and births, special needs children, secondary infertility, job loss, jobs that aren’t flexible for families and leave, serious illness, separation/divorce and assorted financial hardships and/or realities that make having more children unrealistic. Not to mention the realization that babies turn into children and children are hard, hard work and expensive as HELL (do you wanna see my three-kid grocery bill? or the math on their college savings plans?).  Or the realization that maybe you aren’t as cut out for mothering a big brood as you thought after kid number two or three comes along and you’re older and tireder and sick of being pregnant and/or breaking up sibling brawls. (Reality check #2: you will not give birth to a carbon-copy of you and your younger siblings).

And not all the stuff that can happen is necessarily BAD, either: You could have an easy, uncomplicated pregnancy and birth and a wonderful singular child whom you suddenly realize is all you want and need after all.

My husband and I didn’t really have a set number of children in mind. I think originally we talked about only one. MAYBE two. Maybe. I DO admit that I had a gender in mind: I would be the mother of a girl, or all girls, because I couldn’t fathom raising a boy. Didn’t understand ’em, didn’t particularly like a lot the ones I’d come in close contact with.

Needless to say, if you told either of us before our wedding that we would go on to have THREE children, we would have laughed and not believed you in the slightest. And if you told me that they would all be boy children, I would have thrown a drink in your face and told you to stop STEALING MY GIRL BABIES FROM ME, YOU MONSTER.

(From one high-strung drama queen [who also married an engineer] to another: I feel you, I’ve been you, it’s why I’m Smackdown-ing you. WITH LOVE.)

Now. In no way do I wish to brush aside the eventual reality that CAN happen: One partner desperately wants another baby (be it number two or three or four) and the other one doesn’t. You might NOT ever change your mind about four being the family size for you, and see no reason or roadblock to stop you from having that many. He might disagree and feel two (or three) is the limit he can handle, either financially, logistically or just plain emotionally, because oh my God, are they in bed yet? Can I breathe? Can I get a moment with my wife when we’re US instead of SOMEONE’S PARENT WHO THEY NEED NEED NEEEEED. 

Right now, that possibility feels terrifying to you. And worse, it feels cruel to you, that he won’t (or can’t) promise that it won’t ever, ever happen. (Thus the “he’s stealing mah babiez!” feeling.) And I’m not going to lie that it’s a sucky, sucky feeling to be at that particular impasse when your biological clock is TICKING LIKE THIS (insert gif of Mona Lisa Vito from My Cousin Vinny).

But it’s important to note that you are (or SHOULD BE) marrying him to be your husband, your partner and teammate, and yes, the father of your (however many) children…but NOT just for him to be the singular means for you to GET those children. You want to grow and raise a family with him, and it will be your own unique family (i.e. not the one you grew up in, or the one he grew up in). It’s exciting! It’s mysterious! There are so many question marks ahead of you guys and unwritten chapters and plot twists! But if you honestly feel and believe (in your early 20s, I might add) that your pre-written-since-childhood ending is the only acceptable ending, well…I don’t know. Know thyself, I guess, but I can’t help worrying that you’ll miss out on a lot.

While my husband and I might occasionally feel a twinge over the daughter we never had, that hypothetical ideal wasn’t “stolen” from me — look at my boys and my life and all that I have! Oh my God, it’s crazy. And it’s so very, very different from the family I always “knew” I wanted, but that’s because I didn’t really “know.” I thought I knew. Life had other plans. You win this round, life.

 

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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MR
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MR

What Amy said! I absolutely KNEW I wanted four children before we married. My husband wanted maybe two. Then after we were married for a couple years he said he changed his mind and didn’t want any. Some marriage counseling later, we had our first. And he thought that was enough. But as we had agreed in our marriage counseling, and we had been VERY clear before we married that we were having childREN, not one, we had a second. Both pregnancies and labors/deliveries were hard on me. Very hard. But mostly, our second was born with a heart defect… Read more »

SarahB
Guest
SarahB

Amy’s spot on here.  You’re about to graduate from college, it sounds like.  There’s still so much yet to figure out beyond the number of children…where will you live, what will your careers be like, what fun travel should you do before you have kids… Do you want your fiancé with you for this roller coaster, no matter where it goes?  That’s the question.   I say this as someone who married someone in the Air Force, which meant going where he was stationed, until we decided together for him to get out and to settle down in one place.… Read more »

Michelle B
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Michelle B

My very best friend was also the oldest of 4 girls and was quite certain that she would also be the Mama of 4 girls.  They’ve had 2 boys, they are sure that they are done, and they are both content and happy. The red flag to me in this letter was the last sentence – “a surefire way to change his mind or mine”. I say this with so much love – do not enter this marriage if you entertain any hopes of changing yourself or him in any way or on any topic. You will both likely change… Read more »

Kat
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Kat

I think the only possible way you can go about children is one at a time. There is no way you know how it will be until your specific first baby is there in you arms and you have to take care of her/him. Nobody and nothing can really prepare you for that. You have to go through it to know. It may be easy and it may bring challenges that you never even considered. It changes everything. So I wouldn’t pressure myself or my husband with a specific number of children.

Bethany West
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Bethany West

My husband and I both come from large families (5 and 6 kids), so I always thought I would have 5 or 6. Then I had my first, got PPD, and wondered why anyone ever had more than one. After recovering (it was a long 18 months), I had a second, and it has been amazing. I now feel like I could have multiple children. When people ask how many we want, my husband jokes 7 or 8, but I always say one at a time. I just can’t plan further out.

Lauren
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Lauren

Stealing your babies?!?!?!?! You need more than a reality check, honey. If that is the attitude you are taking, then there is NO way you are ready for children in the near future. And if you’re asking for a surefire way to change your fiance’s mind….it honestly doesn’t sound like you are ready for marriage either. Marriage is unpredictable. Children are even more unpredictable. LIFE is unpredictable. So to think you’re going to have your perfect family with your perfect, agreeable husband, your perfect four little angels and everything is going to be perfect…well you’re going to be in for… Read more »

Athena
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Athena

I don’t think the “stealing my babies” attitude disqualifies her form having children. She needs to get it under control and not let it harm her relationship, yes, and being unable to do that *might* mean having kids yet is a bad idea, emotional-maturity-wise. But *just* feeling/thinking that? You can’t just turn off your emotions, you know, and to a large degree you can’t help how you feel, only how you deal with it. If anything, from my experience I’d say it’s probably a sign kids are definitely a very good thing. Coming from someone with their own, stupidly overactive… Read more »

Tami
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Tami

Oh! How this spoke to me!! When I met my husband I had always, always, ALWAYS wanted to be a mom – and made that clear to him that I would in some capacity need children whether that be by natural birth, adoption etc. It was something that I required. He accepted that and we moved along – I also said I wanted 4 babies. I wanted a BIG. FAMILY. Babies! Pregnant! Yay! all of it. He was not on board with that many. I said we would talk. We moved along with our relationship and eventual marriage. 2 years… Read more »

Stephanie
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Stephanie

My husband and I knew that we wanted kids, plural, but didn’t really discuss a specific number. I think we both just figured that we’d decide as we went along. When my daughter was five and my son two, I VERY much wanted a third baby. My husband was very definitely done. Even though more than one friend advised me to get “accidentally” pregnant (meaning really on purpose–don’t even get me started on the huge betrayal of trust that is), I just accepted it. The financial and emotional baggage that come with children are just too great to force on… Read more »

Mary
Guest
Mary

I married an engineer too. They are so practical and it won’t end with this “you can’t have 2 until you’ve had 1, you can’t have 3 until you’ve had 2…” thing.

Otherwise, it’s quite likely that no matter what your plans are at the moment, your life will look totally different in 5 years. I’ve been married 7 years, expecting #3, and wonder every week how I got here!

traci
Guest
traci

Another agreement with Amalah. Things change. We wanted 2 kids and figured we would wait 4 or 5 years to get started. After we were married I got the baby bug bad and my husband got the agh I’m not ready bug. Almost 9 years later and our first and likely only is 4 weeks old. First pregnancy was a miscarriage and this one was awful. I had hyperemisis then cholestasis and I carried him stretched up and down rather than out so I couldn’t breathe and hardly move by 4.5 months and I didn’t look pregnant so no sympathy… Read more »

K
Guest
K

I also married an engineer. He’s so practical that he doesn’t want a second child that we’re perfectly able to afford, because he’d rather have a larger savings account. 

😐

Britt
Guest
Britt

It really doesn’t have to be a deal breaker to not agree on the exact number of kids, if you don’t let it.  Start off with one, then once that baby is a bit older, discuss number two, and so on.  Since you both want kids, you’re on enough of the same page to just take it one kiddo at a time. I have two kids under 2, and my husband just got a vasectomy.  My heart kind of breaks every time I think about not having another baby, but my husband really wants to focus our energy on each… Read more »

Joanna
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Joanna

While I agree that it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, and that minds change all the time and a million things can happen, I also want to present the view that it’s OKAY to want a certain number of children and to aim for that number of children. I always wanted four and did get surprise twins on my last pregnancy, so I ended up with five–and I don’t know how it would’ve been had we been arguing over whether to have a third or fourth pregnancy, but I imagine it would have been really, really tough on me and our… Read more »

Stef
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Stef

I could not agree more with Amy on this one. Spot on advice as usual. My husband was adamnent he wanted to be a dad to 3 kids. I begrudgingly agreed to have 1. 1 and done. As an only child myself I was convinced that was the way to go. Long story short we now have 2 boys. 2 awesome and amazing boys and boy how the tables have turned. Now I’m the one who would totally have 3 kids and my husband was reluctant to even have number 2. Lol. Will there be a third baby in our… Read more »

Angel
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Angel

I agree with Amy on this. You won’t know how many kids you want until you actually have a kid. I had wanted 2-3 children and my husband was pretty set at 2 max. 3 years after we were married. we welcomed our first son home. Shortly before he turned 2 we found out I was pregnant. 8 weeks later I miscarried. (oct 2010) I was pregnant again in feb 2011 and miscarried again. At that point I told my husband we would try one more time. If I miscarried again we were done. I couldn’t be able to handle… Read more »

Jeannie
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Jeannie

For my two cents — my husband was reluctant to have one. We had one. He was reluctant to have two. We had two. At two, I literally got off the delivery bed and said “thank God we are NEVER DOING THAT AGAIN” (Delivery was fine; I do not like being pregnant) and he was all … well, three kids is a nice number … And fact is, I agree. I love the idea of three kids. But after much discussion, we agreed that our lives simply can’t hold another kid right now, with the two we have and the… Read more »

Athena
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Athena

When I was a child, I wanted 42 children. Oh, and I was only going to ever have sex once, and only to get pregnant (apparently, I had some pretty high-and-might ideas about my fertility… and some crazy ones about HOW MANY BABIES CAN FIT IN THIS TINY BELLY OMG). Overactive maternal instinct or no, I now recognise these ideas as bat-shit crazy (though, my parents still won’t let me live down the “sex only once” one). I’m the oldest in a big family, one of five, but my siblings came to me in later life – all four when… Read more »

Turtlegirl3
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Turtlegirl3

I just have to comment on the needing a surefire way to change his mind….there is NOTHING you can do to change his mind.  I’m one of those silly people who went into marriage wanting kids with a husband who didn’t.  And I thought for sure he’d eventually grow up and change his mind and want kids.  Nope!  The ultimatum he gave me was either to divorce him and find someone who wants kids, or stay with him and not have any.  And I’d rather be with him than have kids.  And that, I think, is the important thing.  You’re… Read more »

wyomom
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wyomom

As number 10 of twelve I wanted to have 9 as a kid, 6 by birth and 3 adopted. Then I went through a no marriage/no babies phase then when I met the one he wanted three. I said let’s try one and see how it goes. We have two now and are discussing #3 I had brief phase of wanting 4 after #2 came along then a longer phase of thinking I was DONE but now 1 more….. We will see.

Annie
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Annie

My husband had always wanted four kids, having grown up in an awesome, close-knit family of four. I wanted to take things one baby at a time. As it turns out, my husband and I have some unlucky genes. Both our kids wound up with totally different challenges– one developmentally and one medically. We’re doing OK managing everything, and we dont feel too in over our heads. But we’re both in total agreement there’s no way we’d want to roll the dice again. My husband is my best friend, and so fun and amazing– and I don’t get to spend… Read more »

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

My husband and I agreed on 3. We had three great kids on target. Now 7 years after the last one, Surprise number 4 is on it’s way. You really never know.

Diane
Guest
Diane

Amy is so right on this! First off you guys sound very young and you probably don’t realize that EVERYTHING will change from what you thought your life would be. You know what they say about “best laid plans” and it’s true. You need to take this one kid at a time. I originally thought I wanted 3 kids, my husband wanted 2. We had our first and lately the discussion has been “I think we’re good with just one.” Babies are a lot of work and you have no idea what kinds of challenges you will face with them.… Read more »

Kim
Guest
Kim

When my husband and I went through pre-marital counseling, one of the questions was how many kids to have. I am one of two, he one of three. I wanted two, he wanted five. I told him we could compromise at three. Here we are, 7 years later and just welcomed baby #4 (all girls!). My husband says we’re done, but he’s said that before (so have I). We may or may not adopt in the future. That’s the thing about life though; you mak plans, but they can change in a moment. Congrats on your engagement/wedding!

Anne
Guest
Anne

My husband came from a huge family. 3 half-brothers, 1 half-sister and then an equal number of (much older) step sibs. HUGE. Spread over 2 states. I have 2 sisters a brother and an equal amount of half sibs in another country! We come from BIG families. We talked about raising a (much smaller, but by modern ideas) huge family. 3, maybe 4 kids on my counter. 5 on his.  This was before we were married. It wasn’t a deal breaker, just a fun little argument we would have. Now, well, now we have one. She’s almost two and sh’es… Read more »

Amanda
Guest
Amanda

Another girl married to an engineer. He comes as the oldest boy, but second of 4 kids, and I’m the oldest of 2. We always knew we wanted multiple kids… we had said 3-4, but we’ll take them one at a time. I had a rough pregnancy that ended in an emergency c-section with my son (now 2 1/2), and we’re now pregnant with #2, and as I’m nearing the end of my first trimester, it has probably been worse than my first pregnancy (which was no walk in the park). As much as we thought we wanted a larger… Read more »

Lay
Guest
Lay

This made me laugh. I had big, BIG plans about careers and marriage and babies. And like a lot of people already posted – life had different ideas. I am so happy, and this life is so far from what I thought it would be. Relax, enjoy your wedding and life as a newlywed. Love your husband and don’t worry about how many until it’s time to decide to have the first one or the second and so on. Don’t try to change his mind, just enjoy the ride 🙂

Marnie
Guest
Marnie

Just to reiterate what has been said above. Your story isn’t ending. Marriage is the beginning of a whole new book! You don’t have to go in knowing the specifics of how many children you want right now. You are already in agreement that you want children…let your story unfold and see what happens!

Laura G
Guest
Laura G

Here is my philosophy: Start with one child. After that, you can talk about if/when you want a second. After you have a second, you can talk about if/when you want a third, and so on. No need to plan out every detail right now. It’s good to be on relatively the same page, but you need to agree to go with the flow of your lives and just see how things happen. A lot of couples say they knew in their hearts when their family was complete and I think you will know too 🙂

Hope
Guest

After one child, my husband is pretty sure he’s done. I’d like at least one more. I had a reeeeeally hard time with it, until he explained his reasoning. He’s not sure if he has the patience for more kids. And he’d rather be a great dad to one, than a mediocre dad to more. I had been upset at the idea of no more babies, but I have to say I can totally understand and respect his reasoning. He’s a wonderful, wonderful father. I think he’s selling himself short here, but I also respect his concerns. Our daughter is… Read more »

Rebecca S.
Guest
Rebecca S.

Hope, 

Thank you so much for this comment–that’s exactly the situation we’re in as well, and even though some days I still catch myself wondering about the other child we won’t have, I know our family of three is our best chance to have the kind of husband and father I want in our lives.  Just wanted to thank you for chiming in–and saying exactly what I’ve been feeling.

Rebecca

You'll probably change your mind
Guest
You'll probably change your mind

I have friends and family who had more children than originally planned. I have friends and family who have less children than they originally planned. Guess what. The people who have less than they thought out number the other category by about a zillion to one. It is SO much harder than you can imagine. And I know you are suffering from thinking you know it all – I did too before I had kids. Pregnancy, babies, children… it is pretty humbling. You don’t know as much as you think you know. One step at a time.