There’s a growing problem in my relationship and I don’t know what to do about it. My boyfriend of five years has baby fever. It’s really bad. He tells me all the time that he wants me to be the mother of his children and has imagined this perfect future for our family. Some of my friends are jealous that I have someone so family-oriented, but the truth is, I don’t want it.
I feel kind of badly writing to a therapist that does have children, but it’s just not for me. I don’t have any maternal instincts and I’m afraid that if I had a baby I’d ultimately screw it up. Besides that, my boyfriend can’t even load the laundry without my supervision, so the idea of a little one running around just really sends me over the edge.
My boyfriend, my friends, and my family all tell me that one day things will change. My biological clock is supposedly ticking away and if I don’t act now, I’ll regret it. I’m only 28. I’m midway through my MBA and I want to do something with my degree first before I even think about settling down.
It’s starting to become so uncomfortable. I want to scream every time he brings up babies. I don’t want to lose him, but it’s starting to feel like it’s either my dream or his. Is this the end of the road for us? Should I let him go so he can go have babies with someone else? Should I just suck it up and have a baby? Why can’t I just want this?
To baby or not to baby, that is the question. It’s surprising in this day and age that the old narrative of “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage” is still so ubiquitously accepted as a rite of passage into adulthood. Life, being the messy thing that it is, does not wait for love or marriage to bring babies to some. Other couples have all the love in the world, along with the commitment of marriage, and have no children, some by choice, others by chance. While becoming a parent is a major life event that harkens intense responsibility, the choice to procreate does not make a person more of an adult than a child-free person. My journey into parenting, while it has been a joy for me and my family, has only affirmed my long-held belief that having children should not be compulsory. They’re not for everyone and that’s okay.
I have worked with many couples through this conundrum. Some are able to come to an agreement, while others end up going their separate ways. This may sound bleak, but my job as a Marriage and Family Therapist is not to get couples to stick it out no matter what. If the people in a relationship have reached the end of their path, my job is to help them separate peacefully without inflicting any unnecessary pain to one another. The best way to parcel out whether you and your boyfriend have reached an end to your path together is through some serious self-inquiry on both of your parts.
I want to make it clear that by posing questions to the person reticent to have children, I am not trying to apply more pressure to the situation. It’s crucial to have a deep understanding of the choices on the table and why they’re being made. Without this insight, the child debate becomes an impasse.
First of all, your reasons for not wanting to have children are valid. Babies are needy, needy creatures. If you suspect the onus of responsibility will be on you, and you’re not comfortable with it, that’s something to really explore together. The question becomes, is there a point in which you would be comfortable having a baby? Would you need your career to be at a certain point with money set aside and a partner who handles more housework? Those are tangible goals that you could work towards with some good communication and goal setting skills.
You cite not wanting to “screw up” your kid. What is it that makes you so sure that you’d screw it up? Something to consider is that all parents will mess things up at some point or another. It’s crucial for parents to lose it sometimes and to then model apologies for their children. Seeing their parents owning mistakes, saying “I’m sorry,” and mending the breaks is what helps little people grow up to not be total jerk adults. Every good parent will worry about if they’re a good parent or not. A crap parent won’t care if they’re a good parent or not.
Marriage, cohabitation, and having babies are all totally irrational things to do. Such partnerships meet emotional needs, not logical ones. When one person says “I want to have a baby,” they’re speaking from a deep, emotional, biological place. Meeting that with logic is rarely heard. If a person is dead-set on starting a family, it would be cruel to string them along until that is no longer a possibility for them. If you’ve taken some time and really think that you will never, ever, under any circumstances want children, it’s important to talk about that. If they feel that they will live with regret without starting a family, then it’s time to end your time together.
However, if there are a set of conditions under which you could see yourself being comfortable having a family, there’s something to work towards. You two would need to talk about what those expectations would be, how you would know they were met, and set some boundaries. If you need to table this discussion until you’ve landed a job after grad school, have a nest egg set aside, and see him handling housework like a pro, set up those benchmarks with the understanding that you’re not broaching the baby subject until you see that those goals are met. He, in turn, would need to be okay with the terms and timeline that you’ve set and to not pressure you to change it in the time being.
This situation calls for radical honesty, not just with one another, but with yourselves. I wish you the best of luck.