When I was married to my second husband, Ted (whose name is not Ted), we had the kids conversation before we got married. (This is discussed in both No Children, No Guilt, and – in a slightly different context – What Every Woman Wishes Modern Men Knew About Women.) The consensus: It was fine that I didn’t want kids.
However, a couple years later, kids came up again. He wanted them.
“Come on,” he said. “It would be neat!”
I tried to see his point of view.
Tried to imagine a child crawling around. Tried to imagine our child crawling around. There were things about it I admittedly didn’t hate. Although I grew up with absolutely no desire or inclination to be a mom, on the rare occasion when I gave it serious thought, I could see why people enjoyed it.
I really, really wanted to make sure I was considering it from all possible angles. After all, it’s the one permanent decision one makes in one’s life (outside of getting a tattoo, but even that can be lasered off).
Karen Charlton, in “How Do You Know When It’s the Right Time to Have a Baby?” writes,
I think the decision … is actually a lot more significant for You, the woman, than for your Mr. You have more that will change. (He will still keep his job, work the same hours, things will just be different when he’s at home).
She wrote this in a letter to a friend, so it’s fair to say her friend might already have decided she wanted to stay home and that most of the change would, in fact, be hers, but in terms of offering advice to a wider reader base, it misses an important mark.
When Ted starting talking about his “sudden” (it was always there – he just didn’t tell me) desire to have kids, I couldn’t help but remember a scene from the dinner table when I was visiting the in-laws over Thanksgiving. His brother Paul and Paul’s wife Ashley had recently had a baby, who was in a baby seat at the table next to Ashley. Paul ate his tasty warm dinner gratefully, glancing now and then at his wife while she struggled to get the baby to eat, struggled to get the baby to simmer down, struggled to get the baby to sit still in the chair. Not once did she touch her food.
Eventually, she got up and pulled the baby out of the chair, having still not taken more than one bite of food.
“I’m going to see if a nap helps.”
Paul halfheartedly asked, “Want help?”
“I got it,” she said, already on her way out of the room.
Later, after the baby had woken up, Paul played with it a little bit, but when it came time for things like changing it and cleaning it, Ashley was back on duty.
No way, I thought. That is NOT the kind of parenting roles me and someone else would have. Fifty-fifty as much as possible.
Still, that was the environment Ted and his brother were raised in.
But because Ted had always seemed a little less traditional (although, I had to admit, his “traditional” side was revealing itself more and more the longer we were together), I had reason to hope he felt the same way I did about equal parenting responsibilities.
I said to Ted, “You want a child.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what if I wanted to go back to work after having one? Would you want to stay home and take care of it? Can you imagine being the one to make the doctor’s appointments, buy the clothes and groceries, figure out what day care to take it to, get it enrolled in school, and all that?”
For a minute, he said nothing.
“Because,” I said, “the care would obviously be divided equally between us [eyebrows raised to make sure he got that part], but if you don’t want a kid so much that you’d be willing to do everything involved in caring for it, I–well, it would say to me that you don’t really want one.”
He left the conversation somewhat frustrated. (I understand completely. What’s a traditional man to do with a woman who isn’t traditional?)
He did, actually, want a child (or children) – but only as long as I would be the one to do most of the work. I knew then that if ever I were to decide I wanted a baby, it wouldn’t be with him – or with anyone else who didn’t really want children, but who merely wanted me to have and take care of their children.
My point: The decision to have a child should always weigh just as heavily on the man as it does the woman. If you (a man) don’t want it bad enough to take care of it beyond making money, you don’t want it bad enough.
After all, the woman could say she wants to stay home at first, and then decide later that she wants to go back to work. Or she could die. She could leave you and the kids. Always assume that having a child means being a full-time father, and then ask yourself again, “Do I really want one?”
(Note: This is not in any way intended to denigrate men or fatherhood. It is a response to the notion that men don’t really have to think about having children, or that they should expect that having them means there will be minimal disruption to their lives, which implies that their role in their child’s life is largely insignificant, an idea movies and magazine articles – and even many women – have perpetuated for far too long. Note #2: The use of the word “it” was intentional to protect the privacy of my ex and his family, and to avoid the cumbersome use of s/he, he/she, he or she, she or he, etc.)
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Sylvia D. Lucas is the author of No Children, No Guilt and What Every Woman Wishes Modern Men Knew About Women