Care and Feeding

I’ve Had Radical Change of Heart About Having Children

Where do I go from here?

A woman holds a stuffed animal.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Iuliia Burmistrova/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I (a cis woman) am in a relationship with a (cis) man I love very much. We’ve been dating for 11 years, and we came into this relationship with the understanding that neither of us wanted kids. We had (and still have) a lot of emotional issues around kids and their upbringing. He was an orphan at a young age and his father abandoned him; I was severely neglected as a child and have a (manageable) disability because of it. Our mutual sense was that we liked children but felt that we couldn’t provide proper care because we were too damaged.

Well, after six years of therapy, medication, and a few sessions of couples counseling, I have come to terms with my childhood and now believe I can handle raising a child and fulfilling their needs. With that revelation, came an issue: I now crave so much having a bond with a child that I tutored kids for several years, applied for childcare jobs (which I didn’t get because I had insufficient experience), and feel my heart ache when I see a toddler crying. I am so sad when I think about how I won’t ever have a little one in my life. I know my boyfriend still doesn’t want kids and totally believes he can’t handle raising them (which may be true). I will not leave him over this. He is the kindest, most generous person I know, and even his way of not wanting kids is based on empathy, so I love him all the more for it. So, do you have tips on how to either kill or manage my desire to have a child of my own?

— Forbidden Craving

Dear Forbidden Craving,

The bad news: This “craving” is probably unkillable, and like all cravings, it’s going to be difficult to manage. You seem to clearly understand that there is indeed a stark choice to be made here, between staying with your boyfriend (and not trying to cajole or bully him into becoming a parent, as so many do) and having a child—and you seem to have already chosen the former. If you are as certain as you suggest that you are, the good news (if there is good news in this hard situation), is that eventually you will be at peace with this. It may take years or decades, but I do know people who’ve made such a choice, and who seem in late middle age and beyond to be OK with the choice they made, even though it was very difficult for them when they were in their 20s and 30s and, for some, even into their early 40s.

I think you’re on the right track, finding ways to have children in your life without being a parent. Indeed, everyone I know who once wanted to have children and then didn’t, because they had cast in their lot with someone who adamantly did not want to, plays active roles in the lives of the children of their friends and/or siblings. Volunteering to work with children—being a Big Sister, for example—would be a great idea. You’ve already mentioned tutoring, and many public libraries maintain homework help programs staffed by volunteers. There are no doubt other ways you can get involved that are specific to your own community. And there are lots of ways one can have a profound effect on children’s lives. My guess is you know how much it would have helped you to have adults other than those in your family available to help you.

And if you think there is any chance that your boyfriend may grow into the confidence that he would someday be a good parent—as you have—you might ask him if he’d like to try doing some of this volunteer work too. Even if you don’t think there’s a chance that he will make the sort of progress you have, it may prove to be healing for him. And embarking on this kind of service together may bring the two of you even closer.

— Michelle