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Conflict resolution: What to do when you and your partner can’t agree on how many children to have

by Pamela Madonsela
What to do when you and your partner can’t agree on how many children to have
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“How many children do you want?” It seems like an easy enough question but it can be one of the hardest decisions you’ll make, especially if you and your partner have differing ideas on what the answer should be. So, how do you resolve it?

Here’s my story

I’m Pamela, a mom of two, and whenever my husband and I had discussed starting a family we always said we’d like three children. In our pre-marital counselling sessions, we were told how important it was to have these discussions and we were happy that we were on the same page.

However, my thoughts on the matter changed after a very traumatic birth experience with my second child in 2020.

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I gave birth in the middle of the pandemic and I was terrified of being exposed to COVID-19 in the hospital. The birth didn’t go to plan and I was eventually rushed into theatre for an emergency C-section.

It was scary and I had to go through all of this alone, without my husband there to hold my hand, because the restrictions didn’t allow visitors in the hospital. It was traumatic and, after that experience, I just couldn’t imagine myself going through another birth in order to have a third child.

But we had always said we’d have three children, so I kept asking myself if I was changing my mind for selfish decision.

What happens when you can’t agree on how many children to have?

How does a couple resolve the conflict when one wants another child and the other doesn’t? Well, it all comes down to communication, and finding a solution both of you can live with. This is what I learnt from my experience about how to tackle the situation:

Create a safe space

I cannot stress the importance of having these conversations in an open and respectful way, allowing both partners to be heard and have their say. It’s best to have these conversations early – even if you later reassess your situation and change your mind, but it’s never too late to start the discussion.

You also need to make allowances for uncertainties – like infertility – that you might face along the way. Sometimes circumstances force us to take unexpected detours but what’s important is that the couple supports one another and makes the decision that’s best for everyone.

Understand the ‘why’

Each of you has a reason for wanting – or not wanting – another child. My husband is the second of two kids and, growing up, he wished he had more siblings, which is why he’d like a third. After my last birth experience, I’ve decided I’m happy with two.

Consider all the factors involved

It’s not just ourselves we have to consider – we need to think about how it will affect the two children we already have, our family dynamics and my health.

Plus, having another child has huge financial implications. Can we afford to have a third child at the moment? No. We want the best for our children and that comes at a price – it’s our dream to be able to afford the life for our children that we didn’t get.

Be patient

‘Not now’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘not ever’. Take your time. We have had discussions about it, we have not come to a mutual agreement yet but for now we are ok with two kids and the necessary measures are in place for me not to get pregnant anytime soon.

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Consider counselling

These are life-changing tricky conversations so don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional if you seem to be going in circles.

What happens now?

We’re not ruling out having a third child but my husband and I have decided that we are fine with two for now. And he often reminds me to take my contraceptives, which I interpret as a sign that he’s not really ready for baby number three either!

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