Life Family Features

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Should you walk if he doesn't want kids?

The question of whether to start a family has reportedly ended Gary Lineker's six-year marriage. But does no baby always have to spell The End?

Changes: Danielle and Gary Lineker announced their divorce this week after six years of marriage. Photo: PA
Changes: Danielle and Gary Lineker announced their divorce this week after six years of marriage. Photo: PA

Chrissie Russell

Couples split up for lots of reasons; affairs, money, people not pulling their weight with the housework, conflicting opinions on the right way to load the dishwasher… the list goes on. But one of the most fundamental issues has to be The Children Question.

This week it was revealed that Gary Lineker and his wife of six years, Danielle, are divorcing. The reason, according to sources cited by the Sun newspaper: she wants kids, Lineker doesn't.

At 55, it's believed that the football pundit, who has four children from his previous marriage, felt he was too old to father a new baby. Model Danielle (36), who also has a teenage daughter from a previous relationship, reportedly felt otherwise and wanted another child.

"They made a great couple, but their different views on having children is what made them realise they had to split," the friend source told the Sun.

We all know people who have been in a similar position. Although, as it transpires, very few people want to talk about it.

"I know someone who split up with her partner because he didn't want kids," reported one person I contacted about the issue, "I asked her if she'd talk about it and she burst in to tears, it's still very raw for her."

"I know friends who've gone through the same, but they wouldn't want to talk," came another reply.

"It's a very personal topic," added a third, currently in a relationship where the children debate is on-going and putting a strain on the couple. "There's no way I want it written about."

But is it the reluctance to talk about the tricky question of whether or not we want children that's causing problems down the line?

As Carrie Bradshaw once pointed out during her romance with 'The Russian' in Sex and the City, there is no 'good time' to ask someone if you love them enough to make up for not having a child, but is it a question that just has to be asked?

According to psychologist Owen Connolly, of the Owen Connolly Counselling Centre, having the awkward 'do you want kids?' conversation is one that absolutely needs to happen early on in a relationship. "It's a deal breaker," he says simply. "You have to put your cards on the table or there can be a lot of hurt down the line."

Rebecca Kenny (47) had been dating her then boyfriend, Peter (56), for some time when the subject of kids 'came up'.

"I said I really wanted a child, which was when I realised he wasn't keen, so that was a bit of a shocker for me," she says. Peter was eight years older than her and had already had two children in a previous relationship.

"He was at a stage where he was happy with his lot and sort of felt he'd been there and done that with regard to children," says Rebecca.

"I knew there was no point pushing him on it. It's a life-changing experience and I wouldn't want to ever bring a child into the world when one of us wasn't really keen, it had to be something he wanted himself."

The couple split up briefly. "I think he realised that it meant a lot to me and did a bit of a U Turn."

They're now married, have a 13-year-old daughter and can't imagine life being any different. "Peter dotes on Layla and so do her brother and sister, who are both in their 20s."

The important thing, she reckons, was that her husband decided for himself that he was happy to have another child.

"We were able to work it out," says the Dublin PR executive. "I'm not sure it would have worked if I'd wanted five kids!"

But as a marriage and family therapist, Owen has seen many situations where the outcome hasn't been so positive. One couple he worked with recently had strong echoes of Gary Lineker's situation.

"The couple were very much in love and had been together three years," he recalls. "He was in his late 40s and she was 22. He already had four children and was adamant he didn't want any more.

"They could have afforded it but he felt he didn't have the energy to be an older father. They went to counselling but ultimately it ended the relationship.

"It's very sad and I know the guy in question still grieves the loss of the relationship but he had to accept the fact that having a child was very important to her."

The most important thing in such a situation is to talk about your expectations and why you might want or not want children. But for everyone's sake it's better to end a relationship than harbour a seething resentment of a lost chance at parenthood, or worse still, forcing someone's hand in becoming a parent.

"It is absolutely vital that both parents are on the same page, openly and honestly," says Cork-based counselling psychologist Sally O'Reilly, of Sally O'Reilly Counselling and Psychotherapy.

"The temptation might be to manipulate a partner into saying 'okay' when it's not, but do this at your peril.

"You're then open to years of poor communication, resentment and perhaps disappointing amounts of parental involvement from your partner, ultimately the relationship will suffer and so will the child."

Nor should you assume the difficulties in navigating the second family issue will always abide by the stereotypical image of 'younger woman wants kids, older man doesn't'.

"I was dating an older childless guy recently who started talking about wanting a child and I ran a mile," says Dubliner Claire Craig, a presenter and blogger in her early 30s who has a child from a previous relationship. "After bringing up a 12-year-old after a broken relationship, I'd be very slow to have any other children as I'd be reluctant to run the rusk of going down that road again."

Of course relationships change, and just because someone has said they don't want children at one point in their lives, doesn't mean that won't change down the line.

In age-gap relationships this might be particularly pertinent. An older man, recently out of a marriage, might be attracted to the prospective 'freedom' offered by a younger woman but it's critically important that everyone knows where they stand on the relationship's future and the lines of communication need to be kept open.

But Jonathan Irwin, founder of the Jack and Jill Children's Foundation, believes too much conversation can get away from the excitement of not knowing what the future holds.

He had three sons with his first wife and five with his current wife, Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, founder of Lily O'Brien's Chocolates.

"We certainly never sat down and plotted what we were or were not going to do," he laughs. "That would have given such terrible claustrophobia."

When children came they were, he says, 'a surprise', but such also "an enormous pleasure".

He's keen to ward off those who would label an older man, saying he doesn't want to have children as a 'selfish' move.

"I'm 75, my eldest is 50 and my youngest, Molly, is 16. From the child's point of view I do wonder if it's fair having an elderly daddy who's not out playing tennis. It's something you have to consider."

Jonathan, who told his story in his book The Story of Jonathan Irwin, says having a strong relationship has been the foundation not just for parenthood but for the couple supporting each other's business enterprises and charitable work.

A strong relationship can likewise weather not having children.

"It's down to the individual couple and why it's so important to really spend hours talking it out," says Sally.

"Some will say it's a deal breaker and walk, others will prioritise a relationship and decide that they would rather have their partner and no children than a different partner and some children.

"The drive to procreate is not a definitive thing. As long as we're honest with ourselves first and then with our partner, it's likely that all will end well. Everyone deserves that chance."

Irish Independent

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