What you need to know:
By digging into both you and your partner’s motivations, trying to understand each other’s perspective, and keeping an open mind, you can have a more productive conversation around this stalemate.
Coming from the traditional setup, children were revered as the glue that held a marriage together. Then, the more children the merrier, with women being expected to biologically add to the family brood. With dwindling economic resources and emerging modern mindsets, however, families were forced to re-think their big-family attitude, as family planning helped women limit the number of children they bore.
Today, the approaches have changed slightly because of more modern realities. First, men too want to be included in planning for their families, then there is the ‘childless by choice’ ideology as well as the realities of economic shocks on the family and the rise of the career woman. Added to this is the rise of the blended family where people are open to marrying spouses who may have had children from past relationships.
Jackline and Phillip are childless by choice. The married couple in their early 40s say they do not regret their decision and are more than happy to be together.
“We thought having children would come between us. That feeling has not and will never change,” asserts Jackline.
But then what happens when in such a setting, one partner wants children and the other does not?
That was the situation 43-year-old Mina found herself in four years ago. Mina and her ex-husband were married for three years before they seriously discussed the topic of having children. He did not want any, she was not sure.
While dating, Mina remembers talking about moving to a bigger house with extra bedrooms for children, only to be met by vague comments from her ex-husband.
At first, Mina was quite comfortable with the thought of not ever wanting children, until she was diagnosed with fibroids, back in 2016.
“It occurred to me that I actually wanted children. The doctor advised that I had to go through an urgent surgery if I was to have children in the future,” she explains.
Her husband was not so concerned. He still did not want children. As days turned into months, finally a year later, Mina found herself anxious and unsettled.
“After a year of trying to make things work and wrestling with my wants versus his, I finally realised that I would rather be a mother than stay in the marriage. Divorce was the only way out,” she adds.
Nearly three years on, Mina is a mother of twins and is married to another man.
For Beryl, 40, her choice was a different one. She and her husband already had three children, but Beryl’s ideal has always been four.
“Two girls and two boys, that was my dream,” she says.
Her husband objected as he feared a fourth child will squeeze their already tight budget, plus he felt he wanted peace of mind from raging toddlers.
Still, Beryl, who believes the choice on the size of the family lies with the woman, got out of her birth control method and got pregnant. “It is my body, I chose to carry another baby,” she says.
Though her husband was displeased at first, he has come to accept the new addition. “We are married; did he have a choice?” Beryl poses.
It is not been a rosy affair for Caro. The 36-year-old mother of three and a banker based in Nairobi is in constant argument with her husband. She wanted five children but her husband insisted on them closing the chapter at three.
“Our disagreements are mostly about whether to add more children or not. I want us to add two more. I feel by doing this, then our family will be complete. On the other hand, he is contented with three. In fact, baby number three came after I convinced him,” adds Caro.
As blended families become routed in modern relationships, spouses who want to feel like one unit that can have fun, share, and rely on each other, feel the pressure to get a child (ren) together.
But there are conflicts. Is everyone prepared emotionally? Will the other children feel like they are going to be loved less? What about the age gaps between the older children and new additions? Or maybe you think your body might not be able to handle another birth or you are at an age you simply do not want the bother. Lastly, you may not be prepared to go back to diapers and have sleepless nights.
That was part of the dilemma Pam faced. The divorced mother of three teens, remarried and she could not have been happier.
“I met this new man and we clicked from the first day. He gave me a reason to smile after an awful marriage experience. He too was divorced and had two children,” she says.
Then the conflicts over more children set in. Pam who is in her late 30s wants them to have at least one child, but unfortunately, her husband does not.
“He is in his early 50s and he does not want to go back to diapers. Also, his children are in college and he feels that having a child now would be disrespectful to them. It is quite frustrating,” she says.
According to life coach Benjamin Zulu, discussing your desire for children (or lack thereof) earlier on in a relationship might seem uncomfortable and untimely, but if ignored, it could be a tough nut to crack down the line.
“Having the conversation about having or not having children, or even the ideal number, should take place during the early periods of a relationship. Remember this is the time when you figure out whether you are going to be in a long-term relationship or not,” he adds.
The notion of figuring it out later is a dangerous one, according to Zulu. “There are extensive variables that go into making a marriage work and topics not only on children but also finance and sexual expectations, should be addressed early and clearly,” he adds.
Marriage counsellor, Pastor Phillip Kitoto says this is the time to ask those important questions. “Nowadays, most couples do not discuss their area of disagreement before marriage, thus find themselves in a quagmire.’’
He adds: “Postponing these kinds of discussions to avoid friction, will definitely cause problems later on. As a couple, you must communicate to ensure you have reached a position of agreement.”
As a couple, Zulu says, most of the time you must find a way to negotiate or find compromise in these areas. “For instance, is there a way that the man can accommodate the thought of having even one child, or as the woman are you ready to drop your desires of having more children?”
Pastor Kitoto says the partner that wants children immediately should ask themselves if they are emotionally and physically prepared to do so.
“For the one that prefers waiting for a few years, they should be able to ask themselves questions such as whether starting a family now will prevent them from achieving other things. Most importantly, both partners should ask themselves if they are ready to change their minds on when or if they are will have children moving forward,” he explains.
Though having children is highly regarded in marriage, under some circumstances, Pastor Kitoto says, it should not be the deal-breaker.
“There are couples who for one reason or another cannot have children. Should that take away their happiness especially if having children is not possible perhaps due to a biological issue? It is during such times that the couples should look deep inside themselves to see what brought them together in the first place, without the children in the picture,” he says.
According to Zulu, if you cannot reconcile yourself to a relationship with no children, it will be best to go separate ways. “You have to be happy in a relationship or marriage, and that will not be achievable if you completely suppress your dreams for the sake of the other person.”
What to do
Keep an open mind. If you have a closed mind and do not attempt to understand your partner’s feelings, you will make it difficult for your partner to open up to you.
Know your true feelings. If you are the reluctant partner, is it because you are scared of going through the first year again, worried you will not love another baby, or concerned about the financial implications of another child? If you are the partner who wants another baby, are you trying to replicate your own childhood, worried about your biological clock, or feeling less needed now that your children are growing up?
Explore all avenues.