So you're in your mid to late 30's or early 40's and you finally meet a guy you'd be interested in spending some quality time with - say the next 20 to 30 years, or the rest of your life. But, as we are all told, time is precious if you want to pro-create. And if having a baby is a deal-breaker for you then you don't have time to waste. So how and when is the best time to raise having a baby with a new partner? Well, we have no idea, so let's ask our expert relationship counselor, Elly Taylor.
What would you say to people who suggest you might as well bring up your desire to have kids on a first date - get it out there in the open and immediately weed out the guys that just aren't ready?
I think it’s fine to bring it up but it’s not so much “if” but “how” that’s important here. It’s all in the delivery: softly, softly is the way to go. You could casually start talking about a relevant movie or TV show like Modern Family so it naturally leads up to the conversation or ask an open ended question like “what do you imagine for yourself in the next few years” and see what they say. If it’s done tactfully, it will feel natural and not intrusive.
When is the best time (as in stage of a relationship) to bring up your desire to have kids - 3 weeks? 3 months? After you've said I love you?’
In the initial, romantic, stage of a relationship, after you’ve got to know each other a bit and seem to be moving in the same direction is probably the best time to get a positive response because it will feel like a natural ‘next step’ – but it’s not necessarily the best time to actually start a family in terms of a couple’s relationship. Babies are adorable, but they do tend to highlight differences between a couple, so having a few years of practice negotiating disagreements first is a good idea. New parents are frequently fatigued, distracted and stressed and need to know that they can cope with this in their partner. I have seen many couples shocked that they went very quickly from being romantic partners to warring parents. For couples where time is of the essence, fast-track it with the support of a relationship counsellor. Conflict management strategies are great preparation for parenthood.
What are the best conditions for this discussion? Should you do it over drinks? Is it a good conversation to have in bed?
I wouldn’t plan it too much, that can increase a person’s anxiety and when we’re anxious we get a particular tone in our voice that can make things backfire. I think it’s best to just bring it up spontaneously at a time when it feels there is a natural flow to the conversation.
Are there words or phrases you should use? Do you recommend giving a warning shot ie "maybe we should talk about kids some time soon?" before broaching the subject head on?
It doesn’t even have to be a proper discussion. Observing a partner with the neighbours kids and saying “gee, you’re great with children” could be enough to get the ball rolling. Asking a general open ended question like “what do you think our plans for the next few years should be?” is non-confrontational and more likely to be a relaxed conversation.
How should you react he says he doesn't want to have kids and you feel pretty devastated to hear that?
It’s hard to hide devastation. It’s likely that there will be some anger, especially if they have invested a lot of time in the relationship and also huge disappointment. If they haven’t broached the subject with a partner beforehand though, the anger might be misplaced, so it’s not fair to share it, and if we do, we’re more likely to have a partner act less than sympathetically. Even if we haven’t discussed it, it is natural to be disappointed, and that’s what we need to share with a partner. Expressing disappointment might lead to more conversation on the subject.
Should you ever try and convince someone to your way of thinking if they say they don't want to have kids?
I’ve had clients who said they didn’t want to have kids but went ahead (or it just happened) and they said it was the best thing they’d done (despite the fatigue, stress etc). I haven’t heard anyone say they regretted having children. But a desire to have or not have a baby is a very personal one. Sometimes it’s based on a bad experience from someone’s own childhood and if this is the case, it would need to be sensitively broached and explored. A couple of sessions with a counsellor, if the partner is willing, might be revealing, and once understood, have a different outcome.
If he reacts badly and gets startled/panicked/freaked out how should you steer the conversation in to safe territory again?
With a compliment. Something like “I brought it up because I was thinking you are so patient/kind/warm/loving that you’d be a great dad one day…”
Are there different rules if you're dating a significantly younger man? Any thoughts or ideas with how to broach the subject with a guy that might not even have thought about kids before or be aware that there is a deadline looming?
Before broaching the subject, I would try to get a sense of where he’s at by observing him around children, what he’s like with friend’s kids, if he talks about his nieces or nephews, if he takes an interest when you talk about children you know or how he reacts if you mention a friend is pregnant. If he’s giving off strong vibes either way then use that as a guide. Point out what you notice and ask him to expand on it: “I noticed you nearly turned green when I told you David and Marie had a baby, is that something you’ve thought about?” or “you are a natural with your nephew, do you want to be a dad one day?”
Any other advice to add?
Even if he is open to the idea, if we are too forceful and keep bringing it up he might react negativity to the intensity. It needs to be brought up very respectfully. Trust is vital in the early stages of building a relationship and if we push too hard we could undermine it.
Parenthood comes with considerable changes. Be clear eyed about what they are and make sure it’s what you really want first.
Elly Taylor is a relationship counsellor and author of the book Becoming Us, Loving, Learning and Growing Together, the Essential Relationship Guide for Parents.