Disagreeing on Number of Children: Dealbreaker?
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?
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.
Published May 12, 2014. Last updated May 12, 2014.