I have never wanted to have kids. My boyfriend is OK with this, since he had kids from a previous relationship. I welcome regular visits and stayovers, etc., from his two kids and am willing to assist financially, emotionally, academically, etc., throughout their lives, but never planned to be a full-time mom.
He now wants full custody of his kids. (He didn’t when we started dating, but the co-parenting situation with his ex has deteriorated.) We’re planning for marriage—though not yet engaged. I am worried that I will not be happy with such a massive change. Prior to this, I had no doubts that we would succeed as a couple. Any suggestions on how to handle? —Anonymous
From your query, it sounds as if you genuinely don’t want to be a full-time mom. You may be trying to talk yourself into the idea for the sake of keeping this relationship, or you may feel guilty for not wanting to take on a role that women are heavily pressured to take on, either as a biological mother or a bonus one.
You need to know that there is nothing wrong with your choice—and that you’re not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, “nearly 1 in 5 American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s.” Additionally, the most-educated women are still among the most likely never to have had a child.
That said, I want relationships to work, so unless there’s a query involving abuse, I do my best to offer solutions for couples to try to stay together. But unless you have some massive change of heart about wanting to raise children, this can’t work. It’s not fair to you, him or his children. And no, life isn’t fair. But life on its own will hand you enough unfairness. There’s no need to go seek it out.
Honestly, you shouldn’t be dating a man with children or who wants children—such men do exist—since this is how you feel about raising kids. It’s more common for a mother to have full custody of the children, but as the kids develop and life happens—as you’ve seen with your partner and his ex—there’s always a possibility that a father could retain custody, temporarily or permanently. And when that father is married—or moving toward that—he needs a partner who is willing to share the responsibility of raising his children. That’s part of the compromise that comes with being seriously involved with a man who has children.
Those children also deserve a bonus mom who wants to raise them, not just tolerate them. It’s not as if they’re moving in with a stranger—it’s their actively involved dad, after all—but switching households means a new environment and new rules and a big adjustment. They need someone who is willing to go above and beyond to make them feel welcome and who wants them there. Kids can always tell when they’re not wanted.
You didn’t say how long you’ve been with your partner, but if you’re discussing marriage, clearly you’re in love with him. But you have to love you, too—and sometimes that means, despite your feelings, you have to walk away from a situation that is not going to work for you.
I will encourage you to be honest with your partner about your real feelings about raising children. The best way to say it is plainly: “I know that you’ve been thinking about pursuing full custody of your children, and I need to be honest with you about how I feel about raising children.” Then spill your feelings and add, “The last thing I want to do is come between you and your children.” It’s a hard conversation, but he deserves to know what he’s potentially signing up for with you as his wife, and you owe it to yourself not to sign on for responsibilities that you don’t want.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously in Ask Demetria: “Was I Wrong to Ask My Husband to Move His Late Wife’s Urn?”