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Having a Baby: When You Don't Agree

Different visions? Find the problem under the problem.

You really want to have a baby. Your partner is less sure; the stabs at conversation are always the same—perhaps, not now, maybe not… or occasionally, I don’t want to do this. You’re frustrated.

This is tough. Opposite ends, polarized, stalled. The challenge here is figuring out the problem under the problem. Some likely interrelated suspects:

Commitment: Depending on where you are in your relationship, having a child or even talking about having a child can seem like a new level, another layer of cement leading to feeling really trapped. We’re okay living together but having a kid…whew—big step! This ties into the relationship (are we that solid, could we break up?) and childhood history (my parents stayed together and were miserable because of the kids).

Visions of life: Here is where the priorities of what makes a good life are on different pages. Being able to travel or move without being tied down with kids or their schedules; focusing on career and making lots of money without distractions. This may change over time, but right now the vision is important.

Fears: Worries about not being a good dad/mom. About birth defects, about the birth process, about cost of raising a child, about problems having to struggle through those teen years where all kinds of problems are always lurking about. The fears are based on scary stories of friends, but most often from past experiences of childhood; Worse-case scenarios take over.

Relationship process. A bit more complicated. Here it really isn’t about having a child but more about the underlying dynamics of the relationship: I’ve been compromising throughout our relationship and I now need to take a strong stand; I’m fed up about you running the show and getting your way—no more!

You get the idea. The baby is just the last or biggest straw, but it’s about changing how we make decisions, about speaking up, about the emotional roadblocks always getting in the way of what you want.

What to do?

Start by asking yourself what it is that you really (in your gut) want? Sounds easy, but this is where couples can get into trouble because they mentally pre-compromise. They cross off their list what they truly want and feel because they believe it will cause too big a conflict. Instead of trusting their gut, they prematurely move towards the middle ground—hedge on the idea of a child, look for ways to put off the issues—rather than fighting for what they want.

And if you discover that you really don’t know what you want, have mixed feelings and not sure why, its time to figure out the problem under the problem—commitment, vision, anxiety, process? Start by noticing thoughts arise in your head.

Commitment. Putting aside the child issue, is there a problem in the relationship—some crack in the foundation—that needs to be addressed? Is it about you and your anxieties? What’s the one thing that would have to change for you to feel comfortable taking the next step towards solidifying the relationship whatever that might be?

Fears. The key to dealing with fear is to run towards it and take action. Worried about the birth process?—get information, get consults. Worried about parenting?—map out your concerns, take parenting classes, go into therapy. Yes, raising a child is an ongoing moving target. There’s lots that you can’t predict and have to deal with in the moment. If that is difficult for you, find ways to both anticipate realistic problems and learn to take things in stride. Here you look at skill training, medication, meditation, working as a parenting team.

Process. This usually is about an imbalance in power, in decision-making, in accommodation, in putting out effort, anger and resentment. Someone needs to step up more, someone needs to step down. Don’t talk about baby, talk about the process and how you need it to change. If it’s too difficult to talk about face-to-face, write it down and then follow up with a discussion, or get couple counseling. This is important to fix whether or not you have a child.

Vision. What, right now in your vision of your life, is most important to you? What gives you a sense of purpose? Here you want to drill down. If it is work, what about work that makes it important? If flexibility, what does flexibility enable you to do? Go deeper. Find that core value that feels like a bedrock rather than yet another fear. This is where integrity starts. Is there a way to retain this value with or without kids? If children are the means, what is the end?

Figure it out. If you are still struggling, get counseling even for just a couple of sessions just to have someone else ask you the hard questions and help you see where you thinking breaks down.

Next step after that—time to start talking.