As someone who was married thirteen years before having children, I have been asked more than once how you know if you are ready to start a family.
My quick answer: I didn’t know. You can read more about that here.
My longer reply: I have a faith-born answer and a pragmatist answer. The faith side of me acknowledges, “When God moves in your heart or your circumstances, that’s when you’re ready.” The pragmatic side of me – that tends to be un-spontaneous, controlling and drives my hubby nuts – says from experience that you never really are ready, but there are a few things you can intentionally consider along the way to more readiness.
In a list likely to grow for years, started now while our kids are young and reflections are fresh, here are a few headline considerations on the path to readiness for family.
How are you spiritually, mentally and emotionally?
It is true that you need a well to draw from in order to have what it takes to give to others. For parenting, I believe you do better with spiritual depth, mental wellbeing and emotional maturity. Parenting is a great journey to also grow these but undoubtedly tough if you go into it with known deficits.
You might start to assess this through some honest personal reflection or conversation with a couple confidantes. How is your relationship with God? How easily do new challenges throw you? Have you dealt with known “junk” in your past? (We all have it.) Addressing obvious deficiencies will help make the journey into parenting smoother than it could be.
How mature is your marriage?
Children bring incredible blessing but also significant stress into marriage. They distract your attention from each other, have high care demands, keep you from sleeping, challenge your previous freedoms, create new expenses and more. That more includes introducing choices like discipline and a million other new points on which you now have opportunity to disagree.
If you don’t know each other well, don’t routinely communicate truth-in-love what you’re really thinking, haven’t learned to disagree constructively or aren’t committed for the long haul, you will run into trouble. And even if you do, do, have and are, you might still. Investing in strong foundations together before adding the dynamic of a child (much less multiple children) will give you a better chance at weathering the storms that are normal and sure to come.
What is your current state of selfishness?
I now laugh when I hear people say they don’t envision life will change when they have a baby, they’ll just incorporate the child into their world. That sounds great in theory but is impractical in most realities – particularly if you are committed to things like rest, structure and routine that help a child best develop.
My personal suggestion is to get the selfishness out of your system, by either living enough of it out or choosing to let it go. For example, I always wanted to travel the globe. I am now tremendously grateful I had the chance to visit scores of countries before having children. My dream of living extendedly overseas, however, is one that I choose to let go for time being because to actively pursue it in this season would be too disruptive for our young family.
Where are you in your career?
In my cultural context, the recipe for “life” for the generations immediately before mine was to graduate college, then get married, then have kids, and the mom stayed home. My generation is more inclined to graduate, work, maybe get married (or not), then have kids (or not). It is not as common as it once was to get the degree and file it for 20 years. And as a result, now the mom might not be the logical candidate to stay home.
Whenever I am asked, in a context of having options, I advocate for both in the relationship to have solid professional footing before having children. It makes it so much easier to consider and negotiate scenarios if both have a good dose of experience in their fields and, ideally, history with an employer. Doors to benefits, temporary arrangements and flexibility are sometimes only opened by tenure and proven track record. And experience positions you better in case of an unexpected change in situation.
How organized are you financially?
No matter how thrifty you are, children are expensive. From medical costs to diapers to food to books and toys to childcare, even early on their costs are disproportionately high for their small size.
This is one of those areas where you can save yourself a lot of headache, marital strife and lack of choices if you organize financially before having children. Introducing a child into a paycheck-to-paycheck scenario comes along with a time bomb for other issues. The more organized with little-to-no debt, a start to savings and long-range financial plans, the more you can freely choose seasonal situations without an anxious present or hijacked future.
What kind of support systems do you have?
The African proverb of it taking a village to raise a child is true as much for mom and dad as for the kids. Parents do best with morale support and people to cheer them on even as kids need other examples and role models in their lives. Plus, mom and dad just need a break sometimes.
Family, church, friends and colleagues are all candidate members of the village that make for sanity while parenting. If you don’t have multiple individuals from these categories that are already engaged in your life and ready to help with a word or a gesture when needed, it’s time to cultivate some new relationships.
What’s your plan for childcare?
Unless you are independently wealthy, chances are you and/or your spouse will continue working once a child arrives. And choosing who will spend time with your children while you work – whether mom, dad, or someone else – can be one of the most stressful decisions you make as a parent.
Having used a mix of daycare in a provider’s home, a nanny in ours, and flexible work schedules on both sides to care for our children, I can affirm there are pros and cons to any arrangement. And I also have come to learn that what is ideal for the family will change as the kids grow and parents move in and out of personal and professional seasons, too. Planning ahead for childcare is critical, but so is reassessing periodically what is best for everyone and then making adjustments as needed.
Where are you in regard to people-pleasing?
If you are subject to the pressure of living life in a way that meets others’ expectations, you will struggle with parenting. Whether it is your choice to work or not, your childcare arrangements, how you parent or discipline, how many activities your family engages in or doesn’t, you increase the potential to literally drive yourself crazy if you don’t stop the people-pleasing before kids come.
Early on with my first, a friend encouraged me that how we shape our family and how we parent is truly our decision to own and make. It is a God-given privilege and responsibility, something He grants while giving a lot of helpful instructions for how to do it. That simple word of counsel gave me freedom to choose to generally not care what anyone thinks except the One who wrote the book on parenting. I’ve never considered myself a people-pleaser, and thankfully I was directed to not start out my parenting with that losing proposition.
Are you ready to let go and go all in?
If you are at all like I was, you might think you know yourself well and envision how you will still be you, just with a little one or more by your side. Then, if you continue on like me, your entire world is shaken once you have a child and you find yourself having to reinterpret who you are and who you want to be.
From the classic control freak (moi), get ready. Parenting is anything but perfectly executed plans, and it is a full-time responsibility even if you work outside the home. Life is no longer divided into discrete little categories between which you move freely as you choose. Children have a way of radically redrawing the lines of your heart and priorities and requiring everything from you. But in a way that is most worth it.
What do you think, is there anything you would add to this list?