It appears that almost everything in life comes with some sort of How-To guide. Whether it’s How to Ace a Job Interview or How to Assemble Your Ikea Furniture, there always seems to be someone who has prepared a step-by-step process to get you through any challenge that comes your way. One of the most life changing experiences someone can go through simultaneously appears to have both no guide and all the unsolicited advice you could ever ask for. I’m of course referring to the wonderful and terrifying experience becoming a parent.
While there are hundreds of books dedicated to parenting any kind of child you could imagine, there is one particular part of the experience that gets a lot less attention: the transition from being a couple into being parents. How do you successfully prepare for children with your partner? Here are some areas couple should focus on as they begin to prepare for or consider having children.
If, when, and how many?
The first decision facing a couple is whether or not to have children. Becoming a parent is a life altering event, and is one that shouldn’t be done out of obligation or outside pressure. While children can be a source of great joy and happiness, the decision to have children shouldn’t be an attempt to strengthen a relationship, because even the strongest of couples can be tested during pregnancy and child-rearing. Discussing and agreeing on the basic topics of if you want children, when you want children, and how many children you want to have can assure that both partners feel confident in their future as a parent, and not that they are being coerced into something they are not ready for.
Childcare plans and arrangements.
Are your thoughts on childcare the same as your partner’s? Decades ago mothers were expected to remain at home to raise their children, no questions asked, but now there are a variety of options that may be best for your family. Stay at home mothers, stay at home fathers, day care, and nannies are just some of the options available to new parents. Being able to listen to the different expectations and needs of your partner in regards to childcare can help you avoid contention and confusion in the future.
Finances and budgeting.
Having a child can be a big financial decision for many families. Pregnancy and childbirth can rack up medical bills for families in the U.S., and the cost of raising a child adds even more. While you may never be as financially stable as you hoped to be before having children, it can be a good idea to save and plan ahead with children specifically in mind. Couples should try to consider the realistic cost of having children and ask themselves whether they will need rethink their current budget in order to be as prepared as possible.
Emotional needs of each partner.
For couples who have spent their time exclusively with one another for a long time, having a child means attention and affection gets distributed in a brand new way. This can lead to partners feeling neglected or even jealous of the attention that they are now sharing with another. Discussing this as a preparation for children can get any worries or fears out in the open and allow each partner to be aware of the other’s needs.
Expectations of the child and rules of parenting.
Arguably the most tricky part of the couple-to-parent’s transition is managing the different expectations each partner has of their child and of how they will parent. One parent may to be lenient, permissive, and gentle, while the other wants to be more authoritarian and strict. While both of these methods are valid, not discussing how the child will be raised until it’s immediately happening can lead to tension in a highly pressured time. Discussing different approaches and expectations and reaching a satisfactory compromise for both partners before children come, can assure that there is consistency in the home.
No matter what, parenting will throw curve balls at every couple, and no one will ever be completely prepared for them. Having clear and open communication with your partner about parenting will be the best way to prepare you both and make the transition a happy one.
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Written by: Melece, Master’s Student in Marriage and Family Therapy. Reviewed by Brian Willoughby, Ph.D.