To have children, or not to have children: This question has changed the dynamic of many marriages – for better, or for worse. Ideally, couples make sure both parties are on the same page about parenting before they get too far into relationships. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, one partner changes his/her mind – or holds to the belief that the other partner will come around to his/her way of thinking.
I recently received the following from a reader:
I have a friend whose husband did not want children. However, she pushed and pushed him, and threatened divorce, and he gave in. Now, they are parents, and he’s not attentive with the baby. My friend is really upset. She thought the child (once here) would change him. I bite my tongue to keep from saying, “But you knew he didn’t want kids. What did you expect?” This is an issue I’ve seen in several relationships – one person wants kids and the other doesn’t. I hate seeing them both unhappy but I don’t know if anything can be done about it now. Your thoughts?
There are three players in this scenario; the wife, the husband and the baby. It is worth speaking to each of them directly, even though the question came from a third party. I will start with the wife (in this blog) and address the husband later.
This is a prime example of how a threat can come back to bite you in the rear. It seems that one of your first steps towards your current state of unhappiness was not listening. When someone tells us who they are and what they want, it is healthy to believe them. From this description, it seems you knew that your husband did not want to have children. His aversion could have been rooted in a general dislike for them, a dislike of the world so he did not wish to bring a child into it, disinterest in the responsibility of parenting, and/or a whole host of other possibilities. But it is safe to say that a person who does not want to have children is not simply averse to giving life. There is undoubtedly more. The “more” doesn’t appear to have been negotiated when you were working out the details around having this baby. Now, “more” is in your face, and it sounds un-pretty.
Another misstep was thinking you could change his mind about wanting a child. Sure, you can manipulate, threaten, bribe or talk someone into doing what you want them to do. And you did. Your husband willingly participated in creating a child. The problem is that you also wanted him to be happy about it, or at least to willingly participate in raising the child. You can often change people’s minds, but changing their feelings is a different matter.
This situation is a tough one, as it is for any couple in which one person is interested in parenting while the other is not. But it’s too late to undo what has been done, and it’s likely that you wouldn’t change things if you could. After all, you got what you originally negotiated for – a baby. The easiest way to deal with this conundrum (i.e., being down in the dumps because your husband isn’t doing “his share” of the parenting) is to grow comfortable with your decision and to accept that you may have to raise your child without a co-parent. Don’t blame your husband; he gave you what you negotiated for. Don’t blame yourself, and don’t look back. Look forward.
Assume the position of a “single parent,” even if you remain married (one is not necessarily contingent upon the other). Accept that you are going to be the person responsible for feeding, changing, bathing and providing whatever the baby needs – or will need. This isn’t an easy position to take, but it is a liberating one. This does not mean that you must do everything yourself, just that you will be responsible for making sure things get done. It’s OK, even smart, to rely on your resources (e.g., your family, friends and even hired help).
In fact, this is something anyone with children must be prepared to do. I have four children, and while I currently have a devoted co-parent, she could always leave us – either by choice or by death. And I would still (happily) be a parent. For me, being a father has its own rewards, completely unrelated to my mate.
Finally, strongly consider loving your husband for the person he is. It sounds as though he loves you. After all, he married you and wanted to remain married to you so much that he was willing to negotiate. And if you get the compromises and balance going with this child, he might agree to father another one (if you have the energy to raise it) and maybe even to willingly co-parent. I am smiling as I present this thought. It sounds as though there are the makings here of a wonderful family that thrives and loves one another, as they are.
Remember, being true to yourself and allowing your mate to do the same are the first steps to being a Powerful Person in a Partnership.
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