Many people think being childfree is a phase. It isn’t. Being childfree is a state of mind and attitude. When people say “I used to be childfree” it tells me:
1.They don’t really understand what being childfree really means and
2. They are using the term to describe something other than being childfree.
Maybe parent-in-waiting would be a better term for these people – since that does describe a phase.
I am very fortunate to be married to someone who was not only sure they didn’t want children, but had given it a lot of thought and was also prepared, when we met, to talk about it again. Which we did early on in our relationship. I have to say that in finally making the decision to remain childfree I found my husband’s common sense approach really helpful. We still thought about it over time though.
But what about couples who start off seemingly on the same wavelength only for one to change their mind? I know of at least two situations where one half of the couple changed their minds. In one case it was the woman who changed her mind. In the other it was the man.
Don and Shannon (names in all cases have been changed to protect privacy) had been married for several years. Before getting married, Don was sure that he didn’t want children. He had many reasons for not wanting children (which I won’t go into now), and had thought very deeply about it over quite a few years. He didn’t think he would make a good father. Most people disagreed with this, as he is particularly good with children, but that was unimportant to Don – not enough of a reason to have kids. When he and Shannon decided to get married however, he offered to re-visit the issue again, because it was important now they were getting married and he wanted to be sure that they both understood where each other was coming from and why. And of course leave the door open for a parting of ways if need be. Knowing that for women having or not having children could be a deal breaker, Don said that if she really wanted to have children, they would talk about it, and, even though he didn’t want them, was willing to try to be the best father he could be.
Shannon was adamant – she was sure and quite clear that she did not want children. Ever.
Years passed. And somewhere along the line, Shannon changed her mind. But she didn’t come out and say she’d changed her mind, because being a passive-aggressive personality, that wasn’t her way. Neither did she make any moves to discuss the “baby issue” again. But it hung there, with the expectation that Don should somehow “know” that she was unhappy about not having kids. In time the couple divorced, after over 12 years of marriage. The breakup was devastating to Don, but happily he eventually met a woman who was childfree, up-front about it and quite clearly not going to change her mind. They could hardly believe their luck in finding each other.
Paula and Joe are another husband and wife, slightly different because of the fact that Paula already had two teenage children (13 and 14) from a previous marriage. Paula was very clear when she and Joe got together that she was not having any more children. Paula had her kids (who are fantastic kids by the way) when she was fairly young, and for most of their young years was at home with them. She’s in her early 40’s now. When they were old enough she got back into the workplace and worked her way up to become a very well respected Company CEO.
Paula is one of those rare parents who told me that though she loves her children, had she her time over she probably wouldn’t have had them. And that parenting was damn hard work and I was wise to steer clear if I wasn’t completely prepared for it. It was just what people did when she had them – and to some extent, it was certainly expected of her by her first husband’s family at least.
Paula is one of the savviest businesswomen I know, one of the most busy and one of the most driven. Going back to having babies would certainly put the kybosh on any further career advancement. And go through all that again? Paula was clear it wasn’t on the cards. So Joe knew when they got married that babies were not on the agenda. And Joe agreed. He didn’t want children either.
Seven years later, however, Joe changed his mind. Suddenly he began talking to Paula about wanting a family of his own – meaning a baby (or babies) of his own. This, of course, created problems. Big ones. After many months, where the couple tried to resolve their “communication” issues, he decided to leave. The couple split up. Never one to have the grass growing under her feet, Paula lost no time in changing her name and removing all signs of him from her life. Her view – “Well, he knew when we met I wasn’t having any more children and if he feels he has to have children then he’s better off leaving and finding someone he can have them with.”
Can’t argue with that.
It’s my view that having children or not having children is so fundamental a choice that if a couple are not on the same wavelength on it, there is little or no hope for the relationship. At the very least there is lots of heartache if one person wants them and the other doesn’t. It’s also my experience that many couples don’t talk about it often enough, early enough. By early I mean as early in the relationship as possible, not coming up to the engagement and not after the wedding. By then, it’s far too late.
Many people bring past hopes and ideals to the relationship and never really discuss them with their significant other. Such as “Oh, I’d always dreamed of having a couple of kids at least… I came from a large family”. Or “ Well, I’d always just supposed we’d have children…”
Or (and I can never quite fathom why) women simply expect their men to read their minds and just know what they are thinking, then becoming shocked when it turns out that actually their partner never really wanted kids. I personally don’t expect my husband to read my mind, it’s my responsibility to express what I want, same goes for him. And it’s our responsibility to discuss what we both want. For the record ladies, they aren’t mind readers!!).
And of course there are the women who probably know their man doesn’t really want kids but figure that once she gets pregnant, he’ll be converted.So she plans on getting pregnant anyway. Good luck, but that smacks of deception to me. Which raises questions as to the quality of the relationship in the first place.
Someone once asked me what they should do since one of the couple was planning on having kids (because they’d always thought they’d have them) and other (a guy) was realizing that he didn’t really want kids after all.
It’s probably already too late, but if you’re not talking to each other now, you’d better start.
The writing was on the wall for that relationship in my opinion. It was simply a matter of time.