Care and Feeding

My Husband and I Always Agreed We’d Have More Than One Child

Now he’s changed his mind.

A woman with her hand on her stomach.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 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,

My husband and I are both in our early 30s and we have a wonderful 3-(almost 4)-year-old whom we both love very much. About a year ago, I approached my husband about having a second child, with the notion that our children would be 3½ years apart, and he said he would rather wait, as raising a toddler is difficult (true). But recently I brought up getting pregnant again and was floored when he said no, he didn’t want another child. We have only ever discussed having two (my preference) and three (his preference) children. Clearly, we didn’t discuss this enough, and obviously not recently enough, as I am in shock.

Upon further inquiry, my husband gave me the following reasons for not wanting more children: 1) Our son’s birth was rough; 2) a co-worker of his has been trying to get pregnant (unsuccessfully) and he doesn’t want them to feel sad (also: we should be happy with what we have); 3) a good friend of his just lost their baby (shortly after birth) to a terminal abnormality; 4) stress at work and worrying all the time about our son; 5) when I’m not home in the evenings (which is rare), he finds it hard to manage our child (who is not hard to manage but is a typical 3-year-old); and 6) after his birth, our son had to spend time in the NICU and if this next child were to need to stay in the NICU, we wouldn’t be able see them due to COVID (but of course this birth would be hypothetically 10+ months from now).

I really don’t know what to do. COVID in general has added stress to our lives, as it has for many others. And I do feel that this pandemic plays a big part in his anxiety. I suggested he look into finding a counselor to talk to, as I don’t feel it’s normal to be as worried as he is. Am I wrong to keep pestering him about another child? I want another child—it’s as simple as that. I know I will regret it if I don’t. But I also don’t want to have a child my husband will always think of as the one he didn’t want. And obviously I need the two of us to “make” a baby.

—Baby Fever

Dear BF,

Let’s not call it “wrong” to keep pestering him—let’s call it “unproductive.” I’m afraid that pestering is rarely productive anyway, but given his laundry list of reasons, and your sense that he is suffering (I think so too), I do think you need to stop. I’ll point out a couple of things. One is that when people offer a long list of completely unrelated reasons they are saying no to something, what it comes down to is that they’re not sure why they’re saying no; all they’re sure of is that no is the answer. (All of the things he lists may indeed play a part in his unwillingness to have another child right now. But I don’t think any of them, much less all of them together, exactly explain it.) Therapy may help him work this out, if deep down he does indeed want to give your son a sibling (or two) and this is temporary panic. Is it possible that he has changed his mind? Well, yes. If it turns out that he really does no longer want to have more than one child, you will have a very hard decision ahead of you. But before you make that decision, the two of you are going to have to have some hard conversations.

If you were five or 10 years older than you are, I would suggest you start having those hard conversations now. But given all the circumstances here (your age, the pandemic, his level of anxiety), I would take a breath. Yes, taking a pause means you will not have two children with the age difference you’d hoped for. But it’s pretty clear you are not going to have children timed in the way you had imagined anyway. Give your anxious husband some space and time—I mean, like, a year—and then bring it up again if he hasn’t, himself. See where you are at that point. And then you may have a critical decision to make: Are you going to accept that you will not have another child and remain in this marriage—or is having another child so crucial to your happiness that you will decide to end this marriage and proceed on your own (there’s more than one way, of course, to have a baby) or hope to meet someone else who wants to build a larger family with you? Whatever you do, do not “accidentally” get pregnant if he is certain he does not want a second child.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am 29 years old and just found out that my husband of six years and I are expecting our first child. My parents have had issues with us being together from the beginning of our relationship because he is Black; they fought for over five years to try to keep us apart. Eventually we got married, and they acted as if they were happy (and as if they had never disapproved!). This hasn’t been the best situation, but until recently it’s been manageable enough to have a long-distance, surface-level relationship with them.

When I told my mother I was pregnant, she cried and complained about how she will never get to see her grandkids. She accused me of plotting to keep them away from her. And then later she mentioned that she still doesn’t understand why I couldn’t have given them “a heads up” about my husband’s race prior to introducing them to him. I haven’t spoken to her since (it’s only been a few days), but she has called my brother to try to get him on her side, which didn’t work, and then attempted to rope my younger sister into it as well.

I’m considering ceasing all contact with my parents but having a hard time with whether that’s the right decision. At a basic level, I feel like it is partially my job to help take care of them when they get older, and that it would be cruel to abandon them even if it is because of their own lack of acceptance of my life. I’m also afraid that one day I’ll regret cutting them out of my life and not letting my children meet their grandparents. Still, our relationship isn’t healthy. And I don’t feel like my husband should have to continually deal with their racism, which he will if I allow them to remain a part of our lives. What should I do?

—Hurting Daughter

Dear Hurting,

First, full disclosure: I believe that cutting a family member, especially a parent, out of one’s life should be a last resort. I’m not suggesting that there is never a reason to sever contact with a parent: There are plenty of situations that call for pulling the plug. But from what you’ve told me in this letter, I don’t think you’re there (at least not yet). I think you should exhaust all other options, starting with a frank conversation in which you lay out for them exactly why you have pulled back from the relationship in the way you have, before you go for the nuclear option.

When you do so, you can lay out rules for the future, including a zero-tolerance policy for racism. Will they object to being characterized as racist? You bet. So try to frame this in terms of what you expect from them going forward, rather than litigating the past. In fact, I would be very clear about your lack of interest in discussing anything you did or didn’t do when you were 18. In turn, you can offer to start fresh with them, and perhaps they’ll be relieved you don’t want to revisit the battles of your late teens and early 20s, since it seems they have an inkling, at least, that they behaved shamefully.

Is there hope for their disavowal of racism, willingness to be educated, and recognition that if they want to have a relationship with their grandchildren, they will have to change? Maybe. If I were you, I’d look very closely at any evidence of hope before taking the drastic step of removing them from your life. Maybe there is no hope; maybe you and your family would be better off without them. But it’s clear to me that you’re not sure that’s true. And I have seen for myself that people can change if given a chance to and they truly want to. So don’t give up yet, OK?

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Dear Care and Feeding,

A few years ago, a friend and I each started fertility treatment. Early on, my chances looked unpromising, but after a surgery, a lot of heartbreak, and various difficult treatments, I became pregnant and now have a child. My friend was able to become pregnant several times, but every pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Each time she announced a pregnancy, it was painful for me, but I remained supportive. And, of course, when the bad news followed, I did whatever I could to give comfort. We both had long, difficult experiences.

When I became pregnant, she withdrew from me immediately, and in the years since, we have maintained only a distant friendship. Occasionally we get together, and when we do, I take special care not to talk too much about my child. I’m hurt, but I’ve never felt I could express this, because I suppose she is hurting more. Our friendship was always a little unbalanced: I didn’t get the support I gave in return, but it was an extremely valuable friendship to me regardless. Should I let this go? Should I try to have a conversation about it? How do I even begin?

—Can’t Seem to Let It Go …

Dear CStLIG,

Friendship is so much more complicated than it’s generally given credit for. And the very word friendship is used to describe so many different kinds of relationships—some of which are worth fighting for and working on, in the ways I’ve described in my letter to Hurting Daughter (when it comes to our parents) or the way we work on our marriages when they hit a rocky period. I have friends, as I feel sure you do, who are as important to me as the members of my family: When those friendships run into trouble, I give it everything I’ve got to make things right. Sometimes it doesn’t work. I’ve given up on two close friendships that I’m still in mourning for, years after they ended. But they were irreparable. In one case, I recognized finally that the relationship was causing me so much pain I had to walk away from it; in the other, I tried to hold on and was turned away.

I don’t know enough about your friendship with this woman to know if this is a relationship worth fighting for. From what you’ve said, it sounds as if its foundation was cracking a long time ago—and your remark about offering her support but not being supported in return set off a little alarm bell in me. This, I’ve learned, is the sort of foundational problem that can make a broken friendship irreparable, I’m sorry to say. I don’t think there’s any way to talk about this with her that ends well (I say this from hard experience). Given the information I’ve got to work with, I’d say that you have two choices: let this friendship go altogether or accept it on the terms it’s on (distant and cautious). I can see that you are longing for a closer relationship with your friend, but under the circumstances, it doesn’t seem like that will happen. If the current level of relationship with her is unsatisfying to you, I think you ought to step away from it. The sad truth I’ve learned is that you cannot force someone to be the kind of friend you need her to be.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife recently passed after a six-year battle with early-onset dementia. Our 12-year-old has been dealing with this for at least half of his life—or, really, even longer, as her symptoms started well before her diagnosis. The last couple of years in particular were rough on both of us. His reaction to her death so far has been almost blasé. He hasn’t cried. He says it’s like someone he didn’t know has died. I think he mourns growing up without a mother (before, and now) more than he mourns his actual mom, whom he doesn’t really remember. I can show him photos and videos from when she was younger, but while I don’t want to create false memories for him, I do want him to know that his mom was an intelligent, capable woman, and that she loved him beyond measure. Once when he saw a video of her before her illness, he expressed surprise that she was speaking in complete sentences. He was in therapy for a while, which helped with the stress of living with her, but once she moved to a skilled nursing facility, shortly before her passing, he felt he no longer needed to see the therapist. Other than talking about who she was, any ideas on helping him get to know, and maybe mourn, his actual mom?

—Mourning for Two

Dear Mourning,

I am so sorry for your loss, and for your son’s. As you already know, these are two very different kinds of losses, and while I can imagine how difficult it must be to see your son (appear to) shrug off his mother’s death when you are in so much pain, I don’t think this is the moment to help him get to know her so that he can mourn the woman she was.

I think you are going to have to be patient with him. My guess is that some of what’s happening is his version of being self-protective, and some of it is about being 12, which is a rough, transitional stretch even for kids whose lives have been going well; some of it may be him irrationally lashing out at you, in his own way, and/or about separating himself from you and your grief. There will come a time when he will want to know who his mother was. I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by pushing it by asking him to sit down with you to look at videos or photos. In the meantime, I think it would be helpful to insist that he see a therapist whether he wants to or not (he’s a child; this decision should not be left to him) because a good therapist will help him access the loss he is suffering, which you recognize to be a deep and longer-term one than his mother’s recent death.

I think if you feel moved to talk about your wife as you remember her, when you first met and during the years you spent together before her symptoms began manifesting—and in particular your memories of her as a mother during your son’s early years—you should (in other words, don’t suppress that impulse). But for a full-fledged deep dive into getting to know her, wait for him to ask.

It must be very hard to mourn for her without the company of your son’s mourning. But don’t mourn for two. Mourn for yourself, and make sure you have someone (who is not your son) to talk to about your grief. And be available to your son for whatever it is he needs right now. I send both of you my love.

—Michelle

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