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‘My wife wants another child, but I would be in my 80s when they go to college’

Tell Me About It: Take responsibility for creating a life that takes everyone’s needs into account

Question

I am in my early 60s and got into a second relationship three years ago with a woman who is now 42. She came along at a time in my life when I was thinking of a future alone and so we quickly became entangled and then got married.

She had no children (I have two by a previous relationship) and she wanted desperately to have her own child. We tried IVF and, eventually, had our child by egg donation and he is now nearly one. To be honest, I love my two adult kids but I did not really want to go through the whole parenting thing again, but I’ve always been one for giving in for the sake of peace and I did it again in this situation.

It has been much more difficult than I imagined. My parents were very helpful with my two older children but they are now elderly and need my help rather than offering it. My wife has a career that is demanding and so I am the one who mostly drops off and collects at creche and, mostly, I get viewed as an oddity and even get asked if I am the grandfather.

I realise now that this commitment means that my own peer group have no interest in my life as they are all planning for long retirement holidays and are going on golf outings and gourmet midweek breaks. Worst of all, my wife wants to have another child, so that our son is not an only child, and I am horrified.

I will be in my 80s when the next one goes to college and I am not sure if I have the energy or enthusiasm for this. I have not told her this as I know she will feel misled by me as she has always been clear about wanting a family – I just did not really think this through and I feel trapped now. My own adult children look on me as a kind of joke saying that their children will have an uncle who is the same age as them (my eldest is pregnant at the moment) and they have not offered any help.

I feel like I have no one to blame but myself, but I am honestly struggling.

Answer

You are at a time in life when it is natural to slow things down, consider your life’s work, move at a different pace and consider the next stage of life.

Your wife is at a different stage, with everything expanding – her career is on an upwards trajectory and she wants to have a growing family – all appropriate for her time in life. This requires that the two of you do some talking so that disappointment and frustration do not become the core of your life together.

It seems clear that your desire not to have another child is the issue on which your relationship will hang. Having another child is an important decision for you both and needs due consideration. If you normally go for the “peace” option, it may be difficult for you to confront this situation but all of you (including your little son) need some honesty and reality checking so that you are making considered decisions.

Your wife seems confident in your relationship, in that she is planning a bigger family, but she may not know of your feelings of compromise and resentment. You, however, are feeling trapped and this feeling will inevitably leak into all your engagements with your first and second family.

The most important action now is to take responsibility. You have a small child that will need your commitment for the next 20 or so years and this should be done with the best attitude possible. The next responsibility is to let your wife know how you feel about having a second child with her and this means that you accept this may cause her distress and that conflict may result. Handling conflict is something that can be learned, and it is never too late to develop life skills.

Fear stops us from engaging in many aspects of life: fear of being found out as less than what we are pretending to be, fear of rejection, fear of coming across as untruthful. Now, you are adding more fear to your life: the fear of missing out on a typical retirement lifestyle, fear of the demands as a new parent and the fear of loss of choice that your peers seem to have. What is happening is that fear is now running your relationship and both of you will feel its impacts: restriction, lack of genuine affection and negative emotion as the norm. Facing fear by speaking more honestly will require courage and faith in your future together.

One of the core competencies in emotional intelligence is “straightforwardness” and there is lots of information on how to develop this (see for example rochemartin.com). Straightforwardness is the ability to be able to communicate your message honestly and directly, while respecting the fact that others may hold a different opinion or expectation. Growing straightforwardness means that you grow trust in all your relationships, communication becomes clearer and easier, and your own confidence grows as you hear your own voice speaking up for yourself. So face your fears, become more straightforward in your communication with your wife and take responsibility for creating a life that takes everyone’s needs into account, including yours.

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