Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My wife and I have a happy, healthy 4-year-old daughter. She’s awesome. It took a couple years to figure out what set-up worked best for us, but we’ve finally got a good system: My wife and I both work from home, and share equally in the household and childcare responsibilities. We were both here when my daughter said her first word and took her first step. We’re so fortunate to be able to make this work, and feel like we’ve got a really good thing going on.
My wife, however, really wants to add another child to the mix. She turns 40 next month and is worried that she might not be able to get pregnant much longer, so the pressure has been on. I’m happy with exactly how things are, though, and don’t see the need to mess with a good thing. Not to mention, as freelancers, money is often tight, and a second child might mean one of us has to get a “real” job.
We’re completely deadlocked, and aren’t sure where to go from here. What should we do?
Dear Gimmie Baby,
I am jealous of your life. You have an AMAZING thing going on. Both parents at home with your kid? Able to support yourselves through freelance work? I am sitting back and applauding at my computer screen right now. Well done.
With your dual work-at-home situation, you’ve managed to undo a major cause of mid-life stress and unhappiness: two parents, both working out of the home full-time, and managing outside childcare is rough. The full-time unrelenting drudgery of this work sinks many parents into a years long state of constant, itchy exhaustion.
Seeing as your current situation is so, so sweet, I understand your reluctance to do anything that would change it. You don’t want another child, but you also don’t want a “real” job for either you or your wife. You want things to stay the same, as they are now, quiet and simple and safe.
There are huge risks in having children that are usually unacknowledged. In order to bring a baby into the world you must face the risks that:
- You will fail to get pregnant
- You will get pregnant but miscarry
- You will give birth but the baby won’t be healthy
But even if none of those things happen, you will for sure have to face one enormous obstacle: If you have a new baby, you won’t sleep for at least three months. Having a baby is electing to be subject to a level of sleep deprivation that is, as defined by the Geneva Convention, torture.
How was your daughter’s infancy? Hard? Really hard? Really really hard? Hard in a way that brought you to your knees and made you question your entire existence in a way you never want to revisit?
When I had my first child, I knew that he was going to cry and I wasn’t going to get a lot of sleep. But I had no. Fucking. Idea. Because knowing and experiencing are two different levels of understanding. When my son was six days old and I was lying in my bed, weeping from exhaustion, I finally understood what it means to have a newborn and not sleep. And now, with a potential second child, you don’t have the luxury of ignorance. You know what the risks are and, even more, you know what the certainties are. The truth is, according to science, “…children are always associated with both more positive and more negative emotions.” Having a second child will enhance and limit your life in whole new ways.
I posed your question to a friend of mine who found herself in a similar situation: She wanted another child, her husband did not. They determined that having one child was the best solution for them. Her advice is to “…try to figure out the WHY of [his wife] wanting another child. Is it that she thinks only children are selfish and socially awkward? Is it that she values her own siblings so much? Is she in love with the baby-stage and having a tiny one to snuggle and breastfeed? Does she feel that being a mother is what gives her most of her worth and value as a person (lack of meaning in her job)? Once he figures out what’s driving her desire to have another, they can have a meaningful discussion.”
I know why you don’t want another child, but I have no idea why she does. Once you uncover her motivations you’ll be better able to speak to them as you negotiate your way through this conflict.
And this conflict is, by the way, really hard to navigate because having a child vs. not having a child does not have a middle ground. Both sides can’t compromise to reach a solution in the middle. Someone will get what they want, and someone won’t. However, I believe that having a child is a “fuck yes or fuck no” type of deal. This brilliant theory for dating can be applied to all manner of major life decisions, including this one. In summary, this theory states that unless your response to a situation is “fuck yes!” then the answer is actually “fuck no.” It removes hazy middling gray areas from emotional decisions by being brutally clear—if you don’t really really want a child, then you shouldn’t have one.
But, also, I’m not saying that you’re right and you win. Because aspects of your letter need to be unpacked. Your statement that you share housework and childcare equally strikes me as, frankly, a total fucking lie. If you believe that you and your wife share all housework and childcare equally then she is 100% doing way more work than you. Housework and childcare are such large, constant, unending tasks that dividing them in half is wholly impossible. I find that the best a couple can do is accept that most times one of you will be doing more than the other and the other needs to haul ass to make things right again. Rather than 50/50 it’s more of a 70/30 that shifts back and forth between the two of you.
You’re happy with exactly how things are right now, but you must understand that this state is temporary. Whether you have a second child or not, your situation is going to change. Like it or not, you’re approaching the bottom turn of the U-turn of adult life. Adult’s satisfaction with their lives starts to decrese around age 30, bottoming out at 45, and rising back up sharply by 50. This is true for those with and without children. This time of your adult life is, empirically, the worst, and it seems that you’re trying to game your way out of it.
If you do not want another child, I support you. However, if you’re trying to curate your life so it’s totally uncomplicated and stress-free, then I gotta let you know that isn’t going to work. It’s going to be hard no matter what you do. You exchanged day-to-day tedium of long commutes for the day-to-day stress of worrying about money. If you have another child it will be harder, but in other ways it will be less hard. Your wife will be happy that you were able to see past your own wants and to grow the family. Your daughter will have a sibling to play with and teach. You’ll have a whole new human you haven’t even met yet to love for the rest of your life.
What you should do is talk to your wife, find out why she feels the way she does, and then talk to yourself. You need to understand that, even if you don’t have another child, things will change. Your daughter will start school, you may find yourself needing to take on a new job anyway, and other complications will fall into your life that I can’t even imagine.
This time with your small family at home together should be savored. Adore it. Revel in it. But know that, whether you have a second child or not, this time will end. Change isn’t the exception, it’s the constant, and it will always occur.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.