So, you and your partner have decided to have kids. (Or maybe you didn’t “decide” so much as you felt nauseous for days before figuring it out.) Either way, congrats and welcome to a different stage of adulthood, when your life takes a backseat to the needs of a tiny, ever-sharting baby without neck strength or bowel control.
But jokes aside, becoming a parent is a profound lifestyle change, and co-parenting with someone who may have different views on how to raise that child is a hotbed of potential disagreement. Here are some important questions to discuss with your partner before having a child.
Who will be the primary caretaker?
Perhaps one of you has always envisioned being a stay-at-home parent, or maybe both partners want to continue to work and the primary caretaker role is more nebulous. Beyond the newborn and infant stage, when nine times out of ten the mother does the majority of care, who will be responsible for organising the child’s meals, clothing, doctor’s appointments, play dates, and conducting in-depth research on the best Soccer Shots and swim classes? Will this shift over time? If the primary caretaker is a stay-at-home parent, will they go back to work when the child reaches a certain age?
How will we handle nightly feedings?
If a new mother is breastfeeding, the magical tatas will do all the feeding for a while. Will the other partner get up to change the diapers and do the burping, or sleep peacefully through the night and withstand the death glares from their exhausted partner the next day? If you go the formula route, will you and your partner alternate nightly feedings? (For reference, even formula-fed newborns feed eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period, several of those while you’d both rather be sleeping.)
How will we save for our child’s future?
This should be part of a larger discussion around post-baby finances. How will having a child impact your monthly spending and saving? Do you need a new budget? Will you start a savings account for your child, or go a step further and open a 529 for their education? How much will each partner contribute, and how often? Be sure to consider public vs. private school and extracurricular activities. Over time, all those cleats, leotards, karate uniforms, and piano lessons can cause quite a dent in your wallet if you’re not prepared. (And even if you are.)
How will we divide the domestic work?
Domestic labour, or housework, can easily turn into a prickly, resentment-filled landmine for couples if they don’t discuss it early on. As if cleaning up dishes, counters, and crumbs every night wasn’t annoying enough, kids bring a host of additional chores. Talk openly about how the labour will be divided. Are there gender-based expectations of how it’ll get accomplished? Will one parent take the morning shift while another “works nights”? Remember to include cooking, kitchen clean-up, laundry, yard work, home repairs, and bill-paying in the discussion.
What if we have trouble conceiving?
In a perfect world, someone would get pregnant as soon as they were ready, but reality can be much more complicated. If you and your partner have a hard time conceiving, what alternate methods will you consider? Are you and your partner open to IVF, surrogacy, or adoption? At what point would you begin that process? Do you need to start saving now?
What if a pregnancy screening shows abnormalities?
There are a number of ways to test for chromosomal abnormalities and other medical issues during the first trimester of pregnancy. If a blood test or amniocentesis revealed your baby had Down Syndrome, or more severe and potentially fatal abnormalities, would you consider terminating the pregnancy? What are the additional factors to consider when caring for a child with special needs? Are you and your partner emotionally and financially prepared to handle them?
How will we discipline our kid?
The time to figure out if you and your partner are on the same page about discipline is before your kid starts acting up. People’s approaches to behaviour management can vary wildly based on how they were raised. Is your partner OK with spanking? Yelling? Harsh time-outs? What would they do if your child disobeyed a rule or talked back? (Hint: they will.) Does their style seem more hands off and permissive? Authoritarian and old school? Gentle? Will you have to be the disciplinarian — and are you ok with being the “not fun” parent?
What kind of childcare will we use?
If both parents work, who will watch your kid during the day? If you’re fortunate enough to have trustworthy and capable family nearby willing to do the job, bravo. (Also: I’m jealous.) If not, will you hire a nanny or go the daycare route? Are you and your partner on the same page about how much experience a babysitter needs before you’ll leave them alone with your child? Be sure to address the monthly cost and how you’ll budget for it.
How will we prioritise our relationship?
The stress of child-rearing can take a toll on even the closest relationships. How will you navigate the seemingly endless cascade of housework and logistical duties and make sure your foundation stays strong? Will you schedule weekly date nights? Periodic child-free weekends away? A dedicated night for some steamy scheduled sex? Making time to emotionally and physically connect is a great antidote to the sometimes bleary-eyed monotony of parenting.
What are your feelings on screen time?
This may seem like a small, inconsequential non-issue, but it can grow into a repeated sticking point between you and your partner. Is one partner an old-school, one-hour-a-day screen time stickler while the other would be happy to let a TV or iPad occupy your child for hours? Do you share the same views on how much is ok? Starting at what age? Are they ok with the child viewing violence? (This includes a discussion on when it’s appropriate for a nightmare-prone child to play The Walking Dead video game at an arcade. Answer: Not age five. Can you guess which parent I am?)
Will we raise our kid in a certain religion?
Even if you don’t currently practice a religion, having a child can change that. You may find yourself wanting to re-create some of the spiritual traditions and celebrations from your youth. Will you perform any birth rituals (baptism or bris)? Attend weekly worship ceremonies? What holidays will you celebrate? Are there larger family expectations on how and where you will celebrate?
Parenting is rewarding — but jointly deciding how to raise an entire person from scratch is no cake walk. Openly discussing these questions can help make the transition to parenthood a little smoother.