Having a baby is a big decision that requires couples to do some serious self-reflecting and communicating. But some couples don’t exactly contemplate parenthood — or they have the wrong idea about having kids.
Some mistakenly assume that having a child will fix their relationship problems and bring them closer, said Joyce Marter, LCPC, psychotherapist and owner of Urban Balance, which offers a Pre & Post Baby Couples Counseling Program. Unfortunately, this usually backfires, because the new stressors that come with having a baby just amplify existing issues, she said.
Other couples decide to have kids because they think it’s simply the next step after matrimony. “Many couples do not give themselves permission to thoughtfully explore whether or not having children is right for them because of fears of being different, disappointing others or missing out on life experiences that couples with children experience,” Marter said.
So how do you know if you’re making the right choice? There are many key considerations. But the most important one is that both partners want to have a child. “In heterosexual couples, it is critical that, specifically, the potential father, independently desires to — and feels ready to — transition to parenthood,” according to Nicole Massey-Hastings, MA, a Doctor of Clinical Psychology candidate with a concentration in families, couples and kids. One longitudinal study revealed that 100 percent of couples with a husband who didn’t want to become a parent were divorced by the time their kids were 6 years old (Cowan & Cowan, 2000).
Relationship satisfaction also is critical. In fact, research has found that marital quality is one of the best predictors of parenting quality (e.g., Kanoy, Ulku-Steiner, Cox & Burchinal, 2003; Fishman & Myers, 2000). “A couple needs to have a healthy, satisfying relationship with a clear understanding of, and strategies for working with, the pitfalls in their relationship,” said Mudita Rastogi, Ph.D, a licensed marriage and family therapist and professor at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology. Rastogi and Massey-Hastings are currently studying a new program, Choosing the Parenting Lifestyle, that helps couples realistically identify their motivations to have kids and better understand the personal, emotional, relational and financial costs. (Learn more here.)
Questions to Consider Prior to Parenthood
The below questions can help you figure out whether having kids right now is the right choice for you.
Why would you like to have a child? All the experts stressed the significance of both partners figuring out their motivation to have kids. Are you internally or externally motivated? “A motivation is internal if it has to do with your own personal desires and wishes. It is external if it has to do with pleasing others — your parents or your partner — or if it is to meet societal expectations,” Marter said.
According to Cherilynn Veland, LCSW, MSW, a psychotherapist in private practice in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, these are other important questions to ponder: “Why now?” “What was your own experience as a child and how might that be affecting your own reasons for wanting children?” and “Are you motivated to do what needs to be done to take care of the needs of someone else?”
How is your relationship? Consider whether you and your partner work well together and whether you tend to agree on important issues — and if you don’t, whether you are good at problem solving and compromising, Veland said.
How do you communicate with each other about your needs, dreams and fears? According to Massey-Hastings, how couples communicate about these issues speaks to their relationship as a whole and provides a window into parenthood.
Have you passed the honeymoon phase? Consider the length of your relationship and whether it’s been stable for at least one to two years, Marter said.