Baby Blues: You're Ready, He's Not!

Love, Family

He wants kids—just not yet. How to handle the question of when to start a family.

(Readers with children, stop right now: I know what you're going to say, and, please, save your breath. Yes, it is never a good time. I assure you, every ready-to-start-a-family couple has heard that bit of unhelpful non-advice by now. Next time you get the urge to say it to someone, why not try something more original instead—maybe a remark about the weather?)

When I'm honest with myself, though, I have to admit the main thing giving me cold feet about fatherhood is what it will mean for my leisure time. I've spent enough time around infants and toddlers to know that they are, in addition to being a ton of work, an endless amount of fun. But I'm not done yet having the kind of fun that comes from being young and unencumbered in a big city—exotic vacations, lazy weekends, the chance to use recreational drugs once in awhile without feeling like Courtney Love. This is one case where the grass, though visibly greener on the other side, still looks pretty darn good where I'm standing.

Of course this is ridiculous of me. I'm allergic to marijuana. The only foreign trip we've taken was to Canada. And when we have a weekend with nothing to do, we always somehow manage to fill it up with bill-paying and errands. So why my hang-up?

In place of an answer, I offer an observation. Among the couples we know, a distinct pattern prevails. The men are easygoing, messy, slightly underachieving. The women are disciplined, organized, successful at everything they do. When they have parties, it's the women who send out the Evites and whip up the fig-and-blue-cheese hors d'oeuvres, and the guys who make sure the music is loud enough and everybody has a drink in their hands.

I suspect this is, in part, a generational thing—a modern-day division of labor to replace the old "daddy works, mommy stays home" paradigm. Women create the structures of adult life (a pleasant home, a regular schedule); men try to preserve the energy and spontaneity of youth within those structures. There's tension involved in these divergent aims, but it's a positive tension: The couples upon whom I base my observation are mostly happy ones. Guys like me play for time, secure in the knowledge that the life we're deferring, full of grubby little fingers and juice boxes, will be waiting for us at the end. We're fighting a rearguard action, and we know it—but ultimately it's a fight we want to lose.