Care and Feeding

My Boyfriend Broke Up With Me Because I Don’t Want Kids

Maybe I should reconsider.

A twentysomething woman with her arms crossed, lost in thought
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by PRImageFactory/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a straight woman in my 20s and until recently was dating a man in his early 30s. Despite our chemistry, he broke up with me because he wants to have children and I don’t—not in the near or distant future. I do not dislike children. I have worked as a teacher and a librarian with kids of all ages and enjoyed it; I simply don’t want any of my own, and I have always been vocal to my partners about this. But until now, I have mostly dated men closer to my age for whom that might not be a big issue (yet). This experience with the somewhat older man has left me questioning my worth as a romantic partner. While I’m not interested in being a mother, I am very invested in a long-term partnership, and I’m wondering if as I get older and all the men I date are out of their 20s, my answer to “Do you want to have kids?” will make me undesirable to them. The men I am attracted to are caring, thoughtful, and nurturing—it’s no surprise that once such men are in their 30s, they would want to be dads (and would be great at it). I guess the reason I am writing to you is that I’m wondering what your thoughts are on changing your mind about starting a family because you love someone. If one partner is unsure about having kids but does so anyway, is the whole thing doomed from the start? Is a sacrifice of values just a model for the sacrifices you would make for your kids?

—Not Really Maternal

Dear NRM,

Well, for starters: My thoughts on “changing your mind about starting a family because you love someone” are don’t have kids if you don’t want kids, no matter how in love you are with someone who wants them. Nobody who doesn’t want to be a mother ought to be one. It’s a lifelong job, and it’s not one anybody should be half-assed about—or take on to please (or hold onto) someone else.

But at the end of your letter you switch your language from “not wanting to” have kids to “unsure about”—and you are also still young, which makes me pretty sure you aren’t as sure as you start out claiming to be, even without the linguistic shift. In my 20s I was pretty sure I didn’t want kids, and my search for the ideal romantic partner was (in retrospect, terrifyingly) single-minded. In my mid- to late 30s, I was way more interested in having a child than having a partner. So things can change with time.

It’s good that you’re honest with the men you date. And it’s OK that this latest guy called it off, though I know it made you very sad (and, it seems, regretful); if he’s ready to start having kids soon, you’re not the right partner for him. If there is even a tiny chance that you may think and feel differently about this as time passes, I think it’s fair to tell the guys you date that you are pretty sure you don’t want kids. I don’t think it’s fair to add, “But I might change my mind someday!” even though I’d advise you to keep that in your back pocket, since you may.

In the meantime, as you get into your 30s, you will meet men who don’t want to have kids either. You’ll meet men who aren’t sure. I promise that not every caring, thoughtful (or even nurturing) man in the world wants to be a dad. And I certainly don’t believe that anyone should make the “sacrifice” of having a child for the sake of a romantic relationship. (It’s also in no way a model for the sacrifices parents make for their children.)

Let this last guy go and don’t look back. And if you ever do start thinking you might want to be a mother after all, don’t waste your energy regretting that you lost Mr. Let’s Have Kids. I am going to go out on a limb here and assure you that you will have chemistry again, with someone else.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My faith is an important part of my life, and for many years I was fortunate enough to be a member of a socially progressive and racially diverse church. But we have moved to a different state and are now really struggling to find a church where I feel good about the lessons (explicit and not) being taught. We’ve been going to one church in particular where the people are friendly, the programs are great, the church does tremendous good in the community and has spoken (seemingly) authentically about the need for radical change surrounding issues of racial justice. But there are things we simply don’t agree with—think LGBTQ acceptance and marriage equality. To find something much closer to our belief system, we’d have to travel almost an hour, which is simply not sustainable.

Are we part of the problem if we keep going to a church that is not 100 percent in line with some of our core beliefs? It would be exceptionally difficult to face a future without a church family (we are literally on the very last option in our smaller town), but recent events have made me feel like my short-term comfort is not worth compromising these life-guiding values. I’m just so sad about everything right now, and I desperately want to avoid bringing more pain into the world. I’m sure I know your answer, but how do I explain it to younger children in a way that recognizes it’s OK to grieve the loss of those fun, faith-based activities without devolving into morbid, sad, big-picture things they are too young to fully grasp?

—Wanting to Practice What I Preach

Dear Wanting,

You’re right, of course—short-term comfort is not worth compromising your life-guiding values. And even more important is demonstrating this to your children by your every deed. Children are influenced by lots of forces over which you will only have (at best) partial control—other children and their parents, teachers, TV, movies, and eventually social media—but their first and most consistent and persistent influences (and most crucial teachers!) are their parents. You will largely shape who they are going to be.

And it’s clear who you want them to be. The explanation for your withdrawing from a church that preaches intolerance—like everything else we explain to our children—needs to be age-appropriate, and with very young children offered only when it’s asked about. As they get older, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to provide a broader and deeper explanation. It’s not morbid to let them know, no matter how young, that your family is firm in your belief that everyone is worthy of love and respect. I am very hopeful that your kids are going to grow up in a world in which marriage equality is not up for debate—in which ideas like those this church espouses represent a truly fringe view. If you hope similarly, then no amount of fun activities can possibly make up for this.

I’m really sorry that this means you won’t have a nearby church family—I can see what a loss this is to you. I know you will be able to practice your faith—and teach it to your children—whether you’re regularly attending church or not, but perhaps you could make a monthly visit to the church an hour away? And be on the lookout for fun activities that aren’t church-based that your children can participate in. Also, perhaps as you get settled in your new home, you’ll meet other families in the same boat and you can create a sort of extended family with them. Communities arise in many different ways—I know this from experience. I hope you can find or launch one that will provide you with the support you long for. You deserve it.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am sure I am not the only one in the nation now confronting my white, privileged, and sometimes racist upbringing. My parents were certain they were not racist. They truly had black friends. They didn’t seem to mind that I also had black friends. They valued music and TV shows that featured black people—but only the “right” kind of black people (I could watch Family Matters, but I was forbidden to see Save the Last Dance; I could listen to Alicia Keys but not Ja Rule).

Looking back now, I am aware that there were teachable moments in my life and that my parents used them to teach me the wrong thing. For example, when I wanted to wear fake dreadlocks to a poetry reading in my seventh grade English class, my mom said I could do it only if there weren’t any black people in my class (luckily, there were). When I was even younger, I wanted the American Girl doll Addy—and while they eventually got it for me, they made a huge deal out of it and talked about how they were buying me the doll even though it would upset my grandma. There were also more offhand remarks about black people on TV than I can recount. At one point, my dad gave me a speech about how there were good black people, and then there were N-words (which I later realized was plagiarized from a Chris Rock sketch). My grandparents, whom I saw at least once a week, were not casual; they called people on TV “darkies.”

When I worried out loud to my parents about the things my grandparents had said, they always dismissed it: “Ignore Grandma—she grew up in another time.” Now, when I bring up these things, they gaslight me, telling me they never happened. I am worried for the future of my parents’ relationship with my daughter (now 2). As she gets older, how do I help her navigate her feelings about the racism she might encounter in front of my parents? How do I help her process these emotions? Is there a way I could empower her to stand up to them when she knows what they are saying is wrong?

—Anti-Racist in Alexandria

Dear ARiA,

It’s never too early to teach children to stand up for what’s right. And it’s never too early, either, to give them the tools they’re going to need to navigate a world that isn’t always just—especially when they encounter that injustice close to home. I don’t think it’s ever too late, either, to become a better person, so don’t give up on your parents. It sounds like they’re ashamed (even if they’re in denial, it’s because of shame!) of the ways they failed to live up to the standards they claimed to believe in—and it sounds to me like you love them despite the ways you now see that they failed. All parents fail in one way or another (or in many ways).

I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by getting them to admit to these failures. Concentrate on how to help them be better now. When they say or do anything that you know is wrong, call them on it. If you do this firmly but without being unkind to them (this is going to take practice), you will model for your daughter a way to counter their “casual” racism when it shows up. Raising her in such a way that she sees racism as an absolute and inexcusable wrong will mean that she will be surprised—shocked—when she runs into it. Teach her that it’s more than OK to register her surprise, even with her grandparents and others she loves. Her surprise (and displeasure) may do more to change your parents than any argument you have with them. And while it’s tricky, yes, to teach children that people they love and who love them (not to mention figures of authority who will have power over her, such as teachers once she is in school) can be wrong and can and should be challenged, it’s worth doing. I know you wish someone had taught you that, long ago.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter will soon be a year old. She will nap only under certain conditions: being held by me, or after about 15 minutes of heavy-duty rocking in a chair. When I hold her, she occasionally can be put down in my bed beside me and will sleep a bit longer. But both of these methods are unreliable at best, and if I move away, she immediately wakes up and cries, no matter how deeply asleep she had seemed. She also wakes and cries if I try to put her in her crib during the day, no matter what the circumstances are. We have blackout blinds in her room, I’ve tried sitting with her while she falls asleep (she does not fall asleep), I’ve tried waiting for her to cry it out at “nap times” (after a week or two of this taking up much of the day, I admit I gave it up). Lockdown has exacerbated this, as the day is not broken up by outings or seeing friends. I am exhausted, she must be exhausted, and I’m struggling to find time to do anything around the house or enjoy the time I have with her. Help! Should I just give up on trying to get her to nap?

—Tired. So Tired.

Dear Tired,

You will not find a more sympathetic ear than mine. I had one of those kids too. She hated napping, and at your daughter’s age we had reached the point where it might take hours to get her settled for a nap—and then it would never last for more than 40 minutes, tops. There were days when we both cried from exhaustion.

What ultimately worked for us was deciding to give in to what she wanted. I didn’t put her in her crib, I didn’t try to leave her. I didn’t, in other words, do all the things one is supposed to do. I would lie down with her, facing her, nose to nose, and slow my breathing down. I’d close my eyes. I kept a book beside me, but most days I ended up falling asleep right along with her, and we’d both get some rest. And if I didn’t fall asleep, or I did only briefly, I’d silently pick up my book and continue to lie beside her and read peacefully until she woke up. It was the only way either of us ever got any rest on days when I was not teaching and we were at home together. (Here’s a curious addendum, though: When she started part-time day care, she did nap there—sheer peer pressure, I suppose, since all the other toddlers were napping on cots all around her!)

Other parents have reported that the simple act of motion works (it never worked with my daughter, but it’s worth a try). Friends with kids like mine (and yours) suggested putting her in a stroller and walking with her till she fell asleep—and then leaving her in the stroller after we got home to nap. Others had kids who napped in cars (mine would become extra-alert once we started driving). Who knows? Maybe one of these nap hacks will work for you.

For what it’s worth, my own anti-sleeping child (who even as a newborn never slept more than eight hours out of any given 24—i.e., she was born this way) is a champion sleeper as an adult. Unlike her mom, who has never been very good at it.

—Michelle

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