Dear Neil: I’m in a four-year relationship with a man who just turned 40. We have been talking about marriage and kids for over two years now, almost always in conversations brought up by me. I’m almost 32, and I’m ready to start a family. My boyfriend has said he has real fears about having children, but not so much about marriage. (He has said he’s overwhelmed by this choice and feels depressed, which makes it harder to make such an important decision. He has also said he loves me and doesn’t want to lose me.)
After two years of him thinking about what to do, and being that he’s 40 years old, it doesn’t seem likely that he’s going to overcome these fears. But not wanting children is a deal-breaker for me. Do I give him a little more time to try to work this out, or do I move on?
Unsure of What to Do in Colorado
Dear Colorado: This dilemma can be argued either way. On the one hand, you do not want to force a man to have children if he doesn’t want them, but on the other hand, some men grow into the role of being a dad, grow to love it—and become wonderful dads.
I’m not fond of issuing ultimatums, either. He might say “yes” when he doesn’t mean “yes,” or he could react with anger because he feels bossed around and told what to do by you. Or he might harbor resentment that you forced him into something he didn’t want. So an ultimatum could lead to a bad outcome.
But you’re not really hearing him. He’s telling you he doesn’t want children, and that he gets overwhelmed and depressed even thinking about it. He’s been thinking about it for two years, and he hasn’t been able to say “yes” to the idea. What does that tell you?
So the ball (and the choice) is actually in your court, not his. What’s more important to you—him or a family?
Dear Neil: I’ve been divorced for three years, and I have 3 children. My boyfriend of 9 months lives out of town, and he is planning to move here next year. The problem is how I integrate him into my life with my kids. My kids are quite protective of me. My eldest, age 12, complains that I go “girly” around him, and she has told me she will go and live with her father if my boyfriend moves in. (My kids spend about 30% of their time with their father, but I am their primary caregiver.) My boyfriend doesn’t have kids, and I don’t want to scare him off—but I also need to find time to spend with my kids as well. My ex has remarried, and my children have accepted his new partner, but are struggling with mine.
Stuck in Auckland, New Zealand
Dear Auckland: Your kids (especially your 12 year old) likely fears she’s going to lose her position of being next in line as the authority in the house. She might also fear losing you to your boyfriend. Her security is going to be shaken again if your boyfriend moves in with you, because she doesn’t know your boyfriend well, she’s not taken with him the way you are, and she’s not able to make a decision about whether he moves in or not. Might your boyfriend become her dad? That question has no doubt occurred to her, and she may have strong feelings about it.
Sometimes kids will reject a potential suitor for reasons completely unrelated to him. They may feel he’s an intruder in their house, that he will take your energy and focus away from them, or that they’ll lose significant time with you, individually and collectively. Your ex-husband may or may not have had this problem, but you do.
Your boyfriend would be wise in courting your children the same way he has courted you. They need to say “yes” to him joining your family also. Give it a year of everyone getting to know each other before he moves in. That will hopefully give them time to accept him.