3 min

When only one partner wants to parent

Dear Dr. Ren,

I’m a gay man in my early 40s and my partner of 12 years is six years younger than me. We have a good relationship and have always shared goals and values. We have a life that includes gracious living, extensive travel, and varied interests.

A couple of years ago my partner asked me about kids. This was never in the cards and I said so. He said it was just a point of discussion as some of our friends were adopting. He didn’t bring it up again… until recently.

Now he says he realizes he really wants to parent. He thinks we’ve partied enough and should settle down with a family.

I feel sucker punched. I’ve told him that kids will change everything and that he hasn’t thought this through, that he can’t move the goal posts at this stage in our life and he’s being unfair to expect me to change my mind about such a huge issue at this late date in our relationship. I say he needs to stick with our long-standing agreement.

He says relationships have to be flexible and change with time and we’ve had plenty of indulgence and now we should think about being a little less selfish.

Neither of us is willing to give up our relationship, so tell us, Dr Ren, who is right?

Promise or Parents


Dear Promise or Parents,

If it were that simple, and I chose him, would you capitulate and rush off to the baby store? Of course not.

If I said he was being unreasonable, do you suppose he would drop his desire to be a parent? Not likely.

There are so many questions left unanswered, PorP, I hardly know where to begin.

You two have been together for 12 years so I must assume you communicate more than is apparent from your letter.

I suspect you are reacting with surprise at learning something new about your partner, though it may have been brewing within him for a couple of years, unexpressed. Your negative response may have been the reason for his silence. Why do you think he has spoken out now?

How long have you had to digest this information? After a dozen years of any routine, a dozen days — or even a dozen weeks — of a threat to the status quo is going to throw anyone off balance.

When we are reacting we are not our most reasonable. Give yourself some time to consider and catch your breath before making any decisions. Now is the time to gather information.

Why do you suppose your partner is enchanted with parenting now? Are there children (nieces/nephews/friends?) in your life now that he has not missed before? No? Then maybe the idea is theoretical and could use some testing. Perhaps volunteering with some youth would quiet the longing and clarify the need (and be much appreciated!)

For that matter, it would certainly help your partner feel listened to if you joined him in spending time with some ‘test children.’

Next time you go travelling, include an altruistic, youth-oriented component; offer to babysit regularly for friends or neighbours; become Big Brothers. As you could watch what he is getting and giving in a parental role, you may spot ways to meet his needs without becoming full-time parents.

You also risk learning that he truly does need and deserve to be someone’s dad. This may be a deal breaker, but at least then you’d know it was nobody’s fault.

Besides, it’s not like you can just decide to have a baby and go off the Pill; you can’t go to Babies ‘R Us and pick out the cutest one.

The intention of the adoption process is to make parenthood as it should be: you have to pass a test. You have to show that you have some rudimentary skills and that you really, really want this very difficult job. If both of you aren’t on board for this, you’ll never make it through the home study.

The two of you will resolve this issue because you’ll have to. You have a dozen good years behind you and you say that giving up is not an option. Since you can’t half adopt, become half parents, or adopt half a child, you are left with needing to double your efforts at figuring out what these new needs signify, how you can address them openly, creatively and as a team, and incorporating your new patterns into your relationship dance.

Whenever we encounter an issue that challenges the status quo, we dig in and become protective. We sulk for awhile and finally we listen to what the other person has to say. Sometimes begrudgingly, hopefully graciously, we concede they have a point. This is the process of growth within a relationship, one of the biggest perks of being coupled, though it doesn’t always feel so good while it’s happening.

Try to react less, listen more, and remind yourself of all the other rough spots you’ve navigated. Think process first, issue next. Compartmentalize it inside your good life together and accept nothing less than a happy ending.