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If you’re a woman who wants children, you’ve probably been made all too aware of your ‘biological clock’.
Though many women are now having children in their late thirties and early forties, we know the chance of becoming pregnant decreases with age, while the risk of complications goes up.
And if you’re in a relationship with a partner who doesn’t ‘get it’, tensions can build.
This is the problem facing this week’s reader, Sara, who wrote in to say: “My husband says he’s not ready to have children but we’re in our mid thirties. I’m scared he’ll force me to leave it too late. What can I do?”
Psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Beverley Blackman says this conundrum is “more common than people imagine”. She tells Sara there are many reasons why one person may feel ‘ready’ for children while the other doesn’t, and these are worth considering.
“For some, the decision to start a family comes easily and naturally; for others, it really doesn’t,” she says. “When you reach your mid-thirties, it’s possible that your career is stable and settled – perhaps you are very career-driven and focused, and you don’t want anything to prevent you from moving forward with that.
“Perhaps you are settled in your relationship and you are happy with the dynamic, and don’t want that to change. Perhaps you are focused on other things, like paying the mortgage, taking the holidays you’ve always dreamed of, enjoying time with friends and family, and a baby would inhibit your lifestyle. Perhaps you already have children from a previous relationship and don’t want more.”
Other reasons people may not feel “ready” for children – if they’ve expressed a desire to have them eventually – include not feeling financially secure, worry a relationship isn’t strong enough, or emotions tied to self-doubt.
“These can range from feeling that you wouldn’t be a good parent; that you wouldn’t have the time, energy or wherewithal to engage with one; fear of it being overwhelming; fear that it’s an irrevocable decision that you cannot go back on,” she says.
“Perhaps you feel unsupported by those around you, or insecure in some way – you may not trust yourself to manage parenting in the way you’d ideally want.
“Perhaps you feel it would wreck your relationship with your partner and put strain on you both. Usually these deeper reasons are built on fear, lack of trust or misgivings of some kind, often based on your own previous experience or observations of your parents, grandparents, and family dynamics of those around you when you were young.”
What practical advice would you offer this reader?
Blackman says it’s always worth knowing how your partner views starting a family in the early days of a relationship. If they say they want children “in the future”, finding out what this means is helpful to you both.
Sara is now married and the conversation is past this stage, so Blackman recommends finding time to talk calmly to her husband to explore his feelings and why he may not feel ready – if he does indeed still want children eventually.
“It’s a huge decision and one that needs exploring. If it’s too emotive or too difficult and the conversation quickly becomes heated and pressured, consider a few sessions with a couples therapist or coach, who will be able to act as mediator and allow you both to explore your feelings and share them within a contained and controlled setting,” she says.
“Also, talk to friends – those with children and those without – and see how they are finding parenthood (or the thought of it) and how they cope. There are so many views, feelings and ideas – both conscious and unconscious – about becoming a parent, and they are ones worth talking about.”
What can you do if your partner doesn’t feel the same way about children?
If you’re not on the same page or you simply live in hope that your partner will change their mind, then you may have to face up to being disappointed, says Blackman.
“How important is it to you? Is it a deal breaker, or could you defer to your partner’s wishes?” she asks. “Often, there are very strong feelings either way, because there is no middle ground to having a child – either you have one, or you do not.”
If your partner wants children but feels they are not ready, it’s worth asking them what might help them feel ready.
“This way, you get a sense of whether practical matters, such as changes to lifestyle or career, or feelings, such as not knowing what to expect and bringing about irrevocable change, are at the root of them not being ready,” Blackman says. “Change is inevitable and for many people, it’s unpredictable and scary.”
It’s vital that you both communicate, understand and respect the other’s point of view. It’s also worth finding out whether what looks like a straightforward ‘No’ is actually ‘Not now’ and what that might look like.
“For women, with their body clocks ticking, they may be more focused on time than men, and this is something that both of you need to account for,” Blackman says. “But perhaps your partner’s mind is made up and nothing is going to get them to change it. In which case, sadly, the question does arise as to whether this is the right relationship for you both.
“If you want children and you stay with someone who doesn’t, will you always carry a corner of resentment towards them in your mind? How will it affect you? If you have a child because your partner wants one and you don’t, will you carry anger and annoyance towards yourself for ‘giving in’, and towards them for pressuring you? How might each of these scenarios affect the dynamic of your relationship?
“Having a child or not having a child is a yes-no decision – there is no middle ground, and there are a lot of considerations to be made, both practical and emotive. Sometimes you are on the same page; sometimes you graduate towards the same page – and sometimes, you don’t.”
Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.