I, meanwhile, think the reasons clearly favor no child. I also believe that I could bring my partner around to my way of thinking, but not necessarily anytime soon. I am cognizant of not wanting to waste their time, but I am not eager to end a beautiful relationship over a child that doesn’t exist yet (and won’t without my consent). Trying to convince someone that a child is a bad idea feels oppressive somehow, but I don’t know how else to proceed in this relationship for the time being. Can you help me solve this ethical quandary? Do I try to convince, or just let go?
Ethical Whenary: If each of you is quite firm on your positions, which sounds to be the case, the kindest, most loving and most respectful thing you both can do is honor each other’s values on this and let one another go. It sounds like you are treating the topic as a debate to be won or lost on the strength of a convincing argument. There is no right or wrong on this — these are two different, and incompatible, core desires.
When two people each know themselves and their life goals and differ on something so fundamental like whether to have a child, consider that a nonnegotiable issue. Saddest is the situation where one caves to save the relationship and reluctantly agrees to have a child when they don’t truly want one. Without total commitment to parenthood, the other becomes a miserable “single parent.” Equally sad is when the other foregoes having a child when it’s their heart’s desire just to save the relationship. Both scenarios are recipes for cancerous resentment which will destroy love from within.
I left a beautiful relationship for just this reason, and yes, it was heartbreaking. But we did it because we loved each other too much to try to bend the other on such a core value. I said to him: Sometimes I feel if you loved me enough you’d choose to have a child rather than lose me, but I understand that’s not fair to think that way. And he said: Sometimes I’m tempted to feel that if you loved me enough you’d pick me over a child that doesn’t even exist, but I too know that’s not fair. So we looked at each other with hearts breaking.
There was nothing more to say. We just knew we had to let go. Lest you say you each suspect the other’s goal about having children is not fully formed yet and may change over time, well yes, that could be the case. And if one of you does change on this issue, and neither of you has found a love that holds a candle to what you have now, you can find your way back to one another. If it doesn’t change, you each should be free to find a partner who shares your values. Regardless, pressure is not the answer.
Ethical Whenary: I am so sorry. You will never, ever, be able to “bring your partner around” to your way of thinking and this is not a flaw on either of your parts. Having children is an issue on which there can be no compromise, for the sake of both partners and any possible child. And if someone decides to give up their dearly held wish (either to have a child or to not have a child) to keep a relationship intact, it’s simply a last-ditch effort to hold onto something that is not going to work. Chances are there will be serious, long-term resentments down the road. Do not be so focused on keeping a person in your life that you want them to compromise their goals.
I speak from experience, having been in a serious relationship with a man who desperately wanted children when I did not. I speak from experience, having seen my sister want children, and be married to a man who did not. I have seen a married couple disagree about having children and then one partner decides to stop using birth control without saying so, hoping the other person will love the child so much they forget their initial resentments and misgivings. And, in no case did it work. In my case, in my sister’s case and in the case of my friends, it caused the implosion of the relationship.
If this person is, indeed, someone you love very much, you will not stand in the way of their happiness, but will simply admit that you are not right for one another. The right person, with the same outlook you have, is out there. Years later, I began dating a wonderful man, and was initially worried about how he would react to my wish not to have children. As it turned out, he was on the same page, and next month we will celebrate our 30th anniversary.
Ethical Whenary: If you don’t want to bring a child into this world because of climate change and a family history of mental illness, have you thought of adopting one who needs a loving family? If you just don’t want kids and are using excuses, don’t have kids. It is a lifetime commitment, not something you can opt out of later. Plus, you will feel your partner for pushing you into it.
Ethical Whenary: My partner and I were in a very similar place earlier in our relationship — he knew from a young age that he wanted kids, and I’ve always felt very ambivalent about it. We ultimately ended up in a different place than where you are — I did a lot of soul-searching and realized that I actually do want a family, and my love for my partner outweighs my fears about parenthood. So, I understand where you’re coming from, and the crushing heartbreak of realizing you might lose someone you adore over this issue.
All that said … it sounds to me like you’ve already answered your own question. If your partner knows they want a child, you’re right: you cannot and should not waste their time. That’s not fair, and it’s not loving. I also don’t think you can try to convince them about your position. People don’t want children for totally rational reasons — and even if you could convince your partner it’s a bad idea, I would bet there will always be part of them that feels sadness and longing about it. Again, I don’t think that’s love, to try to convince them not to want something that they actually do want. I think your instinct is right, that’s an oppressive thing to do.
I know it’s incredibly painful to think about letting your partner and a beautiful relationship go over this, but they’ve told you clearly where they stand. Letting them pursue their dreams and the life they want is the most loving thing you can possibly do.
Ethical Whenary: Flip the script for a moment: “I have always imagined myself being a parent one day, with the right partner. I’ve found the love of my life, but they are adamantly against biological reproduction. Should I stay with them and hope I can persuade them to change their mind? Or do I let go of this long-cherished, but hypothetical, dream, for the sake of the very real relationship I have now?”
I think the two of you need to have an honest heart-to-heart discussion about what is more important to each of you: having (or not having) a biological child? Or staying together, even if one of you has to sacrifice or compromise on this particular issue? If you are absolutely positive you will never change your mind, your partner needs to know this is nonnegotiable for you. If your partner’s greatest dream is parenthood, you need to accept that this is that important to them, and stop the internal debate on how to prove you are “right” in believing it is unethical to reproduce (or for you, personally, to reproduce ). And be prepared for the consequences if this is nonnegotiable for both of you.
Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installation here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.