We chatted with top relationship experts to find out the most important topics to discuss before becoming parents. These 10 questions will encourage thoughtful reflection and dialogue about a decision that will change your relationship in a truly profound way.
1. Why now?
There’s no right or wrong answer here, but it’s essential to be on the same page about what you value, how you’ve already grown as a couple, and why you both feel that it’s time for baby.
Is one of you on the fence about having a baby? Check out our article about how to handle that discussion.
2. How will this impact us as a couple?
Dr. Terri Orbuch, relationship expert and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great, suggests that you discuss each partner’s expectations before the baby arrives, covering everything from dividing up responsibilities to how dynamics will change. Make sure you cover:
- Division of labor, including changing diapers, waking up at night, caring for the child during the day, doing bath time, bedtime, etc.
- Finances. What will change? Will you create a new budget together? How will you save for your child’s education and expenses? Be clear and upfront about this with one another.
- How your relationship will change. Adding a third person to your mix is going to make things a little different. But don’t panic! Just be sure to discuss your hopes and fears together so you’re on the same page.
Pick up a copy of Dr. Gottman’s And The Baby Makes Three to learn more about the transition from duo to trio.
3. How strong are we as a couple right now?
Ashley Davis Bush, psychotherapist and author of 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage, says, “You need to feel that things are working, that you are close, that you handle things well together.” A baby won’t be making anything easier, so be sure you work on solidifying you two first and foremost.
“Often couples are feeling rocky and think that having a baby will bring them closer together. Not true. Having a baby can be a stressor on the relationship so you have to start strong. If you start weak, things will only get worse.”
4. How do we want to parent?
Certified Gottman Therapist Zach Brittle suggests discussing what “mom” and “dad” mean to you both. This might require unpacking your childhood a bit. Ask questions like “What was great about it?” and “What did you not like?”
“We learn to parent from our parents. Some of us have a lot of gratitude and respect for our parents. Some of us don’t have much at all. It’s important for both partners to expose their notions of ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ to each other, and perhaps to do this over and over again as you learn more about it, so that they can define their own path rather than slip unconsciously into their parent’s.”
5. What will we do for childcare?
Mary Kay Cocharo, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says this is a good time to start talking about who will work, and who might stay home, when baby arrives. It’s okay to change your mind, but it’s a great conversation to have before things become hectic.
“Gone are the days when mothers automatically quit their jobs to stay home,” Cocharo notes.
“Today’s couples have lots of choices but must also balance the demand of the increasing cost of living. Some couples want one parent to stay home and must either supplement their income from another source or make difficult cuts. Other couples want both parents to continue working but find the demands of career and children a difficult balancing act. Talking about this before baby makes three is an important step in planning.”
Are both parents are going back to work? If so, will we hire an au pair or nanny? Ask the grandparents to take on a few days? Find a reputable daycare center? Finding a situation you’re both comfortable with is key.
Is one parent going to stay home? If one parent is giving up their salary, discuss how you will make up for the loss in income. This financial shift will take some getting used to and there will be tweaks to the budget – communicate with each other.
6. How will we discipline?
Licensed marriage and family therapist (and mother of two) Chrissy Powers says discipline is a must-discuss item.
“Discipline is about so much more than just correction. We learned about discipline from our own parents and as all married people know – each family is different. I wish that most people understood that discipline is more about the relationship with your child. My husband and I have had to get on the same page with this, but it’s taken us four years to do so because we had different ideas of how to discipline. When bringing up the topic of discipline, I think a couple should discuss how they were disciplined as children and what they did and didn’t like about it.”
7. What religious beliefs or values do we want to pass on?
Do you want to raise your kids in one particular faith? What values do you hope your children embody in their own lives? How will you set an example for them? Does this mean attending religious services, or living according to your own moral guidelines in any particular ways?
8. How will we make time for “us” after baby?
Certified Gottman Therapist Zach Brittle wants you to protect your friendship and partnership. Are you ready to add another person into your family?
Zach explains, “When the baby comes, it will demand nearly all of your time and energy and love. This means you’ll have less for your partner. That’s just a fact. You’ll need to be much more intentional about the time and energy and love that you do have available and use it to protect and nurture your friendship. It’s easy for couples to grow distant – without even noticing – when they don’t do this.”
9. What if trying to conceive is challenging for us?
Cocharo says couples should also discuss the possibility of not getting pregnant right away, and how that may feel.
So key questions like, “How would you feel if we were unable to conceive?” or “How do you feel about adoption or surrogacy?” are important to put on the table.
As Cocharo says, “Infertility is a very stressful and challenging obstacle for many couples. Rather than to silently hope you’ll be one of the lucky ones with no problems, discuss the importance of having children ahead of time. Ask each other about your openness to infertility treatments, as well as adoption or surrogacy. Assuming that your partner feels how you do, without discussion, is a recipe for disappointment and disaster down the road.”
10. What do we want our future to look like?
Let’s think long term. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of starting a family, but what do you want life to look like when your kids are grown? Do you dream of family vacations with one or two adult children—or Thanksgiving meals with a football team of kids gathered around?
“At some point – 18 or so years after the baby arrives – the baby will leave. And the two of you will be free to make some choices,” Brittle says.
“Don’t wait to start dreaming about what you’re going to do. Will you travel to Ireland? Buy a boat? Move to the mountains? Go back to work? It really doesn’t matter what your dream is, but it matters that you have one. It’ll help you keep your head up when the baby demands all your attention, and it’ll give you vision for the future when you’re overwhelmed by the present.”
After you’ve made the decision to become parents, find a Bringing Baby Home New Parent Workshop in your area to build on what Dr. Gottman has found to be the best predictor of marital adjustment after baby arrives: the quality of friendship in the relationship.
This article was originally published on Motherly and edited with permission from the author.
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