He Says He Wants Kids – But Does He Mean, “I want YOU to have kids”?

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.”

“Yes.”

“How bad?”

“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.)

RELATED: Will the childfree regret not having children later?

~ ~ ~

Sylvia D. Lucas is the author of No Children, No Guilt and What Every Woman Wishes Modern Men Knew About Women

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33 thoughts on “He Says He Wants Kids – But Does He Mean, “I want YOU to have kids”?

  1. Susan

    I think this is often what men mean, although they never do say THAT directly. My ex was pretty much of the same mindset when he tried to convince me to have another child. The scene at Thanksgiving where the wife had to forget about eating HER dinner because “baby comes first” was me (and every other new mother) almost twenty years ago. And that was by NO means the only warm meal I didn’t get to eat. No way was I going through all that again.

    From this and other personal experiences, I can honestly say that most “traditional” (ie conservative) men believe that taking care of the baby is “women’s work,” which they simply think they’re “too good” to do themselves. While this may not be true of all conservative men, I haven’t met any men who are the exception.

  2. cheri

    I absolutely Love how you handled your ex. That is the exact mindset of most of the men in my country. They don’t mind being fathers if you (woman) do most of the work.

    I’m currently in the process of talking to my long term boyfriend about having kids. I don’t want kids and he does really mind as he believes it’s what’s expected. I will bring up this topic again using your excellent reasoning. Does he want to be 50% responsible for a child?

  3. Michelle

    When my husband and I were in the early stages of discussing kids, he said (I kid you not), “Well, you can just stay at home with them, like how [his sister & SIL] do.”

    I immediately ripped him a new one because he assumed: 1) that I was willing to leave my career (I’m not), 2) he did not make any implications of how much child care he would provide and 3) that our standard of living would not change if I did leave the workforce (I make more $); and did not provide any supporting info that my being a SAHM is even doable.

    I watch nowadays my sisters-in-law jump up and take care of the kids; while the brothers-in-law sit in the living room & talk baseball ALL DAY. Where did they learn this 80%-20% behavior? Their parents, of course. I have not seen my FIL feed, burp or change any of his 8 grandchildren… and I’m not adding to the brood until the men provide 50% care for their progeny!

    [End of rant]

      1. Michelle M.

        I’m a plan-maker – I decide by pro/con lists. I asked him to write out a spreadsheet of how this is going to work out, since we can’t conceive naturally. $30-50k out of pocket (no insurance coverage) just to MAKE a child. So I asked him how we’re going to raise this child once it’s born, when we’ve got $50k less in the bank.

        I asked him this a couple months ago. I know he won’t come up with one b/c he’s not a list maker. He’s a “oh, everything will turn out just fine” kinda person. So I figure if he wants me to change my mind, he needs to prove his side via my decision-making style.

    1. Kami517

      Michelle, Ha! Your response is exactly what I encountered when having a discussion with my husband.He said the same thing to me. I immediately had to chime in and say…uh no I’m not going to be a full time SAHM IF that’s what I want (babies) I want to work. Especially in a time when we as women work and contribute 50% or more to the household financially and the primary caretakers in the home. I’m a fencesitter on this but the more I talk to parents, research and just really acknowledge my own intuition, I really don’t think parenting is for me.

      So glad I discovered this site. If it’s one thing I value so much and take away from is to NOT give in to pressure and stand firm in my conviction. Children brought in this world should be wanted 200% and not for any other reason.

  4. Cheri

    We’ve been talking about this all lot lately and he’s coming around to the idea of not having kids. He likes the idea of having disposable income and we’re starting to talk about traveling. Until three months ago, we never really thought we had a choice when it came to having kids. It’s silly, I know. It was something we were both raised to expect eventually. I’ve always been somewhat hostile toward the entire childbirth process. In my country, women aren’t allow epidurals and die from complications in childbirth all the time. The stories of negligence I heard from my mom (who works at the hospital) hasn’t done a lot to inspire confidence in the whole medical care system.

    I’ve actually begun to seriously look into tubal ligation and I’m trying to work up the courage to discuss it with my gynecologist. Wish me luck.

    1. Best of luck, Cheri. I hope you remember when you go in that it actually shouldn’t (in an ideal world) take that much courage. It’s your life, your decision – no one else has the right to tell you that you MUST have children. (If they try, ask them, “Why?” See if they’re able to come up with a logical reason.)

      1. cheri

        @Shannon

        Trinidad and Tobago which is classed as a developing country. Women aren’t allowed pain relief because most have to give birth in a public hospital and it’s cheaper for the government. Fathers also aren’t allowed in the delivery room, so women labor alone and then give birth in a room with nurses/midwives that they’ve never met before.

        I have no idea if the UN knows about this because our government does not care. They can afford to send their wives and daughters to private hospitals where there is pain relief and the father can be present for the birth.

        Basically, if you want the decency of choice, give birth in a private establishment.

  5. carly

    Wow. I absolutely adore this advice. Surely, my boyfriend has asked himself these questions and is very comfortable being the stay at home father. But that doesn’t mean i’m comfortable having the child in the first place. But still, I can see myself asking someone this question even if they knew they didn’t want kids…just as a judge of character and how they view a relationship.

  6. Ange

    Thank you so much Sylvia, for this blog!

    I am in the process of getting a divorce at the moment from a man who wanted to have children (I have never, ever felt the inclination for them), but he didn’t want children with ME, he wanted children because he was getting older. And I knew that from the way he treated me and what he expected of me, my life would end up being – 2 children, no ambition job that paid the $$ he expected me to earn, full-time mother who gave up everything so that HIS children and HE could have what they wanted. Ummm, no thanks!

    Now that I am away from him, I couldn’t be happier, particularly with my decision not to have children.

  7. Z

    When my husband and I first got married I was still operating under the assumption that I would “want kids some day”. After all, my whole family had said I would, and I was so young when I got married (22)… AND that was my second marriage (we’re in the bible belt where you MUST be married to have sex, and so at 19 I got married the first time.

    My husband (the current one) wanted kids and I figured at some point I would, too, but then I REALLY didn’t. Every year that passed the whole thing seemed more horrific from pregnancy all the way through to college. It seemed more like a horror film than a life a woman would choose voluntarily. (for me anyway.)

    When I confessed my feelings, it almost ended our marriage. He felt I’d married him under some kind of false pretenses, but the truth was, I just assumed I had been young and stupid and by the time I hit 25 or 26 I’d just crave a baby like I was “supposed to”. It didn’t happen.

    I told him I absolutely didn’t want kids and it was either me or babies. If he wanted kids it would have to be with someone else. (Whether he would have taken on half the kid raising, I’m not sure. He probably would have since he does a lot of the housework, like mopping because I always leave streaks!) In the end, he chose me.

    There were bumps in the road for a little while but gradually he came to understand that he’d wanted kids for the wrong reasons (He hadn’t had a father and was trying to compensate for something he’d lost/missed out on in his own childhood.) Now he’s as rabidly anti-parenthood as I am and tells me often how happy he is he married me. (I suspect no small part of this is that most women would have assumed babies were a wonderful idea and he would have had them before he realized how awful they could be.)

    Early on he was also very anti-abortion, now I know if I needed one, he’d move heaven and earth to make sure I got one.

  8. Tanya

    I stumbled upon your blog and have enjoyed reading different posts.

    I’m 32 and I’ve been married for 7 years. We have no children.

    I have had several conversations with my husband (who is 46) about having children. I asked him if he really ‘wanted’ a child or he really ‘needed’ a child. I said to him that if it was such a significant thing for his life, then I’d be happy to let him go find someone else to fulfil the need as I wouldn’t want to hold him back from such experience or waste his time while I’m still very undecided.

    Similarly to your story in this post, I said to him that I would be happy to have a child with him if, after the child arrived, I could go to work 4 days a week and he would have to be the one caring for the child during those 4 days, that he would be EQUALLY responsible for waking up every few hours during the baby stage, changing nappies, potty training, arranging playgroups, children’s activities, pick-ups and drop-offs at school, and any other needs that would arise. I wouldn’t mind the cooking and teaching the child little things around the house as I normally like those things.

    His facial expression after he heard this told me that he didn’t want children THAT badly. It was obvious that the idea of him caring for the child 4 days a week would be disastrous for him.

    His response was:
    “Well, that’s impossible. I’m a workaholic…………I want children but I don’t want them 24/7”

    I said to him:
    “Well, then I don’t want to have children if I’m going to have to be the main carer like most mothers”

    One good thing about him is that he isn’t one of those men that assumes that those parental duties are entirely a woman’s responsibility.

    This discussion is to be continued I suppose. But it’s settled for now without having to say much else.

    I actually would like other people’s view on something regarding being child-free, etc. But I’ll probably email you instead as it would be too long to write here lol

    1. I’m sorry it took me so long to approve this for posting. Thank you for sharing this. It really does make people think a bit more about how much, or whether, they want children when they have to look at it in a way that positions them as a primary caretaker. What a revealing moment (and I don’t mean that in a way that should sound like it’s putting him down). He probably learned a lot about himself and what he wants during that conversation.

  9. Tara

    Thank you everyone for posting. I now have a better response than just no… And not talking for 3 days. Also. I’m pretty sure everyone here is a Capricorn woman. Just saying lol

  10. Jen

    When I met my husband, we both didn’t want kids. I admitted that I didn’t know if I’d change my mind someday. Well 5 years later, all his friends were having kids and he was begging me for one. I still didn’t want them. He got depressed to the point of saying he had nothing to live for. I gave in and was crying the day we got pregnant. I ended up having a miscarriage. I felt relieved. He slipped back into severe depression. I ended up resigning myself to one child. I’m currently 37 weeks pregnant and I have absolutely loathed my whole pregnancy and even contemplated deserting him with the baby, whether it be killing myself or running away from home. All I can say is it really really sucks when you and your soulmate don’t end up on the same page about kids…

    Oh and I’m a Capricorn and at least he is going to be a stay at home dad…

    1. Jen, I wish I had something brilliant to say to you. All I can say is that I truly hope the two of you will seek counseling.

      Some women who never wanted children say that once their “oops” child was born, they were transformed and couldn’t imagine life without them. I hope that happens for you.

      1. Anonymous

        Fast forward, I had my child two years later. I was back working while I could barely sit up from being torn down there less than a week post partum. (I work freelance from home) despite being the bread winner, because I was breastfeeding,taking care of baby was mostly upon me (hubby complained baby didn’t like being with him alone) I had to beg to even get time to work (you know to pay for our bills) and was severely depressed/overworked/stressed/and furious for the first two years. Now our son finally “likes” his dad so he’s willing to step up and watch him when I need to work to finish a deadline. It was so ridiculous I can’t even talk about the unbalance. And his lack of acknowledgement of the unbalance despite my attempts to be calm, rational appreciative, desperately crying, threatening divorce you name it. I love my baby fiercely so I’m willing to be a shell of a person for his safety but I already have him helping me do laundry and sweep and dishes because I will not allow him to burden his future mate the way I have been.

  11. This post brings up such an interesting perspective. I know I see so many men (and even women!) who just assume that when they have babies, the woman is the one who has to do all the work. It’s crazy that even today, our gender roles are so rigid that nothing seems to have changed. Even though it’s 2013, the women are still supposed to have children and support them while men go off to work to support their families. How old-fashioned. And sad. I think we should all think for ourselves. If we don’t want kids, we are making a mature decision and taking control of our lives.

  12. Shannon

    I’m getting a lot of the same thing because I’m getting married again, and we don’t want any more than the one I have. “he doesn’t want a boy?” “I want to be an aunt.” “Y’all would have such a cute baby.” Yeah, well I’m bipolar with arthritis, if you want to make sure I get the 10 hours of daily sleep I require come on and do it. It pisses me off to be seen as selfish for depriving him, and to have my daughter seen as less than a son.

    1. Anonymous

      You actually could answer the same as Sylvia did to her husband. When people are asking you why you don’t want a second one: ‘Hey, I need my sleep, but if you want me to have more kids: shall I drop my baby with you at nights?’

  13. Jeff

    If everything is going to be 50/50, then we seriously need to reevaluate the process of divorce in this country. I do not believe that 50% of divorced fathers custodial fathers with mom having weekend visitations and paying child support. I have always taken a primary role in my children’s lives, but the consideration was not even entertained for me to get primary custody of my first two children. Our society conditions us to think that mom is the primary caregiver, if we are to change that to 50/50, it should result in 50/50 across the board.

  14. First of all, big LOL at “I don’t want them 24/7”. Ok, so we’ll just order them for the week days then! Like Lite’n’easy! (Actually, there could be a business idea in that…)

    If I were a man, I think I’d be much less concerned about having or not having kids. If I were married to a woman who wanted them, and who was prepared to do all the work, I’d probably shrug, impregnate her, and head off to play golf with my mates, secure in the knowledge that if it all got too much for me I could shack up with my secretary and move to the Bahamas, and nobody would judge me for it.

    But I’m a woman, and I’d have to carry the baby, birth the baby, feed the baby, feign interest in baby clothes and food and everything else…and if I decided I wanted to bail, I’d never be able to escape the guilt society would thrust upon me. Imagine telling someone you left your own children, as a mother. They would react with horror.

    I don’t even HAVE the darn kids and the people around me make me feel guilty about THAT!

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