“We’re pregnant with number four and I’m a little bit overwhelmed, but I still have this thought of number five in my head. And I know Glen doesn’t want another.”
But before Yvette Henry can finish her statement her husband interjects, “No, no, no, no! I am not having another child… I’m telling you that it’s not an option. I’m not having a fifth child.”
His tone is light-hearted, but you can sense the conviction behind his words. Yvette and Glen Henry are having this conversation on their marriage podcast “How Married Are You,” and it’s a long-standing topic.
Their conflict isn’t unique. Jenny Coffey, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Focus on the Family, says it’s common for couples to disagree about how many children they should have. According to Coffey, deciding whether to have another baby is one of the most difficult decisions a couple will make. If you’re facing this issue, how can you navigate it together in a healthy and biblical way?
Avoiding the issue won’t help
First, don’t ignore it, even if the topic ignites all sorts of negative emotions. If you’re ready to have another baby and your spouse isn’t (or vice versa), it can seem as if your spouse is your enemy. He or she is against your goals, dreams and expectations for your family. “[Couples are] coming into the conversation, probably already on the defense,” Coffey says. Both husband and wife will probably feel the need to prove their position, she adds, since one will “win” and one will “lose.”
But avoiding the conversation altogether won’t solve anything and only allows resentment to build, says Elaine Humphries, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Focus on the Family. “Those conversations aren’t pleasant. So I think it’s kind of natural to avoid them.” Yet doing so can lead to “all this unspoken stuff that can cause tons of problems relationally with your spouse over time,” she explains.
Deciding if you’re going to have another baby requires humility, prayer and difficult conversations. Tim Sanford, clinical director for counseling services at Focus on the Family, encourages couples to courageously tackle the discussion openly and honestly — not just for their sake, but for their children’s sake, too. “It’s a family decision,” he says. “Your existing children, if you have some already, or the child that you’re thinking about will be impacted by this decision.” He cautions that any unresolved tensions may negatively affect the whole family, breeding resentment and bitterness.
How to talk about having another baby
How can a couple approach the decision to have another baby as a team? Experts advise the following:
Check your motivation
Becky came from a family of eight. She dreamed of having a large family of her own. Tim was an only child and wanted a small family. They settled on having four children. However, Becky’s second pregnancy almost ended in the loss of her and her baby’s life. The doctors said there was a 25% chance that any pregnancy afterward would have the same complications.
Becky wanted to take the 75% chance that everything would be OK; Tim did not. In one conversation he said to her “If it goes bad, you’re in heaven. I’m here with one or two kids as a single parent… I’m the one that has to live with a decision, not you.”
It took about a year for them to agree to not have another baby. To reach the initial compromise, both Becky and Tim had to investigate their family of origin and see how that influenced their view of an ideal family size. After Becky’s difficult pregnancy, they had to revisit their motives and weigh them against their medical reality.
Experts stress the importance of checking your motives. Humphries says, “[Be] honest with yourself first, and then with your spouse, about why you want what you’re pushing for.” She emphasizes the need to also care about what your spouse wants and their motives.
Possible motives include:
- Pressure from parents or others outside of the family for grandchildren or a grandchild of a specific sex.
- Assumptions about what a family “should” be, based on your family of origin. If you come from a small family, you may assume that’s the norm and the idea of having multiple children may seem strange to you.
- Using a child to “fix” your marriage. Coffey says that some people use children to hide flaws in their marriage. But if there are issues in your marriage, having more children could make your marriage more difficult and potentially emotionally harm the children as well.
- Feeling the family is not complete.
- Pursuing identity as a parent.
- Wanting to further your family name and bloodline.
- Feeling overextended or overwhelmed by the children you already have.
- Wanting more time and money for your current family.
When you’re honest about your motives, you can move the conversation from the surface issue to the deeper issue of why your view is important to you.
Check your worries and assumptions
Related to motivation, experts say it’s important to ask yourself, What am I afraid of? Fear can cause us to make poor choices. Second Timothy 1:7 tells us “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” God wants our choices to be motivated by love and guided by a sound mind or judgment — not by fear.
Some fears you may experience related to having more children are:
- Fear of disappointing God, your parents or the church by not having more children.
- Fear that no one will take care of you when you’re older.
- Fear of losing finances or getting into more debt.
- Fear of losing career opportunities or freedom because of having more children.
- Fear that no one will carry on your family name.
As you broach this subject with your spouse, don’t assume your perspective is correct and complete, Sanford cautions. Many factors inform your position, and they may not be based wholly on truth.
Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of marriage and family formation at Focus on the Family, says there’s a difference between listening and hearing. “True listening requires you to be fully present — clearly and intentionally focused on your spouse,” he says. “You must give complete attention to your spouse, as well, if you want him or her to feel safe and open his or her heart.” This is much more difficult to do when you’ve been dealing with an issue for a long time and are at a stalemate.
For example, your spouse may say, “We would be doing so much better financially if we didn’t have all these kids! Why would you want another one?” You could easily misinterpret that, thinking your spouse doesn’t like your children or that he or she resents you and the children. And this could be true. However, your response to this statement could either lead to deeper understanding or more arguments.
To keep yourself from jumping to conclusions about what your spouse means, Humphries suggests suspending judgment. Instead, try to believe the best about your spouse. “We easily get into that critical mode of ‘You should think this or you should do that,’ ” Humphries says. She recommends asking questions to fully understand what your spouse is saying. Try asking questions such as, “What I’m hearing is that you would like us to be more financially stable. Is that true?” or “Where would we need to be financially for you to be ready to have another child?”
Sanford challenges couples to consider their posture as they enter the conversation about having another baby. “Are you trying to find a win-win or are you trying to find a way to get him or her to agree with you?” he says. “Are you being manipulative?” He encourages people to avoid pushing their opinion on their spouse.
When it comes to dealing with conflict, Coffey encourages “radical acceptance.” She defines radical acceptance as getting to the point where you’re OK with the decision that you’ve made as a couple. This doesn’t mean that you’re completely enthusiastic about it or that your feelings immediately change, but that you’ve agreed with your spouse and you stand by your agreement. “Sometimes it’s OK to just be OK with it,” she says. But she encourages couples to at least strive for the point where they can say, “I would have loved to have this many [children], but I also respect and love my spouse enough to say, ‘This is what’s good for our family.’ ”
She points out that marriage is a partnership. For a marriage to be healthy, you must make decisions together, she says. Some individuals try to trick their spouse into having more children by stopping or sabotaging various birth control options. Others deny their spouse children.
If this happens, Coffey suggests saying something like this to your spouse: “It sounds like you don’t want a partnership. It sounds like you want to do things on your own.”
She adds that if you’re the one who’s considered such measures, it should cause you to question why you got married. Were you looking for an accessory to your life or an equal life partner? Is your spouse just a means to an end? Manipulation and deceit are surefire ways to sabotage your marriage relationship.
The Bible calls for husbands and wives to submit to each other. This means acknowledging that not every decision made in your marriage would be one that you would like. Humphries encourages married people to choose to care about their spouse’s opinion and heart. This may be even more difficult in a culture that more and more celebrates individualism.
Grieve or let your spouse grieve
Choosing to have fewer or more children than you desire means letting go of a dream — an idea of what you thought your life would look like. That means you or your spouse will need to grieve, and that’s normal.
Coffey points out that it’s rare for people to easily accept their new reality. You or your spouse may go through stages of letting go of your dream, but the issue could crop up again. Humphries advises that couples should expect this as part of the human experience. “We can accept each other’s humaneness, and that, ‘Hey, every once in a while, I might come across resentful because I really wanted to have four or five kids, you know?’ ” She encourages couples to keep communicating with grace and love. “Don’t go your separate ways and get more and more resentful, which honestly, I think is the natural trajectory as you’re married a lot of years.”
If your spouse has agreed to your desire to have (or not have) another baby, give them space to process their grief. Be a kind and compassionate partner.
If you or your spouse is experiencing depression, anxiety or a significant mental burden around this issue, it’s important to seek help. Coffey encourages couples to seek mentors — preferably not family members — but couples who have been through the stage that you’re in now. Couples can also look for a godly Christian counselor to walk them through this season of conflict and into a place of agreement.
God can guide your decision, if you let Him
Jackie Hill Perry and her husband, Preston, were sure they were done having children after their third and had already scheduled a vasectomy for Preston. But in a YouTube video, Jackie reveals that she was having doubts about the decision. She didn’t tell Preston about her unrest until she had a disturbing dream. “I heard God speak to me and say, ‘Do you trust me to have a fourth child?’ ”
She texted her husband, who was in the parking lot waiting for his vasectomy appointment. He was not at peace either. He’d also had a dream a week earlier in which he was an old man, regretting that he’d never had a son. They agreed to try for a fourth child, and in a short while, they welcomed their son, August Truth Perry, to the world.
The psalmist says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” Each child is a precious gift from God — a gift that requires significant stewardship. Ask God what His plans are for your family. If you ask, God will grant you wisdom about having another baby and help you create a loving atmosphere for your family.