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Family size: When partners disagree

QUESTION: I am in a happy marriage and my husband and I have a beautiful three-year-old daughter. I want to try and have a second child, but he doesn't. He's a few years older than I am but being an only child myself I really feel the need for a second child. How can I bring him around without endangering our relationship?

ANSWER: The two of you are currently entertaining different visions of family. Has this always been the case? Or has there been a change of heart by one of you?

If you have both envisioned more than one child in the past, what has changed his mind? Ask your husband the reason for his trepidation about having a second child. Is he concerned about the time away from one another as a couple, or does he feel a second would curtail his career choices in some way?

If you both entertained a "wait and see" attitude about subsequent children before you became parents, what has caused you to want more, and him to want just one?

After a thorough discussion of your feelings about parenthood and how it has changed your life, consider the effects of another on your current lifestyle. Clearly you have already made room for a child. The greatest adjustment in family life is this step into parenthood, which has already taken place. Given that this irreversible change has already transformed your lives, how much more would your lives change by adding another?

Consider, too whether there are ways to adapt to children that include taking time for the couple, or being able to balance work and parenthood that have not yet occurred in these first three years. If your husband has specific complaints along these lines, are there things that could be different the next time around? For example, more household help, a regular baby-sitter or committing to regular couple's time could make a difference towards making a family of four an acceptable, shared vision or not.

If the two of you continue to have difficulty resolving this question, seek a consultation with a marriage therapist experienced in these types of family issues. A professional setting may help you explore your roles in the family and ways your relationship has changed. It is possible that your husband may be upset about couples changes he has not articulated even to himself, leaving him with a knee-jerk "no" to more children. Addressing couples issues may help break-through this impasse, one way or another.

You may also find that exploring your own childhood families with a third party will bring to light expectations and fears about having more children that need to be answered by the two of you. Having a couple of hours to focus on this important decision may be the best investment you make in your family.

Remember, too... It is not a matter of "bringing him around" but of coming to a decision together. Learn what your husband's concerns are, before attempting to change his mind. After all, making decisions together is what contributes to a healthy partnership!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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