"She eventually agreed" - I pushed my partner into having kids when she wasn't ready and here's why I really regret it

"I didn't want to be an old dad"

Older dad walking with two young boys on a beach
(Image credit: Lucy Wigley)

What happens when one side of a partnership pushes for children when the other isn't ready? One dad shares his regret at doing just this.

Deciding when to start a family is never easy. Made harder when one person wants a baby but the other doesn't. The decision of when to get pregnant relies on multiple factors, including financial stability, health and wellbeing, and whether it just feels right. Conception can be unpredictable, and you never know if you might need help to increase your fertility and get that positive result you're hoping for. There's also the really tricky issue of what to do when one side of the partnership is ready for a baby, and the other isn't. 

A dad-of-two talks to us about his experience of exactly that - not wanting to be an old dad, he convinced his younger wife to have children, when she wasn't sure she was ready. Spoiler: They remain happily married, and wouldn't change their decision to have children for the world. However, dad, James, with the benefit of hindsight, has empathy for the wife who went along with his wishes and tells us jsut how much it affected them both - here's his story...

I regret pushing my wife into having kids

I always knew I wanted kids. At the same time I met my now-wife, my brother had just had his first child, and I spent lots of time showing off pictures of my first nephew, and wishing I lived closer to him. Looking back, I was honest with my future wife early on, that being a parent was absolutely on the cards. What I didn't do, was have a conversation about just how quickly I expected that to happen.

We are in an age-gap relationship. It's not a huge gap - I'm nine years older, but it made a big difference to our individual readiness to have kids. By the time my wife and I were engaged, my brother had another child and I started to worry about being an 'old dad'. She was 28 when we got married, and I was concerned about the milestone of 40 approaching for me. Heading towards this new decade, I worried about not having the energy to be as involved with my children as my parents were with me. My parents were 23 when they had me. I have strong memories of my dad running around with us all the time. 

Just before our wedding, I suggested to my wife that we start trying for a family as soon as we were married. She has PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and had been warned it could affect her fertility. I was thinking that should we experience problems, it would be better to know about them quickly. If it ended up taking some time to have children, I'd potentially be well into my forties before becoming a dad. This might be the ideal age for some - and I know plenty who waited until this time of life to start their families - I was convinced it wasn't for me.

"I presented as many arguments as possible to my wife, about why we should be having children instantly and why it fitted my plan."

My wife immediately looked unsure at my suggestion. She'd always wanted to be closer to her mid-thirties when she had children. She hadn't had a conventional university experience - a vocational degree meant she was always on placements and working. There'd been little time for living, she hadn't done the travelling or enjoyed the life experiences she'd hoped for. 

In complete contrast, I'd lived an exceptionally raucous university life, and my twenties were defined by parties, holidays, and impromptu weekends away with friends. I was more than ready for the next era. I liked to have everything planned out, and presented as many arguments as possible to my wife, about why we should be having children instantly and why it fitted my plan.

She eventually agreed to my suggestion of trying for a baby after the wedding. I think the initial murmurings of assent relied on the fact it might take a while to conceive, and she'd get those extra years of freedom she hoped for. Except it didn't - she fell pregnant the first time we tried. We are in no way ungrateful for this, especially considering the heartache we've witnessed friends struggling with fertility go through. But in hindsight, I should not have pushed this on my wife.

She spent most of the pregnancy repeating mantras about how great it was going to be, and how we were going to love being parents. I started to get the uneasy feeling these phrases were a cover for sheer panic, when all I felt was excitement. Despite being in a difficult job and on her feet for hours, she insisted on working until a week before her due date, and was hoping for the baby to come the day maternity leave began. This is probably because she didn't want time to think about what was to come and just wanted to get on with it.

Hands of newly married couple

(Image credit: Lucy Wigley)

When I went back to work two weeks after the baby was born, my wife felt lost. Her job had been busy and she barely got time to eat or sit down. While the friends she'd made at antenatal class shared messages relishing watching boxsets among the endless feeding, my wife felt claustrophobic in the house, and fidgety if she tried to do the same. This resulted in an exhausting schedule of baby activities, and often just walking the streets aimlessly with the pushchair. Or she'd be in tears when I got home having obsessively read up on certain baby-related topics and deciding she was failing at everything.

None of her friends were married or even thinking about kids when we had ours. She took their lack of interest in our baby really badly. They were just at a different stage in their lives, and hearing about nappies and sleeplessness not on their radar - we probably would've been exactly the same had we been in their position. What happened, was my wife's new support system consisted of people she'd only just met at antenatal class. This bomb that went off in our lives put huge distance between her and the people she'd always relied on.

We had another baby 14 months after the first. For those wondering 'was that planned,' yes - it amazingly was. And my wife was definitely on board with this - she argued we were already parents, and thought having children close together might be nice for them, and get the really hard stuff all done at the same time (spoiler alert: That definitely wasn't the case.)

"Feminists; come at me with your pitchforks, because I agree, our patriarchal society sets unsuspecting women up for this and I played a part in it too."

Over a decade down the line, and I can reflect on pushing my wife into having children with a pretty deep level of regret - although the benefit of hindsight usually comes much too late. I'm not sure now why I felt being a dad in my forties would make me an 'old' dad. When our children started school, over half the dads were the same age as me or older. Most of the mums were too, meaning my wife was actually among the youngest. My ability to play with and enjoy my children hasn't changed being nearly 50, and at the moment I don't feel that'll change as I head into the next decade. I definitely could've been an older dad.

Living with the guilt I feel over putting what I wanted before my wife's needs however, has taken more soul searching. I acted believing everything would be fine. I just wish I'd known the real impact of having a baby and how the woman is always going to be more affected, however much a man thinks he'll be involved.

There were many times I felt grateful walking out the door to go to work, leaving the endless carousel of feeding and sleep schedules to somebody else. That someone was also doing their own mental gymnastics as they weren't quite ready for this life themselves and didn't get to opt out in the same way. Feminists; come at me with your pitchforks, because I agree, our patriarchal society sets unsuspecting women up for this and I played a part in it too.

Young children holding hands looking at a garden

(Image credit: Lucy Wigley)

My wife has dealt with ongoing mental health issues relating to postnatal depression, and grappled for years with the changes to her body caused by pregnancy and birth. Her friendships have been permanently altered, and although she has an admirable resilient streak, she has always had a vulnerable one that having children likely made worse, compounded by having them when she was unsure.

My guilt has made me hyper aware of when she feels vulnerable, and I intervene with hand-holding, an arm around the shoulder, and whispers of 'are you ok, do you need to leave?' We'll never know if things might've been different if she'd felt 'ready' to have children when we had them - that day of readiness might even never have arrived. I suspect a lot of the things that went wrong due to my persistence at sticking to my own agenda, wouldn't if we'd just waited. And like I said, reviewing things with hindsight is a wonderful thing, but still doesn't alleviate my regret at my actions...

What does James' wife feel about the situation?

James' wife was keen to offer her perspective on his story, and here's what she had to say:

I agree that I wasn't ready to have children when we did, and probably would've found the transition to motherhood easier with the benefit of age and wisdom. You can reiterate the phrase 'there's never the right time' until you're blue in the face, and it'll never get any easier to reconcile. It's such a personal decision and unique in that all couples will base it on their own individual circumstances - what works for one couple will be completely different for their friends.

It took me years to accept the monumental change that had taken place becoming a mother. This wasn't just an adjustment, it was a seismic shift of absolutely everything I knew about myself and my life. I had to reassess everything, and realised I wasn't the person I thought I was, probably because nobody gets the baby and induction into motherhood they think they'll get. 

"My people-pleasing nature meant I didn't want to let my husband down by saying no to his greatest wish..."

I was fragile when I conceived, and in a marriage only just underway - it was a lot, and my people pleasing nature meant I didn't want to let my husband down by saying no to his greatest wish. Similarly, I don't blame him for our eventual decision to have a baby. I felt some initial resentment, but won't dwell on it because ultimately he's been a great husband and I couldn't imagine my life with anyone else.

On the plus side, I still felt young when I got some semblance of an easier life back. Also, while on maternity leave I started the process of changing my career. I probably would've stayed in my original job if the children hadn't come along, and would likely never have chased my dreams had I been an older mother - I possibly would've deemed it to be too late. And watching the school plays, sports days, cheering on the side lines on match days, little faces on Christmas morning - priceless no matter what age you are as a parent. 

For more on difficult parenting decisions, one mum shares why she regrets gentle parenting, while another delves into baby name regret she felt, predicted by the midwife who delivered him. Another parent told us why she didn't want mum friends, and the zero regrets she has at not pursuing friendships with other mums.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.