Major Decisions for Modern Families— How disagreement over wanting children can strain a marriage

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On the hit TV show Modern Family, Gloria is a thirty-something woman married to Jay, a significantly older man. Gloria brought her young child into the marriage and then had another baby with Jay, who already had grown children with spouses and kids of their own.

On the show, the couple—Jay especially—often seemed hilariously but happily overwhelmed by the antics of their somewhat unconventional, ever-growing, and always zany brood.

But in real life, roles were somewhat reversed for Sophia Vergara, the actress who played Gloria.

Recently, Vergara, 51, opened up in the media about her split from her husband of 7+ years, actor Joe Manganiello, 47, last summer.

In January, Vergara told the Spanish newspaper El Pais, “My marriage broke up because my husband was younger…he wanted to have kids, and I didn’t want to be an old mom.”

In People Magazine’s “Beautiful” Issue, Vergara explained further, saying it felt empowering to admit differences about whether to have a child together ultimately drove them apart.

People reported that Vergara has a 32-year-old son, Manolo, from a previous marriage and didn’t want to begin “the motherhood journey” again now.

“I was a mother already. I know what it means to be a good mother or to try to be the best mother that you can, and that takes a lot of sacrifices, takes a lot of energy” Vergara said. “I didn’t think because of my career, the way I live my life, the way my marriage was, that it was fair to bring a kid to this world, and I’m not going to be able to give 100 percent.”

Vergara’s dilemma is not uncommon.

Whether or not age difference is a factor, many couples face concerns about when—or whether—to start a family together.

Having a child is one of the most important and personal choices any couple or individual can make. Parenting is incredibly rewarding—but it’s also life-changing and challenging in many ways, some predictable and easy to imagine, some that we simply learn from experience.  It’s no wonder that not everyone is sure they want to take that step or take it again at a certain point in life. For others, it’s an unequivocally important part of life, something they’ve always looked forward to, dreamed about, and planned on.

Sometimes, a person’s attitude about having children shifts over time or with life circumstances. So, what happens in a marriage when a couple disagrees over whether or not to have children? Is it an inevitable deal-breaker? Are there ways to work through such a fundamental difference?

Here are four tips from the experts on how to navigate a disagreement over having kids.

Talk. Communication is key to this, as is almost everything in marriage. And the sooner you start the conversation, the better—before marrying, if possible. Be open and honest. Find out whether you’re on the same page about having children and whether your hopes and plans for a family are aligned. If you’re getting serious as a couple and find out you’re not in sync on this enormous life question, it may be time to consider whether you’re a good match. How important is it to you? And if you agree now, discuss what you’d do if someone changed their mind.

Listen. Whatever point you’re in your relationship, when it comes to discussing children, really try to hear and understand the other person’s point of view. Be compassionate and nonjudgmental. Know that you both have valid feelings and fears around this issue.

Dig Deeper. When you disagree about kids, look for the real root of the conflict and try to address underlying issues. There are many reasons that people feel against or ambivalent about starting a family. Some people just don’t desire children. Other people have fears or conflicted feelings that stand in the way. They may worry about how children will change the marriage dynamic—will closeness or intimacy be lost? Others have financial or practical concerns—can we afford a baby? Is our apartment big enough? Will we have to move? How will we pay for college? Some people aren’t sure they’re ready to take on the responsibility of being a parent or worry that their partner won’t be able to share enough. Some people fear they won’t make a good parent; perhaps a troubled family background has left them with complicated feelings about family. Still, others are worried about the change a baby will bring to their lifestyle, what it will mean for their career, and how pregnancy will impact their body.

See a professional. A disagreement over such a fundamental life choice and powerful human desire can be challenging. Compromise can take a lot of work to reach. When it seems you’re at an impasse, seek counseling. Fortunately, some therapists are trained specialists in this very issue.

If you decide it’s time to end your marriage, the caring and experienced family attorneys at SFLG can help you navigate the divorce process.

By Debra Schoenberg

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