Deciding if and when to start a family is a hugely personal decision, and for some individuals and couples, it can be a very complex one. Now, thanks to recent advancements in medicine, couples have more options than ever, which can both complicate and make easier the decision-making process.
In brief, there is no prescribed “right” time to start a family. Societies all around the world live according to different norms, and your personal culture and circumstances may make the “right” time to conceive different from someone else’s “right” time. That’s why working together to find out what suits you and your partner the best is so important.
If you and/or your partner are thinking about having a baby, here are some ideas that you can use as conversation-starters. This conversation is one of the most important that a couple can have. Figuring out what’s right for you, as individuals and as a couple, may take more than one discussion, so take your time as you go.
So, is there a “right” time to have a baby? A better question to ask might be one that involves your emotional readiness to share your lives with a baby. Here are some considerations that might influence how you understand yourself and your preparedness to have a baby:
- Do you possess a sense of contentment in yourself, your relationship and/or in your professional life?
Sometimes, a sense of uncertainty, insecurity, or even boredom can inspire a person to want to have a baby. To these individuals, the thought of a baby may provide a welcome distraction from unhappiness or fill a sense of personal emptiness. The problem with this approach to decision-making exists in the pressure it places on the baby to take care of the parent. In reality, babies thrive best when they are nurtured and loved by their parents, not the other way around.
Unfortunately, some couples believe that having a baby can save an already rocky relationship, but this belief can often backfire and cause more or intensify existing relationship problems. Having a baby can stress even the healthiest, most loving relationship, so a couple already under pressure is unlikely to find much long-term relief in welcoming a new life to the mix.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, having a baby when you are happy in your job is actually very sensible. Your work life will likely change when the baby arrives, but you may find that the confidence and satisfaction you experience at work may transfer beautifully to parenting a baby.
- Do you and your partner enjoy a shared sense of readiness? Or, are you both open to exploring what “readiness” means to you?
Often, one partner in a relationship is more ready to start a family than the other. Throughout the decision-making process, it is key to prioritize patience, respectful dialogue, and a feeling of compassionate openness to your partner’s unique situation.
Ideally, both partners will have communicated what they envision for their future well before committing to a shared life. Sometimes, the hardest conversations take place between individuals who did not discuss their feelings about having children prior to committing to each other. Neither getting married nor moving in together is a guarantee that two people are on the same page when it comes to having children, so talking early about this topic is a great way to start.
A reluctant partner may not yet be prepared for the truly “adult” pressures that having a baby can bring. A baby can limit a person’s ability to go out in the evenings and to travel freely, for example. The thought of having a baby can also call attention to a person’s feelings towards their own parents and childhood, which may be a complex experience for some people. Existential questions regarding the meaning of life and even one’s own self-worth can play up when thinking about the needs of a new baby. Some partners may feel insecure at the thought of sharing their partners’ attention with a baby.
No matter what concern you are discussing with your partner, if you find that these conversations aren’t going as well as you had hoped, enlisting the assistance of a couples counselor or support group can be a great help. Others in your community may also be able to offer a listening ear. Sometimes, if one partner is unsure about how they feel about having a baby, individual therapy can help them organize their feelings about the process and come to a place of peace and understanding. This approach is also useful for the more ready partner who may need support whilst living with a partner who is at a different stage of readiness.
Conflict inside a relationship can lead to a sense of isolation and sometimes, confusion and stress. Resolving these tensions before a baby’s arrival ensures that everyone in the family is off to as healthy and happy a start as possible. After all, life will only become busier and more full when a baby is born, so the time to start working towards balance and clear communication is definitely now.