From the moment you know you are pregnant or are part of a pregnant partnership, you are a parent. Even if the pregnancy ends in miscarriage, abortion, or giving the child up for adoption, the memory and effect of having started a new life will be with you always. If you birth or adopt a child to raise, your life is forever taken down a different path. You now have a child to nurture and care for and worry about.
If you are questioning your readiness for pregnancy and parenting, you are already ahead of the game. Becoming a parent is serious business. It should be taken seriously. Here are some issues to think hard about while considering becoming a mom or dad. They are in no particular order. All of them are important.
Do you want a child for the right reasons?
Children should never be brought into the world because the parent needs love. The love of a child is not a substitute for the love of a parent, a partner or friends. Yes, loving our children gets us some loving but that’s a byproduct, not the primary reason we have them. Our job is to be filling them up emotionally, not the other way around.
Children should never be brought into the world to solve a problem. They should not be born to get the relatives off your back, to hold onto a boyfriend, to ensure an inheritance, or to try to bring a couple closer. When a baby is conceived to solve a problem, it almost inevitably fails. Now the problem is still there and there is a baby to care for.
Children should be born to people who want to spread their love, who see raising a child as the next big adventure in their life and who are committed to the idea that families are an important and valuable part of living fully.
Is your relationship stable?
Do an honest assessment of your couple-readiness. Every relationship takes a fair amount of neglect during the first year of a child’s life. Both parents are stretched by too little sleep, more financial demands, and less time for each other. This is normal. If the relationship is solid, you will both take it in stride. But if you and your partner aren’t really committed, can’t communicate, or don’t know how to work as a team, the usual responsibilities of baby care may stress your relationship to the max. Do you both have the commitment and the tools to make it work?
If you are doing this solo, do you have enough support?
Being a single parent isn’t easy. But with 40 percent of U.S. children now born to single parents, it is becoming more and more common. If you don’t have a partner, do you have other willing support people in your life? It’s crucial to the well-being of you and your child that there is someone who is a constant source of love and attention and help. That someone can be a grandparent, a best friend, or another single parent you team up with. What matters is that she or he is a person who is willing to be called at 3 a.m. if there is an emergency and is able to give you an hour or two off if you desperately need a nap or have to go to an appointment without taking junior or juniorette along for the ride.
Are you prepared to put someone else’s needs ahead of your own?
Are you finished with partying and doing things spontaneously? Once a baby is in the picture, these things become rarer. Babies need a predictable schedule. They need your full attention. If the choice is to stay home with a teething baby or to go to a party, your child needs you to say no to the party without a second thought. Your baby’s needs for comfort and attention should be far more important than your desire to get out of the house.
Will you resent it if you have to give up having things you want because of what the baby needs?
Unless you are well off, chances are there will be many times that you will have to forego getting a new pair of sneakers or a new electronic device or a better whatever because your child needs new shoes or better food or braces or whatever. Part of being a good parent is feeling good about ourselves for being able to provide what a child needs even when it means putting off something we want to have.
Can you realistically afford it?
Babies cost money — lots of money. It’s amazing how a little 8-pound infant starts using up the dollars. It only gets worse as kids get bigger. The USDA’s final cost estimate to raise a child from birth through the child’s 18th birthday was $234,900 in 2011! Federal and state assistance is enough to help a family get by but just barely. To give your child and yourself a good life, you need a good job, a working partner, substantial savings, or to win the lottery. If you don’t have one or more of those, think again before getting pregnant.
Do you know how to parent?
You’ve probably heard: Babies don’t come with an owner’s manual. Every healthy child tests their parents and the limits pretty regularly. If you don’t think you know how to be the kind of parent you would like to be, how will you learn? Are there older parents in your life who can be your mentors? Are there local parent education or support groups?
The decision to make a family by birthing or adopting a child is complicated. None of these questions lends themselves to an easy yes or no answer. But by thinking about them and by talking about them with a partner or other people who will be your main supporters, you can help yourself make a wise decision. In fact, if you do go ahead and bring a child into your life, thinking through these issues will make you a better parent.