What should a couple do before deciding to start a family (both in terms of preparation and in terms of life experiences)? --Someday
Into the lives of every couple who knows that they want to have kids “someday” there will come a moment in which “someday” morphs suddenly into “now.” The trigger for this epiphany is probably different for every couple, and it can be anything from making the final deposit in that long-nurtured savings account to a sudden understanding in the department-store aisle that you no longer want kids in the abstract, you want an actual person who will necessitate socks that small. If you’re waiting for the lightning bolt to strike, it’s extremely wise to begin preparations now.
Get Ready Emotionally
First and foremost, you must both agree you want a child. At any given time one of you may want it more than the other, but making someone become a parent against his wishes is a terrible thing to do. Raising a child is a huge job and one that shouldn’t be undertaken reluctantly—you are going to need each other more than ever during the years ahead. “Wanting a child” means more than babylust, too; you both must realize that you are committing to be wholly responsible for a human being for at least 18 years.
I think it’s better to spend a year or three alone as a couple, if you can, before you add a child to the mix. Your life and relationship will change permanently when you become parents and even though many of the changes will be wonderful, you will never get this “you and me against the world” time back again. It’s also true that the better you know one another the better partners you’ll be, in parenting and everything else. Have a lot of conversations now about your child-rearing philosophies and how you’ll approach the areas in which your opinions differ. How do you feel about spanking? Naps? Allowances? Religion? Day care? Inoculations?
Get Ready Physically
Get in as good a physical condition as you can. BOTH of you – the mama needs to tone her body for pregnancy, childbirth, recovery and nursing, and the daddy needs to make healthy sperm and be ready for all that late-night floor walking. The woman can start taking prenatal vitamins and folic acid even before she gets pregnant, and this can help reduce the risk of some birth defects. Stop smoking (it affects fertility in both partners) and quit all recreational drug use (sometimes the effects last long after you’ve stopped feeling them, and it takes a while to purge it all from your system). Get your teeth professionally cleaned, which sounds weird – doesn’t it? – until you consider that bacteria hides in your gums, and when you do get pregnant you will be more susceptible to infection from that source. When you’re in the “we’re trying!” window, she should stop drinking caffeine (it limits iron absorption) and alcohol.
This is also a good time to research your family and personal medical histories so that when you’re ready to get pregnant you’ll be able to tell the doctors everything they’ll want to know. If a particular disorder runs in either family, consider genetic testing before you conceive. Make a pre-conception appointment with your regular doctor when you’ve decided you’re ready; she can adjust any medications you’re taking, if necessary, and give you a good general exam to make sure all systems are go. She can also show you how to chart your ovulation, if you don’t already know, to pinpoint the times you’re most likely to conceive.
Position Yourselves Financially
Having babies is expensive. Talk to your health insurance company about what prenatal care they cover and what your deductibles will be; advance planning gives you the chance to set some money aside to cover it. This is also a good time to meet with a financial advisor or set up a college account. If you’re planning to buy a house or move to a bigger place, you might do it now so that your finances have settled again by the time you decide to get pregnant.
One of you should be earning enough (or you should save enough in advance) that you can afford to have one of you stay at home with the baby for a while. Each couple must decide for themselves whether “a while” is the first 6 weeks, the first 5 years or until the child is an adult.
There are a few life experiences that go into being an adult, certainly, and nobody who’s not an adult should consider becoming a parent. An adult has enough real-world savvy to support himself, to conduct himself in polite society and to take physical care of himself. Having children doesn’t cut you off from as many adventures as you might suspect – you can still see the Nile with a baby on your back, you just have to bring more luggage. It’s the way you will experience these things that will be different.
What changes is your mindset. Once you are a parent you will never again feel free to just throw a clean pair of underwear in the trunk of your car on Friday night and see where the road takes you until you both have to be back at work on Monday at 9. Once you’ve passed that line between Couple and Parents, you will be at the mercy of earaches and dance recitals, homework and birthday parties, and all the other scheduling minutiae that cram a family’s calendar. Spontaneity will be a thing of the past.
Therefore, spend this time being selfish. Enjoy yourselves and each other. Take exotic vacations together and spend romantic weekends naked, alone at home. Drive the two-seater, start the new business, stay up too late and eat off the good china every night. Live it up; because your family, as wonderful as it will be, is built on the love between the two of you — and you need to store up enough memories as a couple to last a long, long time.
. . . have a baby to “save your marriage.” If two adults can’t do it, how can a child?
. . . wait until conditions are perfect. Conditions will never be perfect.
. . . worry about how much it costs to raise a child through to college graduation. It’s nice if you have it already, but you’ll work it out if you don’t.
. . . think that you’ll be a bad parent because you hate babysitting/ your younger siblings/ your neighbor’s kids. You will feel very differently about your own children.
. . . think you must be able to afford to buy the latest baby gadgets or designer furniture. The baby doesn’t care if it sleeps in a Laura Ashley showroom.
. . . let any of this scare you. It is totally worth it.