More than one happy, loving couple has been caught off guard by opinions that crop up during discussions of parenthood. It’s common for adults to have firm beliefs about what makes a good parent. Unfortunately, it’s also common for couples to wait too long to talk these things through. Raising a child is hard enough without suddenly realizing you and your partner aren’t on the same page. So it’s time to flex those communication muscles.
There are a number of topics to discuss as you prepare to raise children. Consider grabbing a notebook and a pen when you sit down together to make note of what you agree on. However, remember that the one constant is change. So while you might agree today, something might crop up later to change your mind. In other words, get ready to have these conversations more than once.
Below are eight starter questions for you and your partner as you navigate parenthood. These conversations can be intense, so don’t try to answer them all at once. Give yourselves space to form opinions, and wait to work through the topics when you have time and energy. A bad mood can turn a reasonable conversation into an ugly argument.
1. When and How Many?
This topic is your starting point. The rest of the discussions are completely academic if you agree that neither of you wants children. At that point, your conversation can focus almost exclusively on your preferred method of birth control.
Keep in mind though, that one or both of you may have a change of heart later on. Even if you never imagined children in your future, you might feel different in a year or two. So keep the discussion ongoing.
If you both want children, it’s time to start thinking about two magic numbers: when and how many. Some couples want to have children early on in their relationship, others prefer to enjoy a long honeymoon period first. There isn’t a right answer, you just need to find an answer you agree on.
Reflecting on your childhoods can help you decide how many children you want. You may feel that having siblings was a really important aspect of your life as a kid. Of course, your opinions may change after the first little one is born. Whether that means it’s time to hop back on birth control or get out a triple stroller is up to the two of you.
2. Who Will Be The Primary Caregiver?
Will one of you work while the other stays at home or works part-time? Will one of you bear primary responsibility for the child’s well-being, or will you share the responsibility equally? Should you disagree, how will you decide on pediatricians, immunizations, and other medical issues? There are always surprises in parenthood, and knowing who will handle them can make parenting just a little bit easier. That little bit will mean a lot when you’re both living off of three hours of sleep.
If you and your partner both intend to continue working outside the home, start gathering childcare information early. By the time the third trimester rolls around, your options might be very limited.
Start with a list of childcare providers you both agree might work. Then make sure you both participate in the interview, and dig deep before making a final decision. If the provider offers a printed agreement or contract, review the fine print carefully. If they don’t offer written terms, you should probably keep looking.
3. Are You Financially Prepared?
A popular axiom is that if you wait for the perfect time to have kids, you’ll never have any. There’s a lot of truth in that statement, but practical preparation is also important. You should have a shared commitment to a realistic budget for raising kids. Looking for a specific price tag before jumping in? The USDA reports that each child costs middle-class parents about $13,000 a year.
Of course, averages don’t account for the particulars of the family you and your partner are starting. You may have educational goals for your child that will require more investment and saving. If your child is born with certain medical conditions, the financial landscape can change quickly. If you envision your child doing all manner of activities, including summer camp, the price tag will go up too. The point isn’t to make a perfect prediction, but rather to make financial plans that are realistic and flexible.
4. What Do You Want to Name Your Child?
Handled tactfully, this can be a really fun conversation. After all, this discussion allows you to imagine what your child will be like. On the other hand, many people like to use names that honor family members. So even if you hate your partner’s grandfather’s name, make sure to respond to the suggestion with sensitivity.
Also, don’t forget to discuss the surname. Maybe you both already agree on the traditional route. However, last names can be important to both people in a couple, so don’t make any assumptions. Names are often signifiers of heritage, and may be a point of pride. If you both want to include your surnames, hyphenating can be a great option.
5. How Will You Address Misbehavior and Discipline Issues?
There are a few good ways to start this conversation. You can think about the hardest thing you experienced as a child. Or you can ask your partner what mistakes you felt their parents made when they were a kid. Frequently, there will be a natural segue into the topic of disciplining children.
Many people may feel that their parents were too rigid and authoritarian. However, lack of rules and discipline can also cause real problems. To find the sweet spot, consider turning to parenting books. As you and your partner decide what’s best, discuss tips you found while reading.
6. Is a Specific Faith Tradition Important to You?
Hopefully, you’ve already discussed your beliefs. This will make the conversation about your children easier. However, it’s wise to allow for a change of heart and mind. Oftentimes, couples meet and date in the context of a local faith community, and make all kinds of unspoken assumptions. As you and your partner make plans to start your family, revisit the discussion.
Will your child be raised to go to church? Which religious holidays will you celebrate? Do you both have different beliefs, and will you teach your child about both belief systems? Your child will start asking questions about religion and morality sooner than you think. Be ready for that day by having the conversation now.
7. How Will You Educate Your Children?
Educational preferences is another key topic that sometimes goes unaddressed during pregnancy. But before you know it, your baby will be a toddler, and formal education will be right around the corner. Plus, there are a number of schools with years-long waiting lists. So you’ll want to have a conversation about education expectations as soon as possible.
Some parents feel very strongly about public school education, while others are sold on spending more on private school. To navigate any disagreement, you should discuss values and subject matter you hope an education will impart to your child. This will help build a solid foundation for the discussion—after all, you both want what’s best for your child.
Finally, keep in mind that schools change, and the quality of instruction varies from elementary to middle school. Also, children are unique. Some students flourish in places where others flounder. So get ready to adapt as the education world changes around you.
8. What Happens if You Both Get Hit by a Bus Simultaneously?
This topic may feel morbid, but unfortunately tragic accidents do happen. You and your partner need to agree on how you want your kids cared for if you both pass away. Perhaps you have family nearby who will agree to take care of them. Come up with first and second choices.
Once you’ve made your decision, make sure to document it in a will. If you die before then, it will cause more upheaval for your children. They may even be sent into foster care. Even if it seems difficult, make a plan for the worst case scenario. You’ll be protecting, and caring for, your children.
As you reach this new phase of your life, there’s a lot to be excited about. Starting your own family is full of wonderful surprises. However, one surprise you don’t want is finding out that your partner has very different parenting opinions than you. By having these discussions early, the road to parenthood will be a lot less bumpy. Of course, once you’re on it, who knows the exciting places that road will take you?