Family planning is easy if both partners want the same exact thing. But what happens when they don’t? What if one partner wants to have another child but the other doesn’t? How is this (very common) conflict and the resentment resolved? Is there actually a way through it?
Derek, who just welcomed his first kid with his wife, isn’t exactly sure. Derek’s wife is 33 and wants a big family, so if they’re going to do it, they better get a move on. But he’s always wanted a slightly smaller family. When they were dating, the conversations seemed solvable; the conflict, a little bit further off. But during marriage, it became real. Now, with a three-month-old, sleep training, and lots and lots of diapers, the conversation is on hold. But it will begin again. And Derek isn’t sure what he’ll do. He just knows he wants to make his wife happy.
Here, Derek talks about father’s guilt, getting over the three-month-hump, and family size.
My wife and I have been together for about six and a half years now — we’ve been married for four. And, going all the way back to when we were dating, we started talking about how many kids we would want. My wife grew up in a bigger family, and she always wanted at least three, but probably four or five, or even more. She’s got a very nurturing personality, so having many kids fits with her personality.
Myself, on the other hand? I had a small family. It was just me and my sister. I’m an introvert. I’ve always wanted kids, but probably a pretty hard “two” has always been my desire. When we were dating we’d argue, at that time, I kinda left it open that I could be open to having three or four, but that we’d have to take it one at a time. And when we were dating, that was a fine answer. But it’s becoming a lot more real now. We had our first kid three months ago, and we’re kind of in the thick of it.
We also have to make some decisions pretty quickly. She’s getting a little bit, well, not older, but she hoped she’d be done having kids by the time she hit her mid-30’s. She’s 33 now, so time is of the essence.
I look back on our conversations where I’d say, “Oh, I want this many and she wants this many.” It’s not that those feelings are based on nothing. But it’s kind of funny that we thought we had any real indication of what we thought we wanted, or what we actually wanted. When we got married, even then, In the back of my mind I was thinking: if she wants three or four kids, we don’t have a lot of time to wait around.
But we do have to wait until our son is one. My wife had a c-section, so, the doctor told us we should wait at least a year. That’s given us a little bit of time, but had she not had a c-section, I think we probably would have started trying much sooner. I welcome having a little bit more time to have that conversation and make sure we know what we want to do next. I know that she’ll ask me when we’re having the next kid and when.
I think for me, it’s just a timing thing. I want to be able to give my children everything they need in terms of my time and energy. I look at the time and energy required just to have one kid and still maintain a good marriage… and trying to find some balance being a father, with being a husband, with being a professional, and trying to pull back on myself and my career and elsewhere… it’s definitely a little scary. There are a lot of serious balls that I’m already juggling. The last one I want to drop is a kid.
If we have more kids, they’re all going to be very young, they’ll all be around the same age. I think that makes it even more complicated. My wife is very maternal and great with babies and young kids. I don’t know that I really am. It’s been a challenge already and to imagine multiplying that by two, three, four is frightening. I don’t want to let the kids down, I don’t want to let my wife down, and I don’t want to let myself down.
And being a dad is hard. I feel like for the first several months, he was just a basket of screaming, crying needs with nothing at all being given back. He’s reached the age now where he’s handsome, he has reactions, you can feel in the way he looks at you and reaches out… that’s certainly making it easier. I feel a little bit more engaged and connected. That may have been the hardest part of those first few months. I feel so alien around babies. Even my own, to some degree. I never had any sort of experience with that, so learning to hold him and be around him in a genuine way, has been a learning curve, definitely.
I felt guilt about struggling to connect, absolutely. I had read stuff and seen stuff on tv that said: When you have your baby, the windows open, the doors open, you just know, a switch flips. I guess I just didn’t have that same experience. I felt guilty, and my wife was frustrated, as well. She was building this amazing relationship.
After having our first kid, I was just thinking, maybe I do just want one kid. I think that once we get over the initial shock of the newborn phase, I think my desire to have two kids will probably remain. My wife will probably hold on more, but I think it’s hard to tell. I think we had to get to work and catch our breath. But when do you catch your breath? Six months? A year? Is it there at some point on the horizon?
If we have four, five, six kids, and it destroys our marriage in the process, am I really giving her what she needs? What she wants the most? I know she wants a strong and sustainable marriage and I know myself pretty well. I know what I need in order to give her that, and maintain a level of balance myself. There’s a line there.
— As Told To Lizzy Francis