Lots of couples dream of starting a family together. For many, it’s an ultimate #relationshipgoal. But what if you and your partner have differing opinions when it comes to raising your future family?
Maybe your partner is hoping for a way bigger, or way smaller, family than the one you’re dreaming of. Maybe he or she has a different philosophy regarding discipline or has unconventional ideas when it comes to your kids’ education.
This can be stressful because different ideas of child-rearing can mean big conflicts down the line. It can spark arguments about setting boundaries, deciding which activities your children should do, which of you should take on which parenting responsibilities, and more.
And while these differences can cause some disagreements, you don’t want them to put a strain on your relationship. You want to feel supported by each other, especially as you prepare to grow your family. One great way to do that, is to communicate.
My husband and I have talked about having kids for a long time, and now, we’re slowly preparing ourselves for parenthood. As part of our process, we set out asking people we know, who already have kids, which questions they asked their partner before starting a family—and which questions they wished they’d asked.
What we got was a list that’s perfect for a couple wanting to get on the same page before raising children. It’s also a great conversation starter for those trying to decide if they’re with the person they want to start a family with.
So, if you’ve got kids on the mind, or are wondering how you and your partner would do as parents, these questions will help you get the conversation going. Here are 6 important questions to ask yourself, and your partner, before deciding to have kids.
1. How many?
For such a simple question, this can be a hard one to answer. In part because, over time, your ideal number can change.
Perhaps you start out thinking you want a big family of six or seven, but once you have your first, you might decide that one is enough. On the other hand, you might set out wanting one, love the experience, and decide that you want more.
This happened to one of my co-workers. She and her husband wanted one or two, but they loved the experience so much, that they ended up with four. She said that if they hadn’t talked about it and planned it out financially, they wouldn’t have been able to find the perfect number for them.
She said that the “how many do we want?” question was an important one to ask before starting their family—and still just as important after they started having kids.
Keep in mind that this might also be a good opportunity to talk about fertility issues. Talk about what you might do if you have trouble getting pregnant. You might consider adoption, IVF, and even surrogacy. It’s important to have all your bases covered, and figure out what feels right to you both, just in case.
2. Who’s going to do what?
If you ever feel overwhelmed with chores before having kids, multiply that feeling by a thousand.
You’d think that something as small as a football couldn’t do that much damage, but it’s amazing what a baby can do to your laundry, your floors, bathrooms, dishes, and more. Oh, and if you aren’t already busy enough cleaning everything, the baby needs constant attention too.
And things don’t get easier as your bundles of joy grow up. They still need to be cared for, but they also need to be driven places: to school and friends’ houses and piano lessons. They need help with their homework and cupcakes for bake sales. Yikes.
You have to ask yourself (and your partner) who’s going to do take on these tasks.
This question was really important to a friend of mine. When she and an old boyfriend started talking about having kids, she found out that her boyfriend had a very traditional parenting style in mind: he’d work and she’d stay home with the kids. She hated this idea.
Her career was always important to her and she wasn’t going to leave her job. She said that, learning how some people still value traditional gender roles was enlightening, and this helped her realize what she really needed in a relationship. Eventually, she found the right partner for her and now they share parenting responsibilities pretty equally.
Of course, not all couples can delegate between the two of them and many parents need help with the workload. That’s why it’s also important to discuss how you feel about hiring outside help for childcare and other household duties. Hiring a nanny or housekeeper can help a lot, but there are costs to consider. If the expense is a problem, ask if you’d both feel comfortable enlisting some support from family. Remember to consider the non-baby specific chores too, like: who will make dinner? Who will go to the grocery store?
Having kids will be a lot of work, but if you start talking about responsibilities early, you’ll be more prepared when the time comes.
3. What do you want to stay the same?
They say that everything changes after having kids, but does that mean everything, everything? Of course not.
Lots of things will change (and hopefully for the better) but if there are parts of your life you want to keep the same, plan ahead. Talk to each other about how to work your favorite aspects of your pre-baby life into your post-baby world.
That’s exactly what my cousin and his wife did before they had their son.
Before having their toddler, my cousin loved going to soccer games and his wife loved going to yoga class. So, it was important to them both that they make time to go to occasional soccer games/yoga classes—even as new parents. He says that when he and his wife make time to do something just for them, it makes them both happier, and in turn, makes them better parents and partners.
It’s proof that self-care is important.
Maybe the things you want to keep doing are easy to put on a calendar: like a monthly book club meeting or tennis games. Write it down and plan ahead with babysitters.
But what if your goals are a little less tangible? Maybe you’re just hoping to keep the passion in your relationship or maybe you want to stay in shape. A broader objective might take a little more work, but setting small goals can definitely help along the way.
Just remember that, of course, you can’t keep everything the same. Sometimes people are disappointed when they become parents and realize they can’t go back to school right away or can’t easily move across the country for a job.
Keep in mind that having kids can mean making big changes and sacrifices—but with some communication and preparation, it’s okay to try to keep some things the same.
4. How do you see your relationship with your child?
While your relationship with your partner is important, the relationship between you and your child should be a priority too. Talk to each other about how you picture your relationship with your children when they’re kids, when they’re teenagers, and when they’re adults.
My friend and her wife talked about this before having kids. She said it was helpful because it forced them to look to the future and ask themselves what sort of goals they had for family dynamics, parent-child communication, and discipline. They knew that they both had very different relationships with their parents but were happy to find that they had similar goals when it came to raising their own kids.
However, not everyone does. Talk about how you both see your relationship with your children and how they’re similar (or different).
5. What did you like about your childhood? What would you do differently?
When you look back on your childhood, you might remember a lot of great things your parents did for you: from jolly holiday traditions to fun family football games. But there are probably at least a few things you didn’t love as much: from small things like too-strict curfews to bigger issues like limited affection.
But, just because you’ve lived and learned from your parents, doesn’t mean your partner has come to the same conclusions. Maybe you look back on your “no TV after dinner” rule as too harsh, but your partner sees the same regulation as a parenting necessity.
When one of my co-workers and her husband asked each other this question, they found out that they had very different ideas when it came to whether or not to raise their kids with religion. It took them a long time to find a compromise they were both happy with, but eventually they figured it out.
Choosing to adopt or ignore things your parents did can feel very personal, so these choices can be extra difficult to find a solution to. You have a personal connection to how much you loved or hated something in your childhood and this can make decision-making particularly emotional.
The best thing is to keep these discussions as relaxed as possible and be patient with each other. Make lists of what you loved and didn’t love about your own childhood and set aside time to talk about them calmly. If there are some conflicts you run into, try to see if you can meet in the middle, if there are some points you’re not sure about, set them aside and come back to them. The important thing is to feel like you’re in this parenting thing together and that you can support each other in everything—even if it’s not a decision you favored.
6. How do you feel about counseling?
No matter how prepared you are before having a little one, taking care of a baby and raising a child is stressful and can put a strain on your relationship. Having a child will change both of your lives forever, and you both need to be ready to grow with that change.
My friend from college said one of the important things he and his husband talked about before adopting their baby was how willing they were to go to couples counseling if they needed it down the road. They knew that raising a child would be stressful and they wanted to be prepared if the pressure paid a toll on their relationship.
It’s an important topic to cover because some people are hesitant to get counseling at all. While many people enjoy the benefits of therapy, some couples have a hard time signing up for sessions because they’re afraid to admit when they need help.
Talk about your feelings when it comes to counseling. Maybe you’ve already done some counseling and think it’s a great idea to work on issues when a professional every so often. Maybe you’re new to the idea and are a little afraid of what it means. No matter what, remember that you and your family deserve to keep your relationship strong, even when things get difficult. Talk about what it would mean to see a counselor and be sure you’re both able to accept help when needed.
Parents know that there are so many things things to do—and so much to talk about—before welcoming a little one into the world. These six questions will likely be just the beginning of your journey to parenthood, but hopefully these points will start some good discussions while you and your partner begin growing your perfect family together.