The problem is I’ve always had two deal-breakers: where to live, and kids. I’ve never wanted kids (though I do have to admit that I haven’t completely closed that door), and I told him this early on and again a few times since. Every time I mention that I don’t plan on having kids my boyfriend acts like it’s the first time he’s heard this. He says that he isn’t sure about kids, but when he talks hypothetically about the future he mentions how he would want to raise kids. I’ve asked him outright if he definitely wants kids and he has said that he wouldn’t want an only child, so none or two kids, but he hasn’t said how comfortable he would be if it were none. I’m not sure if this is a deal-breaker for him, but since I have changed my mind on my location deal-breaker, could I also change my mind about not having kids?
I would hate to continue getting serious with him if he is only sticking around because he thinks I might change my mind, when I don’t know whether I will or not. I’ve gotten to a place in my life where, if I had to raise a child, I have confidence I could do it, but would I enjoy it? I hate to say it since it sounds so antagonistic, but I can’t understand what people get out of raising kids. I can see all the hardships, but what is the joy? On top of that the irrational part of me feels like it’s unfair that I compromised on where to live and now he should compromise on kids (if it’s even a compromise, I’m not sure he’s made a decision either way). Of course, this is all very theoretical at this point and actually making a decision is years away, but I don’t want to waste my time or his time if this is already doomed. What should I do? — Is the Coast Clear?
First of all, deal-breakers are called deal-breakers for a reason. They are definite, with no wiggle room, and no space for compromise. Say, if you’re Jewish, and dating a non-Jew is a deal-breaker for you, you’re not going to seriously date a Catholic person and be like, “Eh, we could make this work,” unless, of course, the deal-breaker wasn’t really a deal-breaker after all, but more of a “wish list” item. In any event, breaking a deal like location is much, much easier to live with — and to break again — than having a kid you don’t think you really want — or, in your case, potentially having two kids you don’t want since your boyfriend doesn’t want an only child.
I would never try to talk someone into having kids who is pretty sure she doesn’t want them. There are many reasons not to have children and many ways people can live fabulous, joyful lives without them. Kids take an enormous amount of time, money, energy, and love to raise. They require a huge amount of patience and sacrifice. They are often whiny, demanding, and, dare I say, boring. They get sick a lot. Oh! And one thing people tend to gloss over when deciding to have children is that becoming a parent means that in addition to your own offspring, you’ll be spending a lot of time with other people’s kids, too. There are birthday parties — God, the endless stream of birthday parties — play dates, school events (plays, field trips, band concerts), sports games, ballet and piano recitals, and swim lessons, to name a few, all of which will bring you into direct contact with loads of other people’s children, some of whom may be total pricks.
But despite all that, having children can, indeed, fill your life with more joy than you could imagine. Raising someone who is totally dependent on you to become an independent, productive member of society includes incredible rewards, both big and small. For me, hearing my baby laugh every day is a kind of joy I haven’t felt before. I have been lucky enough to experience lots of happiness in my life, but this kind of happiness — knowing that I am doing a good job at being a mother, that I am providing a comfortable, loving home for my son, where he is nurtured, protected, and appreciated — is an experience totally unique from everything else in my life. And there’s something about being a parent that makes you feel part of something bigger than yourself, in a “Roots” sort of way. It’s cool to be part of an ancestral line that continues to move forward knowing that you’re responsible for the forward-motion. That’s reductive and primitive, I know, but in its basic sense, that’s what having children is.
But I wanted to have kids, and I have a partner who wanted them, and together we are able to give our son the life we want him to have. It would be a different experience had I been on the fence about kids, or if I was with a partner who didn’t share my parenting philosophies and general world view. It would be much harder if we were broke or didn’t love each other or for some reason weren’t able to be as physically and emotionally present in our son’s life as we are now. I say all this to illustrate that while there are some generalities in parenting, everyone’s experience is a little bit different and dependent on variables that will change over the course of your life as a parent. Deciding to have a child is a huge commitment, and not one that should be made just to keep a man.
There are other men out there. There are men who want to live where you want to live and who don’t want kids either. True, they are not the man you are currently in love with, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be one day. You could find everything you have with your current boyfriend plus deals that don’t have to be broken. You may also find that there is no one else for whom you’ll feel as strong as you do for your current boyfriend, but there are many who won’t ask you to make such big sacrifices. Perhaps you’ll feel better about being with one of them than living somewhere you don’t want to live and having kids you don’t want to have.
But is your current boyfriend even asking you to have kids? Well, not yet. But if he’s someone who mentions children when talking about his future, there’s a pretty good chance that eventually, when the time to think about them more seriously is closer, he will be putting some pressure on you to make a decision. I just hope that if you wait to make a decision like that, you do so with everything I’ve said here in mind, and you only have children if you feel in your heart you’re ready to commit to being a good mother. And remember: children change relationships. The life you share with your boyfriend now will not be the same life you’d share if you have kids together. Don’t have kids to keep a relationship (because kids will definitely change a relationship); have kids because you don’t want to miss out on the incredible experience of parenthood.