Thinking of expanding your tribe? Here are a few discussions every couple should have before the new bundle’s arrival.
One of the most daunting conversations to have in a relationship is the one in which the decision whether or not to have a baby crops up. For some couples, this is a source of agreement and a no-brainer. For other couples, it may be a source of conflict and each partner can be in a very different place about the topic.
There are a few surefire topics that would be beneficial to discuss from the beginning.
Talking about finances is often an overlooked and cleverly avoided topic for couples and for good reason: it can be uncomfortable, awkward and a source of conflict between partners, especially if there is a history of differing spending practices or values about money. You are going to need money to raise a child and the discussions about how to sort through the family finances will be much easier without baby brain and sleep deprivation.
Some poignant questions include: How much does a baby cost? How much will we need to get started? How much will each partner contribute? How can we prepare for the first five years? These questions will get you going, but it is an ongoing discussion best had on a regular basis.
Money is a topic that most people have conscious and unconscious expectations about based on how they grew up, cultural ideas about money, gender role expectations and many other things. Making these assumptions and expectations explicit can not only help you understand what is true for you but also help your partner understand where you are coming from. There is no one way for everyone.
Not everything can be known before you have a baby about the ways in which you are going to be a parent; you may not know until you get there. But there are some things you probably do know about your values, especially if you are interested in being a mindful parent.
Many things have changed since you were little, so talk about how you want to raise your child. Here are a few things to start you off:
Are you planning to have an ecofriendly baby? How do you feel about cloth diapers?
Are you committed to adopting a baby or giving birth to a baby of your own?
Were you circumcised? or baptized?
What do you think about baby yoga?
Do you belong to a specific religion or spiritual community you want your child to be a part of? We are a long way from public school as the only option: do you want to send your kid to Montessori or engage in home schooling?
Gender Role Expectations
Having a baby can be wonderful, but also a difficult time for a couple as they change from a partnership of two into a family system of three or more. Negotiation of new roles includes dealing with gender roles in parenting.
Women are no longer the assumed caregivers and men the breadwinners of the family; however, couples often can revert to traditional gender roles during the birth of a child, especially during the first year and this can be surprisingly difficult if you are not expecting it.
If you are an established career women who has been independent financially, you may find yourself needing to rely solely on your partner while your career and finances take a hit for the first year. If you are a man who is used to the loving and mindful attention of your partner, get ready to take a back seat to baby. If you are a same sex couple, you may be surprised about what comes up in your gender role defaults that you were not expecting. As a couple with time and disposable income, your life will change dramatically after the arrival of a baby.
The advantage: you can talk about and plan for this. How do you want to carve out some “we” time for yourselves during this high stress time? Is there openness to talk about jealousy if/when it comes up? How can you organize around the difficulty of asking your partner for money or spending money differently?
Whether you are in your 20s, 30s or 40s, these can be hard negotiations. Here are some conversational guidelines to help the discussion to be more mindful:
- Set aside specific time to have the conversation; try not to sprinkle the topic nonchalantly into an otherwise romantic or easy going date. Not only can this interrupt and sour your date but also it does not give the proper weight or room for the topic and a conversation about it.
- Have many conversations. Check in semi-regularly with your partner to introduce new aspects or revisit old and more difficult parts of the conversation. Notice whether and what shifts may have occurred.
- Don’t rush your partner. As challenging as it is, you have to have patience if you have already gained clarity on this issue. It is a big decision and one that different people come to with different speeds. If there seems to be a big stall or you or your partner is immobilized by the idea, suggest or go to see a therapist who can help you sort it through.
- Don’t rush yourself. This is a big decision and the more thought out and clear you can be about it, chances are the better your lives and the life of your baby will be.
- Be compassionate with yourself during the process and engage in self-care often. It will be good practice. Whatever you decide.
- Set time limits for the conversation. Make sure you leave enough time to talk but don’t get bogged down. There may be things that need to settle and marinate before being able to return to the table and talk with clarity, certainty and calmness. If you find yourselves talking for longer than an hour or two, or the discussion quickly turns to an argument, try smaller time points to keep the conversation going and keep it current but limit the heat.
- Seek out others. Ask people in your life about their decisions in this arena. It can be helpful to get the feedback of those in your community that you love and trust. Ultimately you need to do what is right for you however a little research goes a long way and you can benefit greatly by those that have gone before you. Many people are happy to share.
Leslie Malchy is a Relationship psychotherapist working in private practice, Soft Landing Therapy, in Downtown Vancouver, BC, Canada. She is an experiential therapist working from a bio-psycho-social-spiritual and strengths based framework of change. She holds a Master of Science degree in Psychiatry from McGill University and a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy from Antioch University Seattle.
When Leslie is not working, she is busy writing creative and literary fiction, tending to and growing kale in her community garden plot or jogging along Vancouver’s gorgeous Stanley Park seawall.
[image: via Matthieu Luna on flickr]