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Should We Start a Family?

Mom and Dad with their feet crossed on the coffee table and baby shoes next to them.

How do you know when it's the "right time" to start a family? In today's blog, marriage and family therapist, Emily Pardy, founder of Ready Nest Counseling, provides couples with the questions they should consider when deciding if they are ready to start a family.

My husband and I had been married for a couple years when this big question started to surface. Should we start a family? We wanted a neon sign to drop down from the heavens with an obvious signal that we were officially ready for this next chapter. We knew we wanted children “someday”, but how in the world would we know when a regular day of the week would suddenly transform into that perfect “someday?”

We truly loved our experience in pre-marital counseling, so we decided to seek the guidance of that counselor to help us prepare for the next milestone. Our counselor was a little taken off guard. I remember him asking, “So, nothing’s wrong?” And we looked at each other with hopeful curiosity and shook our heads with a shrug, wondering if we’d come to the wrong place for our neon sign. The counselor took a deep breath, and we brainstormed how we might talk about our hopes and dreams of parenthood. As the weeks went on, we began to explore our expectations of one another and to dig a little deeper into how our own parents had raised us. We spent about four months just talking before we ever “removed the goalie” so to speak, and actually starting trying to conceive. 

For many people, I get that this sounds like overkill. What’s the big deal? Becoming a parent should be natural and exciting! Well, it ended up taking a whole year for us to finally get the positive pregnancy test we were hoping for, and that season was riddled with a roller coaster of emotions. Utilizing that season to deepen our connection and strengthen our communication turned out to be the biggest deal of all, and the most worthwhile investment we ever made. 

Fifteen years of marriage later, we now have four daughters, a baby in heaven, and I run a therapy practice that is exclusively dedicated to helping couples navigate the murky waters of conception, pregnancy, postpartum, infertility, and loss. Turns out, becoming parents is not “natural” for most people, and the excitement is often overshadowed by the stress of this epic transition. 

Don’t wait for the stress or hardship to decide that you need help. There are so many things you can do right now to prevent challenges and to prepare your marriage for parenthood. Here are a few essential discussion topics you can explore right now:

1. Why do we want to have a baby?
There are a lot of wonderful reasons to want to have a baby. The most common tend to relate to feelings of leaving a legacy, teaching the next generation, impacting the world through family/values, and an inner voice that calls you to be selfless in your love through offspring. But there are some very delicate reasons that are worth noting as red flags. If you are unhappy with your job, your marriage, yourself - having a baby will not solve these things. The only thing having a baby solves is… having a baby. 
Sure, becoming a mother or father can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, but it should be icing on the cake of an already thriving life. The saying, “You take yourself wherever you go,” amply applies to this decision as well. If you’re unhappy in your career choice, adding a screaming baby to the mix will not suddenly offer your self-esteem the worth or value you’re currently devoid. Not only that, but asking a tiny infant to be the ultimate dream-filler for your purpose in life is simply demanding too much of a helpless creature. Likewise, if you’re bored in your relationship and feel pressure to just “move onto the next step,” adding a baby will not be the missing ingredient to bring entertainment or meaning to your marriage. If that’s the case, I encourage you to seek counseling and explore ways to improve your current relationship, with which you’ll reap benefits from whether you eventually have a baby or not.

As you ask yourselves this important question, be honest about your current hopes and fears. What would a baby bring to your life? What would a baby takeaway or change? And be gentle as you process one another’s answers.

2. What kind of parent do I want to be?
It’s been said that you’re the best parent you’ll ever be before kids. While we chuckle at the idealism, it is important to consider the value system you and your spouse have surrounding parenting decisions. While you may have an idea of how you’d like to discipline or guide your child, your best reference for your instincts lies in the past. What kind of parents did you have? How were their values different or similar to the ones you have now? How does that differ from your spouse’s family? 

While some of us grow up with a cheerful childhood, others have experienced a long list of patterns they do not want to repeat. Either way, we are subject to what’s “familiar,” and it’s important to take inventory of our intentions going forward, whether that be a far cry from how we were raised or closely aligned with our own upbringing. Sometimes this process surfaces some deep hurts or memories that we need help reconciling. Sometimes we discover things about ourselves that we’d like to improve prior to embracing the new role of parenthood. 

It’s common to uncover some polarizing experiences between spouses as they talk through differing family values. This is not necessarily problematic, but it can lead to assumptions later on if they are not addressed. For example, in many American homes in the past, it was normal for dads to sleep through the night while the moms got up with the babies. This wasn’t considered a character flaw of the father at the time. However, by today’s standards, dads are much more engaged in the caretaking of newborns, and if a modern father assumed he would get a full night’s rest, you can bet there would be a conflict when the new mother expects his help at 2am. Talking through these issues ahead of time will ensure greater teamwork in the long run. No one wants to figure out those pitfalls at 2 in the morning when they erupt! So, talking through those past norms and new expectations can create a more realistic outlook on this next chapter.

3. What if this dream takes a detour?
No one thinks they’ll be the couple that experiences infertility or miscarriage. However, one in eight couples struggle to conceive, and one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. These statistics shouldn’t scare you, but rather arm you with caution that you are not alone should you take this detour to your dream of building a family. Fertility issues impact every facet of a marriage: self-worth, finances, boundaries with family, intimacy, even job disruption. Talking about how this potential issue might be handled in your relationship is not futile, even if you don’t experience infertility or loss. Why? Because what is truly underneath this question is the conversation about how you handle distress and decision making as a couple. Do you leap into “fix it” mode or take your time researching for answers? Do you have healthy ways to cope with stress, or do you take it out on others?

You will encounter disappointment in your life together; we live in a broken world where plans go awry. Learning how to cope as a team and empathize together will be a tool you’ll need to rely on throughout your marriage. Should your fertility journey take one of these sorrowful detours, you’ll be all the more prepared to tackle this emotional upheaval with compassion and understanding. Those are two traits every healthy relationship needs, and you can rest assured your efforts will be worthwhile. 

As you navigate this transition from couple to family, keep your sights set on the big picture. Do your best not to make this eternal decision based on temporary inconveniences or circumstances. Leaning into your marriage with love, teamwork, and trustworthiness will allow you to grow into the couple you strive to be and the parents you hope to become.