THERE ARE FEW more momentous decisions that we make than to decide to create a new life. This is a decision that will profoundly affect those making the decision and, of course, to the person given life. Since the dawn of creation life, in all its various forms, creates in us a sense of awe and wonder, at both its beauty and complexity. It’s no wonder then that human beings have struggled to understand life itself and our place and meaning in this world.
This awesome decision of bringing a new life into the world is one most of us will face at some point in our lives. For some the decision to have a child is seen as the ‘natural’ progression in a developing and deepening relationship. Having a child, or children, is suffused with many religious and secular meanings. The sometimes painful longing to create life can, and does, lead to deep tensions in marriages and committed relationships.
Where this deep need to create life and create a family comes from is still a source of continuing debate in academia. On a more prosaic level what we in Relationships Ireland are faced with are couples and individuals who are in a desperate place about their relationship and whether or not to have a child or children is one of the major issues in their lives.
The assumption that we all want children, when some do not
One of the myriad of problems surrounding this area is that everyone has an opinion and we all think we are right! It is a continuing source of amazement to me how little time a couple seriously discuss this issue. There seems to be an unspoken assumption that getting married means having children. If one party says ‘ NO’, that can lead to a profound crisis in the relationship. This is why in our marriage preparation course we examine in some detail about children and their care. We also ask the couple, ‘do you want children, and if so how many’? Many couples write down different numbers indicating they haven’t really thought or talked this one out.
I have found that it is often men who are reluctant to have children. Some of you reading this may laugh and say it is because the men haven’t grown up and are still children themselves. Maybe you’re right. Deciding not to have children leaves many people open to the accusation from others (who weren’t asked for their opinion in the beginning) of being ‘selfish’. A very provocative and contentious issue is when one partner says they have a ‘right’ to have a child and it is the duty of the other one to provide that child. You see, everyone has an opinion, and they ‘know’ they are right!
Why we feel the need to have a child is complex. But it is a question we must ask. Our answer may be biological, religious, psychological, or sociological or some other obscure ‘ology’ yet to be mentioned. Many find it hard to articulate why they want a child, they just know they want to create their own family. Why someone does not want to do that and swim against the tide is also something that needs to be discussed. This person may have very valid reasons for making this decision.
The accusation of being selfish
For example, one partner may be the carrier of a defective gene and he/she does not wish to pass the condition on to their child. This can be a make or break decision for the couple and this can be very distressing for all concerned. So to those whose default opinion on couples who do not want children is to accuse them of being selfish, please be compassionate. Their decision may be based on very unselfish criteria.
The rationalists among you may argue that it doesn’t make economic sense to bring another life into a world with all its problems and challenges. It also doesn’t, you may argue, make sense on a personal level to enslave oneself with a lifetime of economic hardship and restrictions on personal freedom by having a child. Others may argue that our child gives us the unique opportunity to give and receive a love that is beyond description; that fulfils us in a way nothing else can do or will. Everyone has an opinion and yours might be the right one.
Whatever our relationship status, either on our own or in a relationship, creating a new life is a profound and momentous decision and one that needs to be discussed in an open and respectful way.
Tony Moore is a counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland provides affordable confidential counselling and support services that offer you the opportunity to understand and resolve difficulties in your relationship. For more information or to book a consultation you can contact 1890 380 380 or firstname.lastname@example.org.