Having a baby is, without question, the biggest and most life-changing decision a person or couple can make. It’s rare that two people are ready at precisely the same moment. It can be frustrating, and maybe terrifying, when you’re ready to take that leap and he is not.
Here are 7 strategies that can help you navigate this challenging scenario together.
1. Listen with an open heart
This is a vital component of working your way through any marital dispute—or, for that matter, any conflict with anyone else in your life. Most of us are so busy trying to get the other person to see how right we are that we fail to take into account their reasons, emotions and perspective.
Ask him why he wants to delay, what his hesitation or concern is about. Try to set aside your own views temporarily (which is really hard to do!) and just listen. Pretend he’s your best friend talking to you about a spouse who isn’t you. Reflect back to him what you’ve heard him say, and ask if you’ve accurately captured his perspective. For most people, feeling heard immediately lowers their tension level and makes them more open to hearing your viewpoint.
2. Acknowledge your own concerns about becoming a parent
Many people are reluctant to acknowledge any ambivalence about becoming a parent; it’s somehow not considered socially acceptable. But as I always remind clients, it’s really the only non-reversible decision that we make in life. You can always change your career path, sell your house or divorce. But how often do you make a lifelong commitment to someone you’ve never met?
Along with all the joy of parenthood, it brings with it loss of sleep, loss of personal time, a shift in your relationship dynamic and financial pressure. It’s far too great an undertaking not to have at least a few flickering doubts. Maybe he’d feel better if he knew he wasn’t the only one with some ambivalence lurking in the shadows.
3. Explore family legacy issues and other concerns
People who have been raised in an intact family where there was a lot of happiness, fun and love might feel ready to embark on parenthood without a lot of exploration. People who had less-than-ideal circumstances might have some baggage they need to sort through before feeling ready.
Maybe your partner is scared of repeating negative or abusive patterns. Or maybe he’s watching friends’ marriages suffer as they raise kids and is worried that your relationship will end up like what he sees. Whatever the concerns, they’re worth exploring, whether that’s in conversation with each other, in a journal, with each of you reflecting quietly on your own or in counseling.
4. List the obstacles and then brainstorm possible solutions
Define the criteria. “We don’t have enough money” is different from “I want to have X in our savings account before we conceive.” Is it important that you live close to extended family for support and help with childcare, and you currently don’t? Does one or the other of you need a job with better benefits or more job security? Maybe he wants the two of you to be able to take a trip that wouldn’t be feasible with kids, or maybe he wants to renovate the house first.
It can help to be specific about goals or criteria that you both agree to meet before conceiving—while also remembering that life is full of the unexpected, and there is never a perfect time to have a baby.
5. Take breaks from hashing it out all the time
Endless conversations, especially if each of you is just reiterating the same points over and over again without any progress in compromising or understanding each other, are counterproductive. Usually, each person just ends up digging in their heels more firmly.
You might agree to table the issue for a given period of time and revisit it again at agreed-upon intervals. Try it; some internal shifts are likely to occur during those “break” periods.
6. Enlist the help of a therapist
If you’re both entrenched in your positions, having trouble hearing each other, or if the issue is beginning to cause real tension and unhappiness in your relationship, a neutral third party can be very helpful in sorting out the issues and developing a plan with you.
7. Remember the places where you are aligned
Perhaps it’s on the very concept that you do both, in fact, want to have children at some point. Maybe you agree on the way in which you want to parent your children, the values and beliefs that are important to you about how you raise your children. Remind yourself about the big picture. Having a baby is important, yes, but so is making sure that your marriage is strong and happy before you plunge into raising children.
In the long run, you will be on much more solid ground because you waited until both of you felt ready. Or as ready as anyone can be for such a momentous change.