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If You Win The “Having Fewer Kids” Argument, Here’s What To Watch Out For


Staff member
Mar 19, 2024
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Many couples struggle with wanting different numbers of children, like this post. Generally, from what I have seen, women in particular may agree to have fewer kids, but this may be seen as a source of massive regret and an empathic rupture years later. If you are a husband who is pushing to have fewer children, here’s why and what to watch out for!

my kids in 2013

First, many men want fewer children because they are the preoccupied attachment partner and feel that they will be able to get more of their wife’s love and attention if there are fewer kids. They usually don’t say this outright, but they are the same men who try to take everything off their wife’s plate so she has more time and energy for sex and affection (here’s why this fails). Therefore, their wife picks up on this reasoning, and resents it deeply, feeling that her husband is taking away her chance to have a child based on his own “selfish” desires. Of course, both genders struggle when a child is prioritized over the relationship, but only very preoccupied attachment people tend to take this to the extreme of choosing whether or not to have a child based on how much attention they think they will get.

On the other side, more avoidant people are scared to have more kids because they think they will not have time and money to engage in work and hobbies. They tend to feel smothered by the demands of relationships and prioritize individual self-actualization via career, fitness, and friendships. These parents tend to want their own children to be able to have the resources to self-actualize in similar ways, because they picture their kids as having similar values and needs as they do themselves. Therefore, they tend to want only children or two children, because they want the kids to have the parental time and money to engage in their own desired activities versus having to be carted along to siblings’ activities or not having enough money to do what they want.

To build on the financial piece, some people also want fewer kids because they are trying to provide a lifestyle that they did not have growing up, and want more money for school and extracurriculars for each child, as well as a larger home, more vacations, and other luxuries. Obviously, it is easier to provide this for fewer kids. This can become a particular point of contention when one partner wants to jump socioeconomic class and the other, who wants more kids, does not. The partner who doesn’t want all of the luxury items insists that love, and family time, trumps a bigger house and more vacations.

When an adult is happy with their childhood, they tend to want to replicate it, and when they are unhappy with it, they tend to want something different for their own kids. So, if you were an unhappy only child, you tend to want many kids (why I have three!). If you felt unseen in a larger family, you may want fewer kids who get more of their parents’ attention, or “one and done.”

When the woman is the one who doesn’t want more kids, there is another component to the decision, which is based on how she felt and recovered from the first birth(s), and/or if she miscarried or required infertility treatment. If a woman struggled with post-partum depression or anxiety, she had to engage in a lot of physically and emotionally stressful medical treatment to get and stay pregnant, or she suffered through miscarriage(s), then she may be very scared to rock the boat of mental/physical health by trying to have another baby. She may also feel that her mental/physical health was never the same after the babies (or miscarriages), and is scared that by having more kids, she will end up being a worse mother to the kids she already has because she will be depressed, anxious, exhausted, or grieving.

Also, keep in mind that people tend to regret what they didn’t do more than what they did. Very few people regret having another child, and most (not all) people fall in love with every baby they have. I have seen far, far, more more women in therapy who regret not having had another child than people who regret having another child. I have also seen marriages which never recovered from the empathic rupture of a woman wanting another baby and feeling that her husband obstructed it, or outright refused, putting her in the position of choosing between her marriage and another child. Many women also want a “do over” if they had been depressed or overwhelmed with prior babies, and feel more confident as a parent now. I discuss that here.

Some women become addicted to the dopamine and oxytocin rush of falling in love with a new baby. While everyone may feel like this to some degree (I call it Baby Derangement Syndrome), some women use this to self-medicate their depression and unresolved childhood trauma. Each baby feels like a blank slate where you can heal your own childhood wounds through giving your baby love and care. Some women struggle when the kids get older, and prefer the baby to an obvious degree. If you are someone who hates parenting older kids and feels stressed and even scared of time spent with them, but still wants another baby, this conflict can and should be discussed in therapy. This post is an extreme example of this.

Understand that if you are a preoccupied attachment man who thinks that his wife’s attention will turn to him if she is stopped from having another baby, this is VERY unlikely to happen. Most women have a set amount of maternal energy, and if they don’t have another baby, they pour this love into their existing kids, a puppy, putting more effort into caring for/mentoring the people they work with, and more. Additionally, these women often deeply resent and pull away from their husbands because of this disappointment. An analogy would be if your wife thought that you put too much energy into sex and not enough energy into date nights, so she stopped having sex with you, hoping you’d have more time and energy to plan date nights. As you can imagine, you would be in no mood for date night, you’d feel manipulated, and you might turn to porn as a surrogate (in this case, porn = puppy).

If you and your partner struggle with a difference of opinion on how many kids to have, be careful you don’t win the battle (of kids) but lose the war (of having a happy marriage). It is important that both partners feel heard by the other, so no matter what the issues are, therapy can help partners empathize with one another’s positions in new ways. For instance, a woman who learns that her husband wants to be able to pay for his two kids’ college because he felt so stressed by his own loans will look at him with more compassion than if she thinks he prefers fewer kids solely to have more time for his own hobbies and leisure activities. Going deeper with a couples therapists can help couples through these more complex and vulnerable conversations. And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Empathy Can Help You Through This!
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