The Biggest Things to Consider Before Expanding Your Family
Between childcare costs, countless parenting styles and the lack of sleep, there are a lot of things for couples to consider before they expand their family.
Are you going to be a helicopter parent who also works 50 hours a week for the next 10 years? You should probably figure that out and be able to communicate it to your partner before getting pregnant. Or maybe your idea of expanding your family means leaving the corporate ladder behind to work from home.
Whatever your future family looks like, here are the biggest things childcare and family experts say couples should consider before expanding their families.
Communication Is Key
It is essential to have various conversations about having children before you start expanding your family. To avoid additional stress later, make sure you are both on the same page about having kids and raising them.
"So often I encounter couples who had different assumptions about what changes and choices they would make once they had kids," says Daniel Olavarria, who has served as an expert consultant for the National Institute of Mental Health and is a licensed clinical social worker and therapist in New York City.
"Different opinions on how you intend to discipline kids, manage your finances, decide on where you live and whether one of you will stay home can cause major issues that will negatively impact your relationship and lead to bigger challenges down the road," he adds.
Kids Won't Fix Things
If your relationship has hit a rough patch, please don't think having children will make those troubles go away.
"It's also extremely important to make sure that you're not trying to have kids as a way to 'fix' something within the relationship," Olavarria says. "Having children will expose the authentic foundations of your relationship — whether those foundations are good, bad or the other."
Plus, having the children is just part of the process. The other part — raising them — is a lifelong responsibility. "Your kids will be unique human beings with needs and a complete reliance on you as a parent," Olavarria says. "Be honest with yourself and each other to make sure that they aren't being considered as an attempt to validate or correct your relationship."
Consider the Costs
A recent poll of tech workers in America showed that more than half delayed having children because of all the costs associated with expanding a family.
"For example, are you used to paying for a low-cost, low-coverage health insurance plan as a way to save some money? That might change when you consider that your kids will need more frequent medical care for childhood illnesses," Olavarria points out. "Another major consideration will be childcare: Will one of you stay home, do you have nearby family who can look after the kids or are you able to afford childcare? A simple question like this may result in discussion regarding major lifestyle changes like a spouse stepping back from their career, relocating to be closer to family or taking on additional work as a way to increase income."
Donna Bozzo, a national parenting expert who has published various books, including "Fidget Busters: 50 Ways to Keep Kids Busy While You Get Things Done," also mentions childcare being a primary aspect of starting a family that couples should consider.
"Talk about work roles and expectations and feelings about whether you prefer the primary parent to stay home to caretake," she says. "There are no right answers, you are looking for agreement or ways to meet each other halfway. Maybe it's [that] the primary caretaker works part-time or from home."
Figure Out the Finances
While there are a lot of questions you can ask yourselves before having kids, one of the main ones various experts mention is: How comfortable do you want to feel financially before taking the expensive leap toward family?
“My husband and I had a particular dollar amount we wanted to be saved, but it doesn't have to be a concrete number,” Bozzo says. “Is it important to be homeowners first? Is it important to be finished with schooling? Student loans paid off? Couples should review these types of financial questions with each other when discussing when they should expand their family.”
Consider the Culture You're Creating
Determining the kind of environment and culture you are creating and wish to continue building is essential, Olavarria says.
"For example, what did you like about the adult relationships that you observed in your family that you'd like to replicate and what would you like to do differently? What did you like about your previous relationships and what were some of the mistakes that you'd like to avoid now?" he says. "As you progress as a couple, you should gradually begin to more explicitly discuss your hopes for that new culture."
If you aren't sure what the culture of your relationship is, Olavarria says you could start by answering some of these questions with your partner: What are the ground rules when you argue? How do you each manage your finances, and what are your financial priorities? How involved is your family in the decisions you make as a couple?
"It's all about having the conversations with yourself and with one another at stages of the relationship where it's most appropriate. After you feel more secure in the relationship, these discussions around your culture as a couple should evolve into what your hopes are for a prospective family culture and whether that involves children," Olavarria says. "As you learn more about those values, you can then take steps to address them together."
Planning Will Be Your New Normal
"Planning ahead will become your friend. Once you have kids, you will lose a lot of the flexibility that made it easier to 'get by' in your pre-kid days," Olavarria says. "The new name of the game will be creating a sense of stability and security for you and your kids. Your time, financial obligations and energy will be much more limited, so you'll have to adjust accordingly by planning ahead more than you maybe used to."
Take Notes From Others
When you're chatting about the new things that come with having kids, consider the families you already know, too.
"Do you think three seems like a good number because it works for your brother? Do you admire how a neighbor found a way to work from home and, with some juggling, is enjoying the best of both worlds? Use real-life examples of what could work for you and your future family. The world is your role model," Bozzo says.
Bring Respect to Conversations
With so much sharing, it's important to remember to respect your partner's thoughts, opinions and feelings about families.
"Spouses come from different families, from different faiths, different economic conditions. Some partners had financial or health disasters growing up," Bozza says. "Our attitudes and expectations regarding family vary widely. By talking it out and listening and respecting, you can find a middle ground."
Consider Your Lifestyle
Before committing to expanding your family, consider how doing so might impact your current lifestyle. "For example, if the couple loves spontaneous trips or traveling all over the world, they will need to realize that these activities may have to be put on hold," says Dr. Tammy Zacchilli, associate professor of psychology at Saint Leo University, who teaches a course called the Psychology of Parenting.
It's also a good idea to confront what lifestyle changes must be made if a child enters the home. "Smoking in the home is unsafe for the baby and is related to sudden infant death syndrome," Zacchilli says. "Additionally, the mother should familiarize herself with foods and medications that should be avoided during pregnancy."
Learn the Basics
Experts agreed that understanding the process of pregnancy can help couples determine if it is the right time to expand their family.
"There are pregnancy care centers in many cities that can provide excellent resources, and there are some very good websites as well," Zacchilli said. "They might want to spend time with children if they do not regularly. For example, they could offer to babysit a niece or nephew or a friend’s child."
Being Overwhelmed Is Normal
Between all of the questions you have to ask, things you need to learn and money you need to save, it is easy to understand why couples can get overwhelmed when they start to grow their families. But it is perfectly reasonable to feel that way.
"Do not be afraid to ask questions. Do not rush into the decision to have children. Do not let finances prevent you from starting a family," Zacchilli says. "Just be aware of the costs and plan ahead."
Ask the Tough Questions
Katie Ziskind, a family therapist based in Connecticut, says couples should discuss the tough topics before expanding their families.
"Before having kids, couples need to consider religion, family background, finances, parenting styles, gender and family culture. If a child is transgender or gay, how would each person react?" she says. "In my family therapy practice, I often see divorces happen because one parent is accepting and affirming to their transgender child, while the other biological parent is shaming the child and in denial."
While you and your partner might not agree on how you would react to a particular life event, it's good to figure out how you'll communicate and navigate tough situations before you have children.
"It is really important to talk openly about these things, so everyone is on the same page. Build a stable relationship before having children. Develop strong lines of communication," Ziskind says. "If you still get into vicious yelling battles with your partner, you both would benefit from waiting to have a child after seeking counseling. Any frustration you have with your partner will only get bigger when you have kiddos."
Really Consider All the Childcare Details
In addition to childcare costs, every expert we talked with mentioned the extreme need to discuss all the factors of childcare before having kids.
"The cost of childcare is often the second largest family expense after housing," says Elizabeth Malson, president of Amslee Institute, an online school with a childcare curriculum specifically designed for professional nannies. "And the amount you can afford is one of the most important elements to finding a childcare solution that fits with your unique family needs."
Malson recommended couples go through the following questions when getting into the details of childcare: "What is your budget? How many hours of childcare are needed? Do you need backup care if the primary care isn’t available? Do you need overnight care? Do you have a family member to help with childcare? Do you need a full-time or part-time daycare? Is a nanny or family assistant an option?"
Kids Can't Be Everything
Raising children is often considered the hardest job in the world. And while your kids will, of course, become a major priority in your life, experts recommend parents remember that they should not be the only priority. "Make sure to dedicate time and energy to yourself and your relationship with your partner," Olavarria says. "A common mistake I see among couples is that they begin to over-identify as parents and forget that before the thought of children ever came into their minds, they were friends, lovers and adventure partners."
Plus, nurturing your relationship as a couple will set an excellent example for your kids. "Kids take their emotional cues from their parents and are much more observant than people often give them credit for," Olavarria says. "This means that if you are happy, cared for and feeling valued, your children will experience a sense of safety and love that allows them to concentrate on just being kids."