Ready to start a family? Not so fast. Make sure you’re on the same page with your partner before having kids.
I love babies. I have wanted to be a mother ever since I can remember. I knew that when I wound up getting married, my partner would have to feel the same.
That’s why, when things got serious with my now-husband, we had a frank conversation about kids.
“You have to try and find that balance. Take care of both yourselves as a couple and your children's needs, and that greatly improves the happiness factor, for the entire family.”
We both agreed that we wanted children and decided that after we got married, we wanted to start a family immediately. Fortunately, we agreed on most topics: religious preference, public vs. private schools, how we’d divide time between grandparents, etc. But many couples don’t see eye to eye on these topics, and what's worse is they often don’t realize how out of alignment they are until children enter the picture and the issues come up.
This can be especially hard on kids, who get caught in the middle when parents disagree on important issues. Lisa Helfend Meyer, certified specialist in family law and founding partner of Los Angeles-based Meyer, Olson, Lowy & Meyers, weighs in: “I have seen other situations when parents don't see eye to eye on such things as discipline. One sets limits and the other doesn't."
She goes on to tell Healthy Way, "These kids can end up in therapeutic boarding schools, have eating disorders, substance abuse problems, are self-injurious etc.”
“I've seen the negative outcomes when too much emphasis is placed on one [parenting choice] or the other. You have to try and find that balance. Take care of both yourselves as a couple and your children's needs, and that greatly improves the happiness factor for the entire family,” says Dr. Gary Brown, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles who works with couples who are contemplating pregnancy, already expecting, or are new parents.
Have a frank conversation about kids with your partner.
It can be hard, but couples should be completely open and honest with each other when discussing whether they want to have kids.
“ If couples cannot come to agreement about non-ne-gotiable issues, they should consider getting professional help before getting pregnant. A professional may help them find a solution...”
Elisabeth Stitt of Joyful Parenting Coaching says, “Couples should not only talk about big issues, they should talk about lower level details as much as they are able, as well. Obviously, it can be hard to know how you feel about some these things before you actually have kids, but exploring issues thoroughly is the best chance for couples to find out if there are any non-negotiable issues.
"If couples cannot come to agreement about non-negotiable issues, they should consider getting professional help before getting pregnant. A professional may help them find a solution—or may help the couple see that though they love each other, their ideas on how to undertake the most important task they will do as a couple are so different, the relationship is likely to break under the strain (which sets kids up for the stresses of divorce, two households, etc.) ”
Therapist Kelley Kitley agrees that couples can benefit from professional professional help when having tough conversations.
However you decide to approach a conversation about having children with your partner, relationship experts recommend asking these key questions to determine whether you’re ready to start a family.
Brown recommends answering the following question together: “Is our relationship firmly established and stable enough to bring a baby into the world? Or, are we a high-conflict couple that maybe needs to get some help before we even think about bringing a baby into the world?”
This can be a tough conversation to have with your partner, so Kitley suggests reading The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. “It helps to lay the foundation and manage expectations about how we give and receive love that oftentimes can create conflict during the initial stages of having a baby.”
Brown continues, “When building a home you want to make sure you have a solid foundation. Right?! Well, having a family is the same thing. In much the same way, having these early... conversations helps to build the foundation of your future family. It's important because you and your partner need to come to some understandings about how you both view parenting, including not only the impact of parenting on your future children but also the potential impact on your marriage.”
Unfortunately, bringing your little bundle of joy into the world comes with a hefty price tag. The average total cost of raising a child through the age of 18 is just over $200,000! Many couples are on the same page about wanting children but aren’t prepared financially.
“ Instead of grabbing sushi after working past nine, one or both of you have to leave the office and relieve the nanny or pick up from daycare. ”
New York-based therapist Dr. Kimberly Hershenson recommends that couples “look at current finances and future earning potential as well as future goals such as where they would like to live. The age of the couple should also be discussed. Based on these factors, the couple can decide when they'd like to ideally start trying... how much money they would need to feel secure in terms of family planning.”
Meyer says that there are also emotional implications tied to the financial strain of having children. “Having a child means lots of sacrifices and compromises. No longer can you spend your discretionary income on romantic getaways to Bora Bora. Instead of grabbing sushi after working past nine, one or both of you have to leave the office and relieve the nanny or pick up from daycare ”
If you aren’t ready to make those kinds of sacrifices or you already resent the lifestyle change a child would bring, Meyer recommends waiting to start a family until both partners are emotionally ready to make these financial changes.
Many couples don’t realize just how dramatically life changes after having children.
“ If couples are not purposeful about their time together without the children, this will be a real problem after the last one leaves the nest. “
Family therapist Thomasine Shepard says, “Having a baby takes a toll on marriages, and talking about how a couple will stay connected is crucial and often overlooked because parents are understandably focused on baby only.”
Dr. Jim Seibold, a family therapist based in Arlington, Texas, recommends couples discuss how they plan to balance couple and family time. "This is such an important discussion for future parents to have. [Making couple time a priority] is a challenge as long as children are living at home. When they are young, there is often a hesitancy to leave the children at home with a family member or babysitter.
"Often couples will presume that it will get easier as the kids get older. However, as they get older, they become more involved with outside activities—sports, dance, music, friends spending the night, etc. If couples are not purposeful about their time together without the children, this will be a real problem after the last one leaves the nest."
Seibold says couples should ask themselves “How do we want to have kids?” before even thinking about what labor and delivery will be like.
“ ...what if their preference is no longer an option? For example, if a couple is unable to conceive naturally, are they open to adoption, IVF, surrogate, etc. ?”
He continues, “There are several options that are available to people. Of course none of which are guarantees! Would couples prefer to have children biologically or would they rather adopt or foster children? In addition, what if their preference is no longer an option? For example, if a couple is unable to conceive naturally, are they open to adoption, IVF, surrogate, etc.? It would be important that couples understand each other's expectations here.”
Once you decide how you will start your family, you and your partner can move on to discussing what you envision for the actual birth experience if you plan to have biological children. Will you see an OB-GYN or a midwife? Will you deliver with or without medication? Will you hire a doula to assist with labor? How about breastfeeding? While many couples let the future mama dictate the birth process (and she should be vocal about what she wants!) partners should take joint ownership of bringing their child into the world.
Ah, grandparents. Parents and in-laws each want their time with the grandkids. Even if you have a great relationship with your parents and in-laws, splitting time between so many people can be difficult. Not to mention how you’ll handle situations in which grandparents ignore your parenting rules (like no sugar before bedtime!), so it’s important to discuss how involved grandparents or other extended family will be in your future child’s life.
“ ...focus on having fulfilling relationships with your family. ”
“This can be a trouble spot when couples come from different family types. For example, one parent comes from a family that is very close and involved. They grow up spending a lot of time with each other. On the other hand, the other parent grows up in a more disconnected family. They may only get together occasionally. This can also become a point of contention between parents, whether it is about how much time they spend together informally or differing expectations about holiday time,” says Seibold.
Ultimately, Hershenson says couples must “find acceptance in your decision regarding children.”
If you and your partner disagree on key parenting topics, it doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t ready for children or that your relationship is doomed. Hershen-son continues, “What you can change is your attitude. Find gratitude in what you do have in your life (family, career) and focus on having fulfilling relationships with your family.”
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