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There are many parents who contend that you are never really ready to be a parent. To some extent this is true. You can’t possibly predict or foresee all the bumps along the road of parenting, or the incredible joys you may feel because of your children. Such joys can be tempered with frustration, exhaustion, and a feeling like you will never get this parenting business right. The feeling is common to parents of infants, toddlers, grammar schoolers, teens and even sometimes adult children. No matter how hard you try, you can expect that parenting will be full of successes and failures.
There are some preconditions to readiness for parenting. It’s true most people may be able to have children, but the ability to conceive or adopt is not directly tied to being ready to be a parent. There are several things about yourself that you should scrutinize to find out just how far along the road to “ready” you are. These include consideration of the practical and financial aspects of your life, your and your partner’s (if you have one) emotional health, the health of your relationships, partner equality in wanting children, and your physical health.
You may feel ready to be a parent, but what says your bank account? Having a child costs money, from the beginning of a pregnancy through the child’s life. Expect to spend at least $10,000 US Dollars (USD) in the first year of your child’s life, and considerably more if you plan to use daycare. These costs are likely to rise; preschool may replace diapers, twin beds replace cribs, and once a child is kindergarten age, don’t forget the many costs of things like school clothes, school supplies, after school daycare if necessary, tutors if needed, and participation in extracurricular activities. For reference, graphing calculators used in trigonometry or algebra classes can cost anywhere from a hundred to around two hundred bucks per piece. That amount is no joke, especially once you find out that newer models keep getting released which means your kid will need an upgrade. Extra expenses crop up along the way, like braces, where even with dental insurance, you may pay $4000-6000 USD for a few years of orthodontic treatment.
When a child turns 18, your spending days aren’t necessarily over. College tuition, even to state schools continues to rise dramatically. The costs are expected to go higher if you have a kid struggling in certain subjects. This is because they may take longer to finish their studies or require having their own personal tutor to help them advance in school. Some financial experts suggest you should start saving for college before you have children, given the expected rising expense of post-secondary education. And let's not forget that on top of these financial responsibilities, you're also expected to help your child study for their own good. So yes, there may be times when you will find yourself looking at algebraic equations just like you did when you were still in school. There is also a trend toward children returning home after college, which may mean you help your kids continue to meet and defray living expenses long after they are considered legal adults. So it's also still possible that your worries and responsibilities won't stop at solving the last question in calculus. You may need more years to teach your kid about things that aren't taught in school.
Another financial consideration when analyzing whether you’re ready to be a parent is how much financial loss you might take after the baby is born. Can one parent afford to stay home or work from home? If not, to what degree will your income be reduced by infant childcare? Some parents find that one person’s income only breaks even with childcare costs, effectively cutting their income in half. So the issue of whether you can afford to be a parent should be based on analyzing what your income will be after your child is born.
Don’t be discouraged if your income level at present suggests you’re not quite ready to be a parent. If wanting to have children is your goal, use the present time to get more job training so you can take higher paying jobs or use a few years working time to save money for the inevitable and usually unexpected expenses that arise from parenting. By bettering your financial situation now, you can certainly become more ready in a couple of years’ time.
It would be terrific if financial stability was the only readiness requirement for becoming a parent. It can be the easiest one to address with hard work, additional education and thrift. Emotional readiness may take a little more time to consider, and having stable emotional health is not always achievable immediately.
Why is emotional health so important for parenthood? Most parents can answer that very quickly. Parenting kids can easily bring out the best in you, but also the worst. If you suffer from a quick temper, don’t expect that you’ll never unleash it on your kids. Children have a remarkable capacity for making us behave childishly ourselves — they can frustrate us to the point where we’d probably prefer long-term confinement in a padded cell. If you suffer from quickly changing moods, you can reasonably expect that your child may inherit this characteristic. Let's not even get started on how fast they grow up even when you don't want them to. One day they're solving geometry problems on their tiny table, next thing you know they're off to college; nothing really prepares you for that.
Some people feel compelled to have children in order to do a better job of parenting than that done by their parents. This is a noble aspiration, but you have to ask yourself if you’ve ever really dealt with how you were parented. A lot of what we learn from bad, mediocre, or even good parenting becomes what is called our core belief structure, the things we often don’t notice that exist but do drive our behavior. Trying to make up for the past by being a parent now suggests you many not be ready to be a parent, unless you have fully analyzed and dealt with that past.
Thus, emotional readiness may mean getting some counseling before deciding to have a baby. Just as you want to offer your children financial security, you also want to offer them emotionally stable parents. If in your own pre-parent life you’re not quite there yet, take a few years to work with a therapist to get there. We all know that high pressure situations can make us act in the worst possible manner, and parenting can definitely be called a high pressure environment on occasion.
Try to be realistic and truthful with yourself about how you respond to crises in day to day living. Parenting has been called a series of small and sometimes large crises. While there are mitigating factors, like the sudden realization of just how wonderful your child is, you are in crisis mode from the moment you hold your beautiful baby in your arms. Evaluate how well you do controlling your emotions when you’re tired, and expect that much of your parenting decisions may be made when you’re tired. Analysis of work output for a stay at home parent suggests that such parents work the equivalent of two and a half full time jobs. Are you ready for that much work?
Individual emotional health needs to be compared to the health of your relationship with your parenting partner. Parenting takes a toll on marriages and partnerships. If you look at your current relationship and find an environment of constant bickering, not seeing eye to eye, or more seriously, emotional or physical abuse, do not bring a child into this environment. Some people believe that they will be able to save a failing relationship by introducing children into the mix. This seldom is the outcome of having kids.
In fact, you can expect tension in even great relationships to increase when partners or spouses become parents. Statistically, divorce rate increases after children are born, and spouses or partners have far less time to work uninterrupted on their problems. It may be challenging to have the same level of intimacy as occurred in your pre-children relationship. Both parents may be too tired to do much but mumble goodnight to each other.
It’s additionally valuable to analyze whether each spouse is equally ready to be a parent. If one spouse isn’t ready, the couple isn’t ready. The best parenting takes full on effort from both partners, a willingness to support each other, and an equal sharing of the workload. A partner who is “convinced” into having kids by the other partner may feel resentment, annoyance, or sheer anger once a baby arrives on the scene. This can of course raise the ire of the spouse who may have to cover more of the workload of parenting without support. It’s a bad mix, one that can result in unhappiness in a marriage and less than perfect parenting.
As you evaluate emotional and relationship readiness, do so with honesty. Weigh what you are giving up as a couple, the strength of your partnership (or the support of your friends and family if you will be parenting alone), and the equal or near equal readiness of partners and spouses. Commit to bringing children into healthy, stable relationships. If those relationships are not yet there, consider couples counseling to discuss the issues present in your marriage, and the subject of readiness for parenting.
You’ve analyzed and worked on your financial situation, your emotional preparedness, and relationship readiness. These are great steps toward becoming ready to be a parent. Another part of the picture that deserves as much attention is your health. Are you a smoker, a hard drinker, or significantly overweight? This question applies to both parents in determining readiness. If the answer is yes, take time to commit to losing some weight and shedding these habits.
Health of the mother requires additional thought. Does the mother have any medical conditions or take necessary medications that might impact the health or development of a fetus? Before you try getting pregnant, have a checkup with your doctor or an obstetrician to discuss the impact of your current health on your pregnancy.
Follow doctor’s recommendations for amending your current health, when possible, to minimize the risk of having a child with health problems. Parenting is hard, but parenting a child with health or development problems is yet more difficult. Work on physical readiness as much as you work on emotional and financial readiness to be a parent.
There’s no specific checklist for all the things you must do in order to be ready to be a parent, but there are certain conditions under which most would agree that you are not ready. These include the following:
- You want a child because you want someone to love you — yes, your child will love you at times, but he/she will also need you more. Parents tend to give more love in thought, word and deed than they will ever receive. If you are looking for love, don’t expect a child will become that source.
- You are in a relationship with a person who abuses you, or who abuses drugs and/or alcohol — many children can attest to the horror of growing up in an abusive home or with parents who are addicted. Children deserve better than that.
- You think getting pregnant will either sustain a relationship or not end one — do not use children as relationship repair, or to keep someone from leaving a relationship.
- Everyone else is doing it — even if friends are having babies, that doesn’t mean this is the right time for you. Evaluate the advice above and make a decision based on your own circumstances.
- You hope that parenting will make you give up bad habits — give up the bad habits first, instead of waiting to become pregnant or having a baby to do so.
You may be reading this advice and are already well on the way to expecting a child. Don’t despair. Many of the recommendations above can be implemented now. If you feel you have some emotional work to do, there is no time like the present to start. Improve your physical health. Look toward how you can create a more secure financial future for your child. Get couples counseling if you need it or sign up for parenting classes. If you’re unexpectedly (or by choice) parenting alone, work on having support systems in place or support groups that can help you with the additional challenges of single parenting. Even in a child’s first years, you can still be preparing to be a parent, not just for your infant, but also for a child’s whole life.