My husband was in graduate school when we got married. I was going back to school four months later. On our wedding day, we looked at his mother and said, “Five years. Don’t talk to us about grandchildren for five years.” Our children would be her only grandchildren and we were both older than she was when she had her first, so she was a bit overexcited.
While there is never a perfect time to have a child, there are definitely some times that are more challenging. We had learned from friends’ experiences that graduate school was one of those times. The irregular hours, lower income, and intense focus required were not compatible with parenthood.
One reason people marry is to create a loving, stable home for children. The irony is that it is also well documented that children put a tremendous strain on marital satisfaction. Couples know that having children will change their lives, but are often unprepared for how all encompassing that change can be.
In this day and age when it’s possible to control (to an extent) when we have children, there are three things all couples can do to limit the challenge children can add to a marriage.
It actually was closer to seven years before my mother-in-law had her first grandchild. If couples can wait, three years is a positive time frame to shoot for. Regardless of whether you lived together, marriage is an adjustment. It takes time to meld two individual lives into a productive, healthy marriage. Adding a third person, especially one that requires 24/7 care and attention for many years, is like trying to build a house before the foundation is set. Taking the time to work the kinks out of your relationship and define workable parameters will make it easier to introduce the major disruption that is a baby. With people being older when they marry, and the very real biological clock issues at play, this may not be a workable time frame. If that’s the case, the next two steps become even more important.
The life changes that come with having children are myriad. Some, like you can’t just pack up and take off for the weekend, are obvious. Others, such as how will you celebrate birthdays and holidays, may not be considered until they are staring you in the face. Talk to your friends and family about ways children impacted their lives. Figure out your position on as many aspects as you can: breastfeeding, co-sleeping, keeping or giving up jobs, daycare, education, discipline, time with family, and on and on. Knowing what you want to do that is both the same and different as in your family is important. Bring up those expectations and put them on the table for discussion. The more you can predict and plan, the easier the transition will be.
As always, the devil is in the details. Don’t assume your partner knows or agrees with your desires and expectations. Be willing to talk it through. It’s much easier to troubleshoot before an event than to try to figure it out at two in the morning when you’re both sleep deprived and the baby is screaming. Even the best laid plans can go awry, however. Infertility, premature births, physical or mental challenges usually don’t figure in to the happy planning for babies. These are hard possibilities that no one wants to consider, but they do happen. It is better to be prepared and never have to go there than have to make deeply important decisions under extreme emotional pressure. Marriages frequently collapse under the strain. Since so much can’t be foreseen, be willing to be flexible. Someone who thought they could be a stay-at-home parent discovers it isn’t working. Someone who said they want 2-3 children decides two is plenty when the other still wants three. Open lines of communication will help you navigate the challenges successfully.
Becoming a parent can be one of the greatest experiences in the world. It is a lifelong position, but is only hands-on for part of that time. Your children will eventually make their own way in the world. If you plan and execute it right, your partner will still be by your side when that happens.
Do you have children? What do you wish you and your spouse had done to prepare before having a baby? Share in the comments below or tweet your ideas to @newlywedsurvive.