What to Do When Only One of You Likes Kids

Seven tips for bridging the divide.

Posted May 22, 2020

You may be someone who not only loves your own children, but who loves children in general. They make you smile. They make you laugh. You enjoy them. When you’re around kids, you feel happy and settled.

But maybe your partner has no particular feelings for kids—or only negative ones. They may have zero feelings for “kids in general” and, truth be told, not much feeling for their own kids. Oh, they aren't mean (too often), aren't absent (too often), and would never quite come out and say, “I really don’t like kids.” But kids don’t make your partner smile and when they're around kids, yours or anyone else’s, their mind is a million miles away and they're itchy to be elsewhere.

Maybe you knew this all along and just hoped that your partner would fall in love with their own kids, or at least warm to them. Maybe you didn’t know, especially if lip service was paid to wanting kids, and maybe you only gradually came to realize that it wasn’t just a matter of “thinking about work a lot” or being “really busy at work,” but just not liking family life much at all.

What can you do about such a fundamental divide? Here are a few tips that can help make matters at least a little bit better:

1. Call your partner on being mean. Even if one doesn’t have many positive feelings for one's kids, no one has the right to be a bully, to denigrate them, to shame them, or to be mean in any way. None of that is okay. Calling out such behavior may do nothing to bridge the divide and may even get you in hot water, but it is the right thing to do.

2. Call your partner on being irresponsible. Just as a disengaged or disinterested parent doesn’t have the right to be cruel, he or she also doesn’t have the right to act irresponsibly. Parents need to pick up their kids when they say they will, honor agreements with their kids unless genuine emergencies arise, and just plain act responsibly. 

3. Ask your partner directly if there is anything about being with the kids that they like. Maybe camping is tolerable, or even enjoyable? Maybe they used to play an instrument and might like playing music with the kids? Or always liked to draw and might enjoy drawing with the kids? It’s worth asking, “Is there anything you really like to do that you might like doing with the kids?” Maybe it will surprise you both.

4. See if maybe your partner is feeling a bit excluded from parenting. Maybe you’ve inadvertently taken over the whole parenting role and your partner might feel warmer toward the kids and closer to the kids with more permission to be involved. This negative dynamic can play itself out subtly over time, with the non-involved parent getting more and more uninvolved with each passing month. Check in on this, first with yourself, then with your partner.

5. Wonder aloud, as carefully as you can, if there is something in your partner that needs to heal so that he or she can feel more love toward the kids; maybe toward you as well, and maybe even toward everybody. This will not be an easy conversation and it may come off sounding like an accusation, but if you practice what you want to say and deliver it from a loving place, it might just lead to some breakthroughs.

6. Chat carefully about the difference between “never really wanting kids” and “now having kids.” This is another difficult conversation to have, because it is hard for this to sound like anything but criticism. But if you start with, “I know you never really wanted kids” and really pause, that pause honors that you are respecting their truth and reality. Then you can carefully go on to say, “But we have Billy and Mary and they need both of us” or something similar. This is another “fingers crossed” conversation that might blow up in your face. But it also has the chance of opening a door to real change and improvement.

7. Love your partner. Try not to withhold your love because he or she isn’t loving the kids well enough. Such withholding would rather mirror his own withholding. Maybe you can’t love as well or as fully as you could if your partner were in loving relationship to the children, but you can still try—and that love may warm your partner and help him or her love your family.

Nothing about this situation is easy. But you don’t want to throw in the towel and presume that nothing will ever change. Stay hopeful, try out the above tips, and see if a door opens. It might!

If you’d like to learn more about how to deal with common parenting issues, please take a look at our program for parents called Raising Sane Kids in a Crazy World.