Deciding whether and when to start a family is an intensely personal decision, involving many factors involved. As your make this decision, it is wise to consider your health, finances, relationships, and how much you know about raising children.
- Your Health: Particularly if you are planning to start a family by becoming pregnant yourself (but even if you intend on adopting or having your partner carry the child), you want to consider your physical and emotional health before getting started. Most OBs will be willing to meet with you for a pre-conception visit to discuss your overall health and what steps you should take to prepare your body for pregnancy. This appointment is a good time to ask about your fertility, any medical conditions that might impact a pregnancy, and which of your regular medications are safe to take while pregnant. Don’t forget to consider your emotional health as well. Particularly if you have ever struggled with conditions such as depression or anxiety, now is the time get these issues under control and consider how they might be affected by pregnancy and parenthood. Finally, now is a good time to think about whether there are any genetic conditions in either your or your partner’s family that you are concerned about passing on to a child. If there are, you may want to meet with a genetic counselor to talk about these risks.
- Your Finances: Raising a child is expensive. While a person does not need to be rich to be a good parent, being financially stable certainly helps. Take a look at your finances and consider how much room there is for the expenses involved in pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a child both short-term (think: cribs, clothes, and diapers) and long-term (think: extra groceries, family travel, and college tuition). Childcare alone can be extraordinarily expensive – whether it means paying someone else to care for your child or you or your partner giving up your paycheck in order to care for the baby yourself. Consider how prepared you are the specific financial considerations involved in raising a child.
- Your Relationships: Having a baby (and parenting a child of any age) changes every aspect of your life nearly overnight, and can put a tremendous amount of stress both on you as an individual and on a marriage or partnership. Learn how to childproof your relationship ahead of time. You may even be able to take a class that can help prepare your relationship for the challenges of parenthood. In addition to building a strong foundation as a couple, you want to ensure that you are on the same page about your approach to parenthood, such as the balance you will each strike between work and family responsibilities, your ideas about discipline, and what your goals are for your children. These conversations will be far easier to have now, before a baby or child is taking up a great deal of your time, attention, and emotional energy. You may also want to consider what support you anticipate having available from other family members and friends. Although such support is not strictly required for raising a child, it certainly does make the process infinitely easier and more enjoyable.
- Your knowledge and experience with children: Although to some extent, you will certainly learn this as you go along, before starting a family is an ideal time to brush up on at least a basic understanding of not only when to expect milestones like walking and talking, but how children learn, what behaviors encourage their emotional security, and why their reasoning will not line up with yours for some time. Take a class, read a book, spend time with your family members’ or friends’ children, and talk to experienced parents about what they wish they had known before starting a family.
Although it is nearly impossible to feel 100% prepared to become a parent, taking your health, finances, relationships, and experience with children into account as you decide whether and when to start a family can make the transition smoother if and when you decide that the time is right.
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