Children. It’s a big decision, some say the biggest you’ll ever make.
People have kids for many reasons. For some, kids are life’s biggest blessing. For others, they’re a moral or religious imperative. For yet others, they’re a way to leave a legacy – a sort of genetic immortality.
One thing is certain, however – once you have kids, neither you nor your significant other will ever be the same. Having kids can make or break a relationship. A lot depends on how strong your relationship is, what your views are on parenthood and raising children, and – most importantly – how compatible these views are with your partner’s.
Before you make such a monumental decision, there are certain questions you need to know the answers to.
1. Caring for baby. The first thing you’ll need to find agreement on is how you’re going to handle the basic care and feeding of your baby. What aspects of caring for your child are you looking forward to and which are you dreading? Who’s going to be responsible for what, and why? What are the options for working out compromises on responsibilities neither party wants to do, such as changing diapers and getting up at 2am for bottle feedings? It’s important that both of you know up front who’s going to be doing what, so that no one ends up feeling like they got stuck doing all the dirty work.
2. Raising the kids. Once the kids are past the age of purely survival-based care, you’ll need to agree on issues involved in parenting and raising your kids. What are your views on discipline, schooling, outside activities and so on? Will there be a primary caregiver, or will you both split that role evenly? What about childcare – will you use outside childcare, hire someone to care for your child in the home or will one of you stay at home (and if so, who)? Nailing these issues down before the baby arrives can help smooth your transition from partners to parents.
3. Family issues. Family can be the greatest boon to new parents and, at the same time, the source of the biggest headaches. How will you resolve family issues such as conflicting holiday schedules, territorial grandparents, religious differences and so on? One important lesson you need to internalize is that by having kids, you are creating a new core family unit, and it is your responsibility as parents to present a unified front against disruptive influences that could confuse, endanger or emotionally distress your children. Even if that means taking a stand against your own parents or other family members.
4. Money issues. Will the kids get an allowance? If so, how much? Do they have to earn it, or will it be given automatically? What about gifts and belongings – do you want to shower them with material goods, or do you prefer restricting their toys and other possessions to a few important pieces to avoid creating entitlement and boredom. How will you handle gifts from family members and friends? What are your views on college funds, summer jobs, directing your child’s discretionary spending money and other related financial issues? What will you teach your kids about spending, saving, credit, giving and other issues? Money issues are one of the top relationship killers – don’t let this topic wait until the last minute.
5. Religion and other social issues. Will you raise your kids in a particular religious tradition and if so, which one? Who will be the primary religious caregiver? If you and your partner have different religions how will you resolve that issue, and how will you handle resulting external family issues? What about other social issues such as racism, diversity, compassion for the less fortunate, community awareness and activism, environmentalism, dietary concerns, non-religious spirituality and so on? What view do you agree on, what views do you differ on, and how will you translate this to raising your children?
These questions just barely scratch the surface. There are many books on the subject that can take you through these and other issues in far greater detail than I can here. Alternatively, you may want to consult with parenting experts, religious mentors or family members on what to expect and what issues they think you should address.
Whatever method you chose, however, it’s better than simply crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. Your relationship, and your children, are the soul-centers of your life. They deserve more than just wishful thinking.
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