For some couples, the decision to have children is something that was discussed long before marriage -- in some cases, I am told, on the first or second date! But for many couples, deciding whether or not to have children can be one of their most daunting issues. With couples getting married later and women much more likely to have career dilemmas, the choice of whether or not to have children is often more urgent, since there's so often a smaller window of time when women can safely conceive. Because this is one of life's few decisions that is irreversible, it's one that cannot be taken lightly or be made with haste.
The argument for parenthood is in many ways obvious: Parenthood can be infinitely and intrinsically rewarding on countless levels. There is no bond quite like that between a parent and child. And the experience of parenthood allows you to give in ways that are unique to this special relationship. Having children can also create a special bond between you and your partner as co-parents and ultimately lead to the incomparable joy of having grandchildren later on. It also allows you to see the world again through your child's eyes, which can be extremely fulfilling -- even when your children become adults.
Raising a child is also an enormous task and its intensity cannot truly be imagined until it's experienced. Every aspect of your life will change when you have a child and parenting will account for much of your time. There are years when it may even define you!
However, exploring and discussing the question of whether or not to have children can bring your deepest values, joys and fears to the surface. Here are some of the most common things to consider if you're on the fence:
It's not about you and your friends. The decision of whether or not to have a child needs to be made solely by you and your partner! Yet the pressure -- real or perceived -- from others can cloud your own thinking about this. Don't let the desire to maintain your friendships by ensuring you are in similar lifestyles, be a factor in making the best decision for you and your partner. Make sure you and your partner ask yourselves, "Why do we really want children?"
It's also not your parents' decision. Many couples are or at least feel pressured by their parents who want grandchildren. Your parents may want grandchildren and be disappointed if they don't have them, but they're not entitled to grandchildren. Conceiving out of guilt is not going to serve anyone in the long run. Ask yourselves "Are we ready to make parenting our top priority and what sacrifices are we specifically ready and willing to make?"
A child will not save an ailing marriage. A common myth that I've heard many times is that having children will save or improve a dysfunctional or unfulfilling marriage, but nothing can be further from the truth. Children can sometimes strain and test the endurance of even the best relationships. Ask yourselves, "Can our relationship withstand the realities of having less freedom and private time together?" And perhaps ask yourself in the privacy of your own mind, "If we were unable to have kids or chose not to have them, am I still in a relationship with the person I want to grow old with?"
If you're still not sure, the best advice is to work on this crucially important decision until you are less ambivalent. I also offer more guidance and some case studies on this subject in my book The Art of Staying Together. Bottom line: Having a child -- when it's what you and your partner truly want and have a loving home to provide -- could be the most meaningful aspect of your life and the best contribution to the world that you can leave behind. But go into it with your eyes open.