“Do You Want Kids?”
Of all the questions you could ask on a date, this one’s a doozy. Here’s how—and when—to bring it up, and what to do if you don’t see eye to eye.
hether writing an online dating profile or merely daydreaming about Mr. or Ms. Right, most singles have some sort of ideal partner in mind. We envision our soul mate, the one person out there in the world who possesses all the traits we consider perfect. We search for that bulldog-loving, blue-eyed brain surgeon who just happens to be a gourmet chef. Or the environmentalist supermodel who enjoys extreme sports. But in our search for our other half, most of us are smart enough to know that the perfect person doesn’t exist, and that somehow, in some way, we are going to have to compromise.
Let’s be clear—I’m not talking about settling. Settling, which I believe has to do with marrying a person for something short of true love, is another creature altogether. Compromise, on the other hand, is about what we do for true love. We make sacrifices and trade-offs for the right relationship. We willingly give things up to be with that other person who is not perfect, but perfect for us. She might not be drop-dead gorgeous, but she’s smart and kind. He’s not tall, but he’s funny and ambitious. She agrees to go to church with you on Christmas, even though she’s Jewish. He concedes to a suburban existence when he’d prefer to stay in town. You agree to disagree about politics.
Yet there remains one major issue where there is little room for compromise: children. On the fringes — say, if the debate revolves around how many children to have or when to
start a family or how to raise kids — there might be some room for negotiation. But if the debate is as basic as whether to have them at all, a couple might be in serious trouble. Having children is the one endeavor that is a full-on, irrevocable, lifelong commitment. You can change careers; you can move to another city, state or country; you can even get a divorce if the relationship doesn’t work out as you had hoped. But you cannot give back a child. A baby is an all-or-nothing proposition, and will instantly change your life in a profound and permanent way. As such, the baby issue has become the last great deal-breaker for couples. If one is passionate about having babies and the other is vehemently opposed to the prospect, the relationship likely will (and likely should) fail.
|Most singles feel that kids are a topic better left untouched on a first date.|
When to talk about it
For this reason, I believe it’s important to be upfront, honest and forthright about your stance on the child issue the first time the subject is raised, and certainly long before marriage enters your mind. This is not to say that you should come right out of the gate with, “We would have beautiful children together” or “I’m thirty-seven so time’s-a-wasting.” In fact, most singles feel that it’s a topic better left untouched on a first date. Stephen, a 30-year-old freelance writer from Atlanta, says, “Kids are a taboo subject on first dates. You just shouldn’t go there... You should just figure out if you want to spend another few hours with the person before you think about reproducing with them.”
That said, an early disclosure might be a good idea if you’re adamantly opposed to having children, as the presumption is that most people want them. Amanda, 38, believes this especially important for a man to make this known if he’s dating women in their mid-to-late thirties. “I know it sounds like a sexist double standard, but women are up against a biological clock. Nature has a double standard,” she points out. Christine, a 33-year-old radio DJ in Philadelphia, agrees. “As a recent [childless] divorcée, it is definitely on my mind,” she says. “Knowing that there are often a couple of years between meeting someone, courtship, marriage and then having children, I know I’m under a lot of pressure. Thinking about this is enough to drive you crazy. Tick, tick, tick!”
How guys feel about the topic
Glenn, a 35-year-old lawyer, acknowledges that age is a key variable in the baby debate. “If I was on a first date when I was 23 and a girl brought up the subject of children, the date would be over before her mouth could form that word’s final n,” he says. “But now that I’m older, it’s only reasonable to expect that women in their thirties who want children will include the issue as an early litmus test.” However, Adam, a 36-year-old financial planner, finds the phenomenon somewhat frustrating. “When I go out on a date with a woman in her thirties,” he says, “there is this feeling that if she doesn’t sense in the first twenty minutes that I’m The One, she’s wasting her time... It’s so much easier to date someone in their twenties. They just want to have fun, and the kid issue doesn’t muddy the waters.”
Whenever you do raise the subject of children, whether it’s on a first date or sometime after that, it’s probably wise to keep things general. Ask, “Do you see yourself someday having children?” Anything more specific or personal and you run the risk of appearing presumptuous, overeager—even desperate. David, 32, feels that nothing sours a date faster than the feeling that a woman is simply looking for a few good sperm. “It’s one thing to want to be a mother. It’s another thing to view a man as a means to that end,” he says. Amanda believes that men aren’t alone in being turned off by a sense of baby pressure: “I want children someday, but I don’t like feeling as if I’m being evaluated as a future baby-maker,” she says. “And if a guy tells me that he’s looking for a full-time wife and mother, that is a deal-breaker. I want someone who wants me for me.”
When you’re ambivalent…
All of this is not to say that you have to be certain one way or another about kids before you start dating someone. There are plenty of men — and women — who aren’t entirely sure whether they want, or will ever want, to become a parent. Often, there is a cart-before-the-horse element to this decision. Many singles say they want children—but only if they meet the right person first. According to Stephen, “Kids are a great barometer for determining whether you’re with the right person because I only want them if they come as part of the right relationship.” He adds, “I think many guys lie in the realm of ‘unsure’ or ‘scared’ when we’re asked about
kids, but being with the right person has a way of making you face things that you’re scared of.” Jeff, 33, agrees. “In my twenties my criteria were focused on whether she skied, golfed, and ate steak, but now I consider how my girlfriends will handle the unpredictability of motherhood,” he says. “If she can’t handle losing her sunglasses in a cab, how is she going to be able manage a baby?”
|If you’re at odds with your partner on the child issue, better that the deal be broken sooner rather than later. Don’t compromise; don’t settle. |
The key is whatever you're thinking on the subject of children — even if it's ambivalence — be sure to communicate those feelings honestly. If you mislead or deceive someone on a major issue like having children, there is great potential for heartbreak, bitterness and feelings of betrayal.
My last bit of advice would be, don’t fall into the trap of believing that you can change someone’s mind on this topic. People can change their minds, of course, but relying on another’s change of heart is a dangerous, unlikely and unfair proposition. And in the worst-case scenario: You do talk someone into (or out of) having a baby, and he or she ultimately regrets the decision—and blames you.
My good friend Greg’s story sums the issue up well. After ending an otherwise satisfying relationship over the baby controversy, Greg included his lack of desire for children on his online dating profile. Kathy, who shared his views, responded. On their third date, Greg disclosed that he had had a vasectomy. The two kissed for the first time that night and married a year later. Greg advises, “You shouldn’t think, ‘I’m going to scare away anyone who doesn’t feel the same way I do.’ Think, ‘I’m going to be much more attractive to those who do feel the same’... I may have limited my responses by posting that I didn’t want children. But you don’t need a lot of responses—just one right one!”
So while you should always try to keep an open mind as you navigate your way through the dating pool, it's far more important that you remain true to yourself and be honest with a potentially significant other about what you want. If you’re at odds with your partner on the child issue, better that the deal be broken sooner rather than later. Don’t compromise; don’t settle. Just keep the faith that the right person is out there for you, someone who will want the same thing that you do—whether that’s a childfree union or marriage with a baby carriage.
Emily Giffin is the New York Times bestselling author of Something Borrowed, Something Blue and the newly-released Baby Proof, a story about a couple at odds over the baby issue. Visit www.emilygiffin.com.