Intimate Partners

How do I initiate a conversation with my new partner about my interest in having kids as soon as possible, without scaring him/her off?

Raising the issue of children can be a hot topic in any relationship, but even more so in a relatively new relationship. You’re really just getting to know each other and haven’t even decided to make a commitment to each other and to this relationship, much less to having a child together. You may not have known each other long enough or well enough to be able to judge what kind of parent this person would make, or what s/he values and believes about how kids should be raised. You likely don’t have the kind of history together to even make an informed guess about these issues.

But you definitely know that you want to have kids, and you don’t want to invest too much time and energy in a relationship with someone if s/he doesn’t want to have children. So, you might as well raise the issue now rather than avoiding it and finding out weeks, months, or even years from now that you want different things. If your partner has no interest in having children, or is interested “maybe sometime down the road” but not in the near future, it’s likely better to know now.

You might want to bring up the topic of kids after spending some time with friends or family members and their children. Or if you’re at a park on a sunny day and see all the families picnicking and playing games, you might want to take that opportunity to raise the kid issue.

If it turns out that s/he is adamant that being a parent is not for them, don’t assume that in time they will change their mind. That might happen, but it likely won’t.

If your partner says s/he might be interested in having kids, but not in the foreseeable future, it is likely worth exploring this issue a bit more. Find out if your partner has a tentative timetable in her/his mind about when s/he can imagine having kids (e.g. “when I finish my degree”; “when I have a stable job”; “when I don’t have to travel so much”). Explain where you stand on this issue, and see if there is some way that your timetables might line up.

On the other hand, if your current partner is very vague about when in the future he/she might be ready to have kids, you will need to be cautious. Too often people invest many years in a relationship, being told by their partner that they are interested in having kids but they aren’t ready yet. After years of delays and waiting for the “right time” they find that their partner really isn’t committed to having kids (there never will be a right time for her or him). By then, they may have run out of time to find another partner who really is interested in having kids. Or they find that they are no longer fertile and have missed out on the opportunity to have children. So if you know you want kids, don’t let that happen to you.

My partner is ready to have kids but I’m not. What can we do?

It can be pretty stressful when you and your partner are out of sync in terms of when to start trying to have kids. Assuming you’ve talked about the issue of having kids and are both in agreement that this is a step you both eventually want to take in your relationship, there are some important questions you can ask yourself:

· When do you think you might be ready?

· What’s holding you back? Maybe you’re afraid of what you’ll have to give up to fit a child into your life right now.

· What needs to happen for you to feel ready?

· Will you ever feel ready?

· Is there something about this partner that makes you not want to pursue having a child with him/her? Maybe you have concerns about whether your partner will make a good parent, or whether you’ll end up with most of the parenting responsibilities.

· Is your partner willing to wait until you’re ready or is this a deal-breaker for him/her?

· Is there a compromise position that might work for both of you?

This is a life changing decision so you need to ask yourself the tough questions, and be 100% honest with yourself. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready. And if it you have concerns about your partner’s parenting potential, or about how your relationship might change with kids, or about being saddled with too much of the parenting responsibilities – then have an honest conversation with your partner. And if that isn’t enough – get some counselling. You don’t want to force yourself into a situation that you’re going to regret, and you don’t want to bring a child into the world if you’re not ready – personally, and as a couple – to change your life.

But know also, that many couples never feel fully “ready” to take on this new role and the responsibilities that go with being a parent. And it is very common for partners not to be “ready” at the same time. Like many other issues in a long-term relationship, coming to an agreement on when to throw those birth control pills down the toilet or when to throw away the condoms, takes communication and compromise.

And if the two of you are able to come to an agreement to delay starting your family for a few more years – until you’ve had a chance to finish your education, or get your careers established, or travel, or buy a condo – depending on your ages, you both might want to consider having your current fertility tested and possibly preserving your fertility to give yourselves a better chance of success when you’re both ready to start your family. Read more about fertility testing and preservation here.

I’m ready to have a child but my partner isn’t and I feel like time is running out. What can I do?

It can be pretty stressful when you’re ready to have kids but your partner isn’t – especially if you feel like the clock is ticking and time is running out. So the first thing you likely should consider doing is getting your current fertility tested. There is no sense getting into a panic and stressing yourself out unless you have a good reason. So get this information first. And in the ideal world, get your partner to have his or her fertility tested as well.

At least then you’ll have some concrete information to add to your discussions and decision-making.

If you’re sure your partner definitely wants to have kids at some point, you’ll need to have a frank conversation about his/her expectations around when having kids will fit into your lives. Your partner might have some concerns about having kids or might be reluctant for a number of different reasons. Try to get a handle on when your partner thinks that s/he will be ready? Find our what needs to happen in your partner’s life and in your relationship for your partner to feel ready?

The stakes are high and these conversations can get pretty heated. So if you hear something that doesn’t sit well with you, try not to get too defensive or to overreact. Let your partner know how you feel and why you don’t want to wait, then give your partner equal air time, listen, and try to understand your partner’s side.

One great way to better understand your partner’s position and feelings, and to get your partner to understand your perspective, is to turn the tables. Put yourself in your partner’s position and present “your partner’s” case. Then have your partner do the same – putting him/herself in your position and presenting “your” case.

It is important to know that these conversations often have to be revisited more than once before reaching a decision. Sometimes you plant an idea but your partner might need to get used to it or think it over before responding, and vice versa.

If your partner is truly not ready to start a family “yet”, try to reach an agreement on postponing for a definitive period of time – for example, in a year when he finishes the project he’s working on, or in two years when you have more job security and can take a parental leave. Don’t leave it too open or ambiguous. Otherwise time will fly by and you’ll find yourselves 5 years down the track but no closer to having children. If you agree to a postponement, one or both of you also might want to consider preserving your fertility to increase the chances you’ll be able to have kids when you’re both ready.

Despite your best efforts to come to a resolution on this issue, you might find yourselves at a stalemate – unable to reach a compromise that is acceptable to you both. Given the importance of this decision and the fact that fertility declines with age, you might want to consider seeing a counsellor to help the two of you work through and resolve this important issue.

It is possible that when all is said and done, it doesn’t seem like your partner will ever be ready to have kids. In that case you may need to ask yourself:

· Is this a deal-breaker?

· Are you willing to stay in this relationship and risk the possibility of never having children?

· Is having kids more important to you than staying in this relationship?

· If you stay and end up never having kids, will you regret it? Will you blame and resent your partner?

Depending on your answer to these questions, you may need to consider the possibility of parenting on your own. See our section on Single Parenthood.

My partner doesn’t feel a need for kids in his/her life, but I can’t imagine life without being a parent. Whose needs should take priority?

Both of your needs are important. Balancing needs can be challenging. It becomes quite difficult when these needs don’t line up and may even be in opposition. Have an honest conversation with your partner. Express your strong desire and need to have children. Is he/she willing to have children so that you can fill this need? Or is his/her need equally as strong not to have children? If you reach a stalemate, you may want to meet with a counsellor to help you work through these issues.

There are times in every relationship where you have to compromise your needs for the needs of your partner and vice versa. Maybe it has to do with whose career takes priority first, or where you decide to live. This kind of give and take is important in any healthy relationship. However, if having kids is really important to one of you, and if not having kids is equally important to the other, whether or not you have children is one of those decisions that often is a deal-breaker in a relationship.

That said, if there is no way of reaching a compromise that meets both of your needs, you have to ask yourself some tough questions:

· How strong is your drive to have children, and what needs will be met by being a parent?

· Can you meet these needs in other ways that will be satisfying and fulfilling?

· Can you imagine your life in the future – in 10 or 20 or 30 years without children?

· Is this relationship more important to you than having children?

· If you agree not to have children based on your partner’s needs, will you be resentful?

The last question is particularly important, because resentment in a relationship – particularly over such a significant life choice – is a bit like a seed. Once planted, it can and frequently does, grow and fester. It can become like a poison, affecting every aspect of your relationship.

Sometimes we have to say goodbye to relationships when our important needs aren’t being met. This can be incredibly painful and difficult, particularly if it means leaving someone you love. But if, in your heart of hearts, you can’t imagine a life without children, then summon up the courage and leave. If you have time, you may find another relationship with a partner who shares your same needs and desires to become a parent. Or you may decide that time is running out, and elect to become a single parent by choice.

My partner and I agreed before we were married that we wouldn’t have kids. Now she’s changed her mind. What do we do now?

This is a difficult situation, and one that a number of couples find themselves facing. You likely feel confused, hurt, and upset because what you thought you’d agreed on has now shifted. It can be frustrating to find yourself facing this situation when you believed it had been resolved, particularly if the agreement not to have kids together was reached before you committed yourself to this relationship, and was a condition of committing yourself to your current partner and this relationship.

Remind yourself that your partner hasn’t changed her mind to make things difficult for you. She is likely feeling surprised and upset too that she’s now questioning a decision she really thought she’d be okay with. You made it clear in advance that this issue was a “deal-breaker” for you, so she may be afraid that you’re going to leave her.

Before figuring out what is the best for BOTH of you, you need to determine what you can live with. Here are some important questions you may want to ask yourself:

· Is there any way that you’d consider having a child together?

· Will the benefits of being parents together, outweigh the costs?

· Is this a good relationship?

· Do you have the same values?

· Would your partner make a good mother?

· Would you make a good father?

· Would you be good parents together?

· How would you feel if this relationship were to end over this issue?

The previous question in this section may also be helpful to your partner.

Try to keep the lines of communication open and try not to get locked into a position. Allow yourselves some time to think and talk about both options before making a final decision.

It can be very difficult to resolve this conflict on your own, so you may want to consider seeing a counsellor to help the two of you work through this important issue.

You and your partner may also find this book useful:

I Want a Baby, He Doesn’t: How Both Partners Can Make the right Decision at the Right Time by Donna Wade (2005).

How do I know if our relationship is strong enough to bring a child into our lives?

This is a good question to ask before having a baby. Sometimes couples think that having a baby can solve their problems. However, the demands of parenthood, particularly in the early years, inevitably put more stress on a relationship. The transition to parenthood is considered one of the most stressful times in a couple’s relationship. You are both thrust into roles that you are more or less prepared for. Your child requires 24/7 attention and care. You will be sleep deprived. Your child may be ill or colicky. You will have much less time as a couple, and all aspects of your home life will be affected by this new addition to your lives. Your work life schedules and availability to travel or stay late for meetings, will also be affected.

That said, having a strong foundation in your relationship is key when considering bringing a child into your lives. Ask yourself:

· How do you both handle stress – do you bicker, or take it out on each other, or are you able to support each other during times of stress?

· How did you handle the adjustment of moving in with each other? Did you find it difficult to make the transition from being on your own to living under the same roof?

· What issues might be challenging for your relationship as you make the transition from partners to parents?

· Do you feel loved and supported by each other?

· Do you trust and respect each other?

· Are you both committed to becoming parents and making the changes and sacrifices that will be necessary to accommodate this new person and role in your lives?

If you feel good about your relationship and the answers to these questions are positive, then it might be time to consider parenthood.

However, if a number of these areas are of concern for you, you should consider working on your relationship before having a child. You have the option of seeing a couples’ counsellor to help you work through these issues. Certainly, if there is any abuse going on in your relationship (physical, emotional, sexual), this is not a good situation to bring a child into. In fact, physical and verbal abuse tends to escalate with the pressures and demands of parenthood. You need to focus on getting help and support for yourself first before considering having a child. Consider whether you’d be better having a child on your own, rather than exposing a child to the risk of witnessing or being a victim of violence.

How do we prepare for becoming parents?

It is important to know that you can never be fully prepared for everything that being a parent involves and for all the changes and challenges you’ll face!

In some ways it is impossible to fully prepare for making the transition to parenthood. The thing about not having kids is that its difficult imagining what it will be like, and what kinds of accommodations you’ll have to make once you become a parent. But once you’re a parent and you get through the adjustments and challenges of the first few months of dealing with an infant (e.g. sleep deprivation), and you find your rhythm, you’ll likely get to a point where you can’t imagine not having this little person in your life.

You certainly can plan some things in advance, like who will take time off work, and how you might accommodate your schedules to be sure you meet your work, family, and relationships demands. You can also check out local daycare centers and even put your hoped-for child on the wait-list for a spot, if there is a long waitlist for the center of your choice. Financial planning is also important if you are going to be going from two incomes to one for a while.

A striking reality about the transition to parenthood is that while you can know your partner as a friend and lover, unless they’ve had kids before, you can’t really know how they’ll be as a parent until you have kids together – just as you can’t know how you’ll be as a parent until you become one. We bring into our roles as parents and partners, the beliefs and values that we grew up with. Sometimes our past experiences make us want to be a different kind of parent than our parents were to us. Other times if our childhood experiences were good, we try to emulate our parents. Whatever the case, your relationship with your partner will inevitably change as your transition from being partners to parents. So start talking now – about your beliefs and values regarding childrearing (e.g. discipline, sleeping) and about your expectations for parental roles and responsibilities (e.g., will you share all the domestic and childcare responsibilities or will these be split down gender lines?). The more you can sort out and talk out these beliefs and expectations now, the easier this transition will be.

Also consider your social support network. In truth, it really “takes a village” to raise a child. So start taking your social inventory now. What kind of support might you need in making this transition, and who in your world might be able to provide this support? This piece will be particularly important if you are making the transition to sole support parenthood.

Some people find it useful to read books to help them prepare for this type of life-altering transition. Some possibilities are:

What to Expect when You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff & Sharon Mazel (2012)

Towards Parenthood: Preparing for the Changes and Challenges of a New Baby by Jeannette Milgrom, Jennifer Ericksen & Bronwyn Leigh (2009)

Here Comes Baby! The Survival Guide for the Transition to Parenthood by Michelle S. Brenner (2001)

There are some resources on the web about preparing for parenthood and the transition to parenthood, which can help you prepare for this new role. A few to check out:

We are a lesbian couple and we both want to have a child using the same donor. How do we decide who should try to get pregnant first?

If you’re both eager to have a child using the same donor, a few different factors can help you decide who tries to get pregnant first.

First, who is older? We know that women’s fertility declines with age. For that reason, whoever is older should likely go first because waiting too long could mean that one of you might have more difficulty becoming pregnant. You both might also want to have your fertility tested. Read more here.

Although fertility declines with age, it doesn’t decline at the same rate for everyone, and sometimes that decline starts earlier for some women. So having your fertility tested can give you both some important information about who should likely try to get pregnant first.

If your ages and current fertility status aren’t issues, then you might want to think about your respective work situations. Does it make more sense for one of you to go first based on who has the higher income or who gets maternity benefits? If so, these factors might be important in your decision.

Aside from the pragmatic issues of careers, salaries, and maternity benefits, it is particularly important to take into consideration the emotional aspects of this decision. Do you feel strongly about trying to get pregnant first, or does your partner? If there is some tension around deciding who goes first, and you can’t seem to resolve it between you, you might want to make an appointment with a counsellor who can help you both unpack the issues and make a decision you both can be happy with.