Like a lot of things in modern times, starting a family seemed a lot easier “back in the day”.
When our grandparents met they were probably in their early twenties and able to buy a house the day after their wedding for less than what a MacBook costs today. Nine months after all of that our parents were probably born.
Okay, maybe that’s a very simplistic take, but there were definitely fewer factors to take into consideration than there are today (and we’re not far off re: that house price comparison).
Nowadays, people are waiting until they’re a lot older to start a family. With plenty of reasons to hold off on the babymaking (financial, professional, and travel are a few obvious ones that come to mind), it’s not as clear-cut a decision or commitment as it was for our recent forebears.
As with most big decisions that any couple will face the best way to go about it is with some good old fashioned honest and open dialogue.
Starting a family is arguably the most important, exciting, and scary decision a couple will make in their life, and to say that having kids changes everything is more than just a passing observation.
From the obvious (changing nappies, breastfeeding, and wiping up lots of chunder) to the lesser known facts (namely being surprisingly good at operating on what feels like 30 minutes of sleep a week), a baby will push a couple to the extreme end of the spectrum, with countless moments of joy, pride, love, and happiness, as well as a few where your relationship will be tested.
Here are a few things to consider when talking to your partner about starting a family.
Why Do You Want Kids?
While there are loads of great reasons to start a family, having a discussion about why you want a baby is an important point in opening up a dialogue with your spouse.
If you both agree that you want kids then you’re off to a good start, but seeing that your values are aligned in terms of what you’re hoping to achieve as parents is key.
A good first stop on the conversation train is deciding what your motivations are and whether or not they’re internal or external.
Internal motivators are the ones that come from inside your own noggin’ i.e. your values, beliefs, reasoning and rationale.
External motivators are just as valid, but ones which can put pressure on your own decision making capabilities, like the values or beliefs of your partner, parents or even colleagues.
While you might want to be a dad because you want the joys that come with kids or you’ve always wanted a family, plenty of men might not realise they also feel slightly pressured by family, society, or even just the fact that their mates are starting to spawn ankle biters.
There’s nothing wrong with having different reasons for wanting kids, and no parent will tell you they regret it, but it’s good to check with your partner that you have the same or similar motivating factors.
If you don’t, it’s good to identify where those differences might lie to stop them from popping up in the future.
Be Honest About Your Feelings
Whether you’re more keen than your partner, they’re more keen than you, or you’re both on the same page, the only way you’ll both be able to navigate this crucial conversation is by being honest.
While compromise is an integral part of any relationship, this rule is best reserved for whether or not anchovies belong on pizza, or what shitty rom-com you will both hate equally on date night. Having kids is too important an issue to simply capitulate for the sake of making your partner happy if you’re not 100 per cent committed to the cause.
Ask and Listen
This is pretty self-explanatory but you’ll need to remember that this is a conversation, not a monologue, and even if it means hearing things you don’t like you’ll need to be an active listener.
This is also a great opportunity to ask the questions that you’ll want answered (who’ll take time off work? How will you share responsibilities? What will you do if it’s octuplets?).
Decide if You’re Ready Now
A common thread couples is that both parties are as keen as mustard about wanting to have kids, but will clash on what constitutes “the right time”.
And most dads will probably tell you the same thing: “If you wait until ‘you’re ready’, you’ll never do it”.
While it’s true that there’s only so much to prepare you for the joyous world of parenting, and some parts of it just need to be jumped into head-first, there are a few factors nowadays that should be explored with your dearly beloved before getting on the good foot and doing the bad thing.
If you and your partner are starting a family the old fashioned way (i.e. she’ll carry your child) then discussing her work options is one of the first things to talk about.
If having a child aligns with her career goals and ambitions: great. If having a child puts a halt on that, even temporarily, then you both might want to hold off for a while (as is becoming fashionable these days anyway).
With more family models than ever before (and all of them just as valid as each other), there are other factors to consider when it comes to making a decision this big. If you’re in a gay relationship and you both want kids, the time it could take to turn two into three might also mean a conversation that’s needed earlier onso that you can both start planning around the when and the how.
Another factor is age and fitness. Though people these days are holding off on kids until later in life than previous generations, there’s still something to be said for having an empty house when you’re both still able to enjoy retirement (there’s more to it than cruise ships and bingo).
Talk About Your Own Childhoods
If you’re seriously considering having children then you and your partner probably know a whole bunch of stuff about each other, including what your upbringing was like.
Two people from very different backgrounds can raise a child with the same values just as well (who knows, maybe even better) than two folks from the same side of the tracks. What’s important to consider here, however, is whether your values for what constitutes “good parenting” are aligned.
You learn how to parent (and in some cases, how not to parent) from your own upbringing. Whether you grew up in a nuclear family, had two mums, one dad, just your grandparents, or were raised by wolves, how you were raised makes the foundation for how your kids will learn about the world.
Checking that your partner shares the same set of core values (schooling, religion, where you’d like your kids to be raised) and wants the same outcomes during your child’s early life is something that you should consider before you start trying for a kid.
Some things that you might want to talk about (but might not have considered) are:
- Whether or not you’d like your child to go to private or public school;
- Making sure you’re both on board with having the baby vaccinated;
- If you end up with a little man, whether or not you’d like to circumcise.
Make a Plan to Move Forward
Once you’ve covered the nitty gritty, make a plan to move forward, whatever the outcome. Sometimes important conversations tend to lose their purpose and are rendered a waste of time simply because neither person wants to act on what’s been said. One of you might not get exactly what they wanted from the dialogue, but that’s okay: set a couple of points for moving forward (i.e. wait until a promotion at work, set a date to start planning, agree to talk again once the credit card is paid off) and stick to them.
With the right provisions in place, starting a family can quickly go from one of the most daunting and overwhelming times in your life as a couple to the most exciting, and the more time you get to spend together planning for baby (or enjoying your time together for a bit longer first), the better off you, your partner and your children will be down the road.