Having a baby is a big decision that lasts for the rest of your life and changes everything—and we mean everything. Sadly, most couples spend more time talking about what house they want to buy than how they plan to raise their kids.
So, before you and your partner decide to ‘go forth and multiply’ think about whether you’re ready for the responsibility and if you see eye to eye on important parenting issues. Start with this list of questions. You may disagree, but at least you have a chance to work on a happy compromise or adjust your expectations.
1. How many kids do you want to have? How many years in between?
We hate to sound like a party-pooper, but this question affects a lot of things: your standard of living, the amount of time and energy you need to spend on the family (and conversely, your career), and even how many years you’ll need to work before you can retire.
For example, if you’re 28 and he wants five kids, realistically that means you’ll spending at least 15 years with a pre-schooler in the house. It also means that you’ll be 50 by the time your youngest goes to college. (Then you can go find an online calculator that will give you an idea of how much college costs in 2030.)
So this question will make both of you think about your priorities and personal dreams. If he says, ‘I still think the joy of a big family is worth all of that!’ and you say, ‘Wait, I want to take my Ph.D. and teach in a university—how can I afford that, with that plan?’ then you know you need to straighten out what to do.
2. What will we do if we can’t have kids?
This is purely a hypothetical situation, but at least you’re prepared. Are you ready for fertility treatments? Are you open to adoption? These are highly emotional and personal issues but these decisions—if you ever need to face them—must be made together. It’s good to know whether or not you share similar views.
3. How do you define your (and your partner’s) parenting roles?
You may want to look at how he was raised, and whether or not he agrees with the way his mom and dad divided the family duties. For example, does he plan to share diaper duty? What about discipline? Homework?
4. Complete this sentence: ‘whatever happens, I want the kids to enjoy…’
Everyone will say ‘I want the kids to have the best’ but people have very different definitions for what ‘the best’ is. You may say ‘a solid education’ and define this as going to private schools. He may say ‘traveling—they need to be exposed to different cultures.’ Either way, talk about these goals and what you’re willing to give up to make those happen.
5. What career changes do you expect/are willing to make for the family?
Resolve this now. You may dream of being a stay-at-home mom, and expect him to support the family through a stable, regular income. Or, you may totally love your career and know you’ll be miserable if you don’t follow a dream you’ve had since childhood.
Try to look at details, too. If you will both continue working (especially if—from questions 1 to 5, you realize your goals need a two-income household) what childcare options are acceptable to you? Is he okay with daycare or does he want his mother to move in and help out with the baby? How much is daycare in your area, and how accessible? Will that affect your decision on how many kids you want to have?
6. What religious beliefs do you want to pass on to your kids?
This can be an issue if you come from different religions or have different approaches to spirituality. Will you expect your family to go to church? Will you enroll your children in a religious school? How will you tackle your children’s questions about God? Some people will say, ‘There is one God but many ways of praising him.’ Others will say, ‘No, there is only one way to be saved.’ These are both strong and personal belief systems.
7. IF you have a multicultural, multi-racial background: how much of your culture and value system do you want to pass on to your kids?
You’ll rarely see any opposition to this, especially since there really is no harm in sharing your roots and creating a sense of heritage. However, your partner needs to support your efforts—especially if you wish your children to be bilingual, or to grow up with certain beliefs. For example, obedience and respect for authority rank high in traditional Asian culture. A Westerner may interpret this as submissiveness. Talk about this now, so you don’t send mixed messages to your children later on.
8. How will you discipline your kids?
This issue is possibly the one couples fight most about. Do you believe in spanking? Do you follow a good cop/bad cop approach? How strict will you be with your kids? Again, look at the way your partner was raised, and see how willing he is to learn about ‘modern’ discipline methods. (A lot has changed in the last 15 years!)