When Your Partner Is the Reason You Want Kids

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Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

For our next few readers, one of the most important factors in the decision to have children was the person they’d be having children with. Tanya and her husband had different plans about parenthood at first:

Briefly, I babysat for hundreds of hours when I was a teen and grew to hate children. My husband and I never discussed whether we would have them before marriage, but for our third wedding anniversary, I cried and blubbered (over a few beers) that if he wanted children, he should leave me because I wasn't inclined toward motherhood. He said that although he would like having kids, he would never leave me, he loved our life, and we would just get more dogs. :)

For our fifth anniversary, I gave him prenatal vitamins as a gesture because I’d turned the corner. I knew I wanted the relationship that comes with adult children (my husband and I have great bonds with our parents). Plus, I’d decided that my real problem was with children under the age of 10, and I knew my husband would be a good enough parent to make up for my shortcomings as the mother of younger kids. It turns out I’ve loved every age that my two sons have been (oldest is 19, youngest is 16) and it was a great decision.

Other readers have also described their partners’ parenting skills and desire for kids as the final, most concrete factor that made them ready to take on parenthood. Katherine was on the fence about kids, but wanted to try the “adventure” of parenthood, and “thought my husband, who knew he wanted a child, would make a fantastic father.” Karine Bell was likewise ambivalent until she met her now-husband, who told her on their first date that he “couldn’t wait to become a father”:

He was just oozing with great-dad qualities. I’ve always said that I never knew I wanted children, until I knew that I wanted children with him: I wanted to co-create life with this amazing man.

And yet, a split decision about parenthood between two people who otherwise want to spend their lives together can also cause a great deal of tension and heartache. At 18, this reader was “madly in love” and sure she wanted kids with her 24-year-old partner, until an “oops” pregnancy made her realize she might not be ready:

The intensity of the relationship was replaced with stress and drama—a roller-coaster ride of do we keep or not keep this child? I decided no, he convinced me yes, and he got the baby girl he hoped for. Ultimately, this led to the destruction of our relationship.

Luckily, she adds of her daughter, “my oops was the best oops I ever made.” Meanwhile, this 44-year-old reader is currently conflicted:

I was married before, young, and had two miscarriages in my twenties. I figured that I would never have a baby and that was that. After I met a fabulous man in my mid-late thirties, I told him I couldn’t have kids. He seemed fine with that and glibly said we could adopt. Fast-forward to after we got married and it became apparent that he wanted to have children.

I felt pressured to start fertility treatments, which was expensive and which we did for several years. I even tried egg donation, which I wasn’t totally on board with but was committed to the idea of trying not to miss out on the life experience of having a baby and raising a family with my husband. None of it worked, and it was very draining emotionally, physically, and financially.

At this point, we’re looking into adoption, but I still have the question mark in the back of my mind: Will this be the best thing that ever happened to me or a commitment that I make that will make me feel like my life is over in the blink of an eye?

Are you someone who feels pressured into having kids for a partner’s sake? Or, have you ended a relationship because you and a partner had different goals when it came to parenthood? We’d like to hear your story—anonymously, if you prefer. Please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

In the meantime, here’s Virginia, who had to make the decision on her own (and if you’re weighing the choice to become a single parent, let us know):

I was 28, with a man who vowed not to have kids. He was on a six-month trip to South America (in those days, 1980, that meant you were not in touch, except for one or two places where he might receive a letter). The night before he left, I got pregnant, despite birth control. No way to talk about it or decide together. A letter would not arrive before I was 4 months pregnant.

What decided it? I had had abortions before and after the last one, vowed to never put myself through that particular violence again. I was, and still am, pro-choice, just knew I would not do that again.

I also had a small inkling that if I did not have children, I might be self-absorbed my whole life and the thought of that life made me very tired. I thought being a parent might make me more generous and kind.

So I decided to have the baby, even if my partner said he would not be part of it.

Spoiler: He did not leave, but instead he was generous about it. We ultimately raised three children together. I have never regretted the decision.