It’s accepted wisdom that the only occasion men have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the bedroom is when women announce their desire to start a family.
But oddly, and increasingly, it can also work the other way round. With many women now torn between sticking with successful careers and slipping off the greasy ladder to have kids, it’s often men who are most intent on hearing the patter of tiny feet.
Which can produce the mother (and father) of all dilemmas. What if you really a want a baby, and she doesn’t? What if your paternal instinct trumps her maternal one? When it does sneak up on you, paternal instinct has a right hook that can be hard to ignore.
If you find yourself in that unfortunate situation, here are a few pointers. And the most important of all? Don’t find yourself in that unfortunate situation…
If you’re in a stable relationship and you know you’ll want kids one day, it’s time to have that conversation. In fact, it may have been time ages ago. But better late than never.
“Really, a couple should have discussed this before committing to each other,” says relationship counsellor Elly Prior. “Too many couples get together hoping that their partner will change their mind on something so fundamental as having children.”
It really isn’t worth the risk of falling head over heels for someone and then discovering she doesn’t want the family you can’t imagine a future without. So ask her outright and do it now.
Talk about it
It might not be that simple, of course. She might have changed her mind. You might have changed your mind. Like many men, you may have assumed that the maternal instinct would kick in one day, even if it was conspicuous by its absence at the beginning of the relationship.
If that’s the case, you need to talk, but don’t go in all guns blazing. According to the experts, you should try and figure out what’s stopping her from wanting kids, rather than trying to convince her to have them anyway. Don’t use emotional blackmail or become angry – you’ll only create resentment it can be hard to undo later.
“There is also a real difference between not wanting children, not wanting children yet or being unsure. Each one requires a different kind of a discussion,” says Elly Prior.
“The reasons for not wanting children may be economical or personal (trauma, negative experience of being a child, fear of becoming a bad parent etc),” says Prior.
Either way, these are reasons that can be deep rooted, so diplomacy is required. And so is your time. “You need to address the real reasons for her worries, and that means taking the time to really understand,” adds Prior.
It could be that she wants a child, but doesn’t want to sacrifice the career she’s spent a decade or more diligently building. In which case, offer her options.
After all, there’s a growing army of men who consider themselves the main carers for their children, while their partners go out to work. If you’re no househusband, you could at least agree to share childcare responsibilities, and both work part time.
If that’s impractical, you can offer to give her all the support she needs to get back on the career ladder when the children are old enough for nursery or school.
That can simply mean emotional encouragement, and it can also mean sharing the school run or being home to do baths a couple of times a week so your partner can update her skills at night class.
If her fears go deeper and are more personal than that, there may not be much you can do on your own. She may have had traumatic childhood experiences or an indifferent mother that make her question her own suitability for parenthood. And some women have crippling fears of pregnancy and childbirth (as well they might!).
Hear her out, offer emotional support and reassure her that you think she’d make a wonderful mother. After that, the best option – according to Elly Prior – might be personal or couples’ counselling.
Oh, and many men at this stage assume their partners’ reluctance is down to them. So they make an extra effort to help with the housework, or talk about the promotion they’re sure they’ll be awarded next year. In a nutshell, they play up their good dad credentials.
“This ‘showing’ is too late,” says Prior. “She will have long sussed what kind of a dad you’re likely to make.”
It might be you
Occasionally, her refusal to have children might say something about the deeper state of the relationship. It might not be that she doesn’t want children – it might be that she doesn’t want them with you.
“Many times a couple (in this situation) need to get to know each other more,” says Diana Goss, a relationship counsellor and sex therapist.
“And you know, it could be – for example – that the woman is avoiding sex by saying she doesn’t want to have a baby. In that case all is not what it seems on the surface.”
Talking about having kids might uncover fundamental problems in the relationship. In which case it’s time to stop the baby talk and address the deeper issues.
Time to leave?
But the fact is that some women simply take a perfectly reasonable decision not to have kids. This shouldn’t be news to you, but if it is you might have to accept, as Elly Prior says, that, “there’s a fundamental difference in values and beliefs.”
If you can’t be happy without kids, it may be time to move on. Just remember: next time, have the kids conversation early.