How couples can resolve conflicts over how many kids to have

Not on the same page as your spouse over your ideal family size? Here’s how to deal with the issue.

Conflicts between couples are part and parcel of any marriage, but what happens when an issue you're clashing over has big implications on the future of your family?

It’s not surprising that couples fight over family size, since the number of children you have will affect your lifestyle, financial situation, and perhaps, even your career. Given how family planning may be a sensitive subject, you might even put off discussing it with your spouse.

“Many couples don’t come to a consensus on family size before getting married, so conflicts arise when they are not on the same page, and assume their partner wants the same number of kids,” observes Evonne Lek, a family therapist at Reconnect. “Even if they do agree, one party might change their mind ― requiring a renegotiation.”

If you and your spouse can’t agree whether to have any kids or more kids, here’s what to keep in mind when you sort through your differences.

1. Discuss the issue from the start

Needless to say, talking about the issue early on is key to a healthy relationship. Even if you don’t come to an immediate consensus, the very act of openly sharing thoughts and ideas can help to strengthen your marriage.

“Start talking about it as soon as you contemplate having another child or are sure of how many you want, so that both spouses are aware of each other’s expectations,” Lek advises.

She also warns of the dangers of not addressing such conflicts. “Leaving such an important topic unresolved or simply not bringing it up can lead to feelings of resentment, which may trigger a breakdown of the marital relationship. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety and stress may also arise.”

Even if you don’t come to an immediate consensus, the very act of openly sharing thoughts and ideas can help to strengthen your marriage.

2. Understand the reasons behind their rationale

More often than not, your partner’s ideal family size stems from rational reasons, rather than idealistic hopes. So, try to avoid making assumptions. Instead, find out exactly why your spouse may feel the way he or she does, and explain in detail your own point of view.

“Some people want more kids as they see the benefits of growing up with a big family ― like how sibling support benefited them as children,” notes Lek. “Explaining this to a partner could sway them ― knowing that their spouse isn’t just wanting this for themselves, but for their children’s well-being, too.”

As for spouses who’d prefer a smaller family, reasons are often related to financial resources and career plans.

Describing how he and his wife came to a consensus on family size, dad Jordan Lim says, “We kept to two children because of the nature of our job. My wife and I are planning to do missionary church work, which requires travelling and relocating. More children would make plans to do so harder as we have to consider education, healthcare, and financial costs.”

Also, your spouse may not be feel psychologically or mentally ready for a kid ― a legitimate concern that should not be taken lightly. This is especially so if the couple are already raising a young child, and are unsure if the demands of a newborn are too much to handle.

“I know some parents who have kids with special needs, and they both agreed not to expand the family as that child needs more attention,” says mother of two Sharon Chew.

Lim advises, “Depending on your experiences with your first child, you and your wife would get a better idea of whether you can cope with another addition to the family.”
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3. Keep the biological clock in mind

Like it or not, women do have to race against the biological clock when it comes to childbearing. The window for conceiving healthy children (and conceiving per se) doesn’t stay open forever, so do take this into account during discussions.

“There’s always the fear that older women have a hard time conceiving, and the fact that pregnancy may not happen immediately,” Lek says. “If your spouse agrees to more kids but wishes to wait, raise this issue. Often, the other party might relent, especially if they read medical research showing that starting early produces healthier children.”

“We do see many couples struggling and trying for years to conceive, so don’t wait too long before having your first child or more children,” Lim notes.

4. Remember it’s not about winning or about you

No matter how heated your exchanges get, never adopt the mindset of having to “win” an argument. Compromise becomes a whole lot harder if you’re bent on sticking to your view even before hearing your spouse out. Instead, focus on listening respectfully, and be open to changing your mind.

“It’s really not about who wins or loses, but more about what’s best for the family unit, and how you can work together to reach a consensus,” Lek notes.

Broaching the subject with an “us” rather than “me” mentality does wonders for breaking down barriers, and sets the stage for mutual understanding.

Another no-no is taking your partner’s point-of-view personally, thereby escalating conflict. “Some husbands or wives may view their spouses’ objections to more children as a personal rejection, and accuse their spouse of not being committed to them. This further hurts the marriage,” Lek says.

Do remember that it’s not always about you. Broaching the subject with an “us” rather than “me” mentality does wonders for breaking down barriers, and sets the stage for mutual understanding.

5. Seek professional help, if necessary

A lot of discussions but still not making any headway? There’s no shame in seeking help from a family therapist or psychologist, especially if the issue is making your marriage rocky.

“Couples often come to me as a large resort ― when they’re on the brink of divorce,” says Lek. “I would recommend consulting a therapist much earlier, before it gets to that level.”

Lek also recommends caution when asking family and friends to intervene, explaining how family may take the side of one partner, thus backing the other into a corner. “External help is impartial, and is more effective in resolving disputes,” she explains.

6) Make practical preparations

If you’ve both agreed to have more children, it’s time to think about practical ways to make a bigger family work. One factor to consider is your child’s caregiving needs.

To cope with the added workload, start exploring childcare options or engaging a helper. Alternatively, consider having one parent switch to part-time or remote work, which offers greater flexibility in planning your schedule.

“Singapore’s a great place for couples who want to have more kids, as families have the older generation to help out,” observes Lek. “Often, grandparents and relatives are more than willing to help care for children when parents are at work.”

Chew also relates how she trained her older child to be more independent, which helped to ease some of the demands after her newborn son arrived. “I taught my daughter taught to use the toilet on her own, and read at an early age, so that she could entertain herself whenever I was busy.”

Obviously, you’ll need to make financial preparations as well. This means cutting back on lavish holidays, dining at less-pricey establishments, and even considering career moves that would provide more income to sustain your growing family.

Photos: iStock

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