A charmed life

After five perfect years my wife has decided she wants kids, but I don't. Should I give in or risk losing her?


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Cary Tennis
April 9, 2004 11:55PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am a very happily married man of 33; my wife is 30. We have been married for five years and have had a charmed life. We've lived in fabulous cities around the world (Paris, Rome, New York), have great friends, family, the world's most wonderful dog, and a fabulous old house. We spend our time together reading, painting, working on our house, and just generally learning as many new things as possible. I'm an architect and find myself in the middle of interesting projects all the time. I love my life, I wouldn't change a thing -- and that is exactly the problem.

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My wife is, understandably, ready to have children. I am not. I don't think it's even a matter of my being ready. I just don't want them. Over the last five years I have, for the first time in my life, spent time with children. I have become the favorite uncle. I love being the favorite uncle. I have fun playing with the kids and taking them to the zoo or aquarium. The thing I like the most about it is being able to go home to my life -- my nice, quiet, orderly life -- at the end of the day. I see how all of my family and friends' lives are with children, and I find it horrifying. I dread having my life turn into that.

I've never been afraid to voice my opinion, and my wife is very aware of my position on this. As a result, I've gotten the typical rebuttals from family and friends -- it's different when they're your own, it's the most rewarding thing you could do, you'll regret not having children when you're old, etc. -- and I don't buy any of it. Why? Because I see evidence of exactly the opposite all around me. I see the exasperation in the faces of at least 70 percent of the parents I know, the utter deflation at the sound of another whining or crying kid or nagging spouse telling you to do something with the kid, or clean up his mess, or feed him, or change him, or stop what you're doing and direct every ounce of energy and attention you have left to him and his endless needs. And to lend credence to my suspicions, I have had plenty of fathers (I seem to end up spending more time with the fathers) tell me to not rush into having kids. Some even admit that if they had it to do all over again, they wouldn't. Maybe it's the exasperation talking, but it forces me to ask myself, How on God's green earth is this fulfilling?

My greatest fear regarding children is that my not wanting them might drive my wife away from me, and I'm not willing to let that happen. I've gone through every mental exercise I can conjure to convince myself that it won't be as bad as I've seen, that I'll be able to do it better than everyone else, that I'll magically transform when the child comes and be a content, attentive, competent parent. I've tried to change the fact that I'm notoriously selfish with my time and resentful when it's impinged upon. I've failed at this miserably thus far and am convinced that I simply do not want children in my life, and I don't know what to do to resolve this. It very well could end up being the end of my marriage. Should I just bite the bullet and have a few or keep working to convince my wife that we're better without them? Any words of wisdom that might ease the way into parenthood -- or how to avoid it? I am very alone on this issue and could use some advice either way.

Happily Kidless

Dear Happily Kidless,

There is much in what you say. Why, indeed, change anything, if you are happy the way things are? Indeed if perpetual change were not the law of the universe, you would not have to change. But things have already changed. Your wife has announced that she wants a baby, and that has changed everything.

So forget keeping things the way they are.

The question then becomes: In what way are you going to change your life? Are you going to have kids and suffer their inconvenience, or are you going to make your wife resentful and possibly lose her?

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What is more dear to you, your wife or your convenience? I do not use "convenience" as a disparaging term; creative men need simple lives to carry out their work. Convenience is underrated; wives can be inconvenient, especially when they are of childbearing age and disposition.

Still, your selfishness does have a bit of a green, hollow ring, the ring of a young and privileged spirit, which will become increasingly unbecoming as the years pass. Because as the years pass, gravity and connection will be more important to you, and others will expect some groundedness, some scars, some signs of sacrifice to weigh you down and put some gravel in your voice. You in turn will find that the esteem of others matters more to you than it did when you were young; not only will you need the help of others, but you will also need to know that they respect you; you will need to be valued more by others; you will need the deep bonds that cannot be severed for mere convenience.

You will also need people around you who appreciate you even when you talk too long about your buildings -- that is, who like you even if you bore them. You can serve the world as an architect, it's true. But those you serve may not feel undying gratitude for your services; they may think that paying you cash for your work was sufficient. If you make yourself out to be too self-sufficient and happy only when you are in control of your own time, your friends may not always be there when you call; they may fail to recognize how much you require their presence, their voices. You may grow alone and isolated.

It may be that this is the happiest time of your life, not to be repeated. At any rate you have to make a choice. You can either have children and live with the way they change your life, or you can refuse to have children and live with the way that changes your life. If you decide not to have children, your wife will either stay with you but resent you, or she will leave you. If she stays and resents you, your life will become less happy. If she leaves, your life will become less happy. But if she leaves you, at least you may replace her, and your life may again become happy. If she does not leave you, but stays with you, resenting you, growing unhappy because she is unfulfilled and blaming you for it, your life will most certainly become increasingly unhappy.

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So the choices appear to be to either have kids or end the marriage. I'm sorry, but that's the logic of it. If your wife wants kids and you refuse to have them, it's not going to be a happy marriage. So the honorable thing to do is to free her so she can go off and have them with some man who wants them.

Either way, it sounds like the bubble's burst. It was good while it lasted. Welcome to the world of character-building difficulties.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked directory.


Cary Tennis

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