Should You Have a Child With This Person?
Three questions to help you choose the right co-parent
You’ve found the love of your life, navigated the turbulent waters of a new relationship, and begun to settle down for the long haul. Now, you’re turning your thoughts to the next steps — the pitter-patter of tiny feet.
Planning a family at all, rather than leaving it to the winds of chance, is less common than you might expect. Almost half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute. What that could mean, in practice, is signing up for a lifetime of co-parenting with someone who may not be up to your standards.
Parenting is often rewarding and wonderful but also very taxing. Pre-existing issues can be magnified by sleeplessness and stress, while the person you thought you wanted to be by your side for the rest of your life can rapidly become the last person you want to see. Tolerable annoyances while dating and even married without children — like, they don't do their share — can turn quite ugly when, with children, there’s actually quite a lot for both of you to do.
Between the additional strains on the relationship and the huge number of unplanned births, some 20% of couples separated in the first year after a child was born, according to one 2018 study. The number one reason? Communication problems.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Three simple questions can help establish whether you’re partnered up with someone who’s fit to parent with. It may even make sense to discuss them together with a counselor. Studies into premarital counseling from Utah’s Brigham Young University suggest the practice can decrease the likelihood of divorce by 50%. Think of it not just as a gut check, but also as an insurance policy against potential heartbreak.
How do you imagine yourself as a parent?
It’s among the most common advice from childcare experts. As parents, you need to present a united front.
That means finding common ground on questions of discipline, education, and what is and is not acceptable. While you can always regroup behind closed doors to figure out a compromise, it’s much easier if you agree to begin with.
But this is also an opportunity to find out what role your partner imagines for you — and for themselves. Is one of you expected to be the bad cop? If you have a child with special needs or who needs extra care, how will you decide who will take the lead? Will one of you become the primary breadwinner while the other focuses on parenting? And if you earn roughly the same, whose job is more “important”?
What does a fair division of labor look like?
There are plenty of equitable ways to share parenting. In one case, one of you might replace your 9-to-5 with full time parenting. The other one continues to work full time, to pay the bills and make the household work. Outside of regular working hours, you split the labor evenly, between domestic labor, bath time and everything else.
Another alternative: You both reduce your hours a little, get childcare to pick up the slack, and divide the responsibilities of parenting and maintaining a home alike. One of you loves to cook? Great. The other one can wash up.
It’s all too easy to slip into unfair divisions of labor — situations where the full-time parent continues their “job” round the clock, or where both partners work but only one actually parents. In 63% of U.S. households, according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor, both parents continued to work. Despite that, 80% of women with kids are also the principal chef and grocery shopper, according to Pew Center data. That same survey suggested that more than half of all Americans believe that an equal division of chores is the key to a marriage.
What to take away from the data? Make a plan that works for both of you, and stick to it. Without talking about these things ahead of time, most couples will see a gradual slide in contributions, where one person winds up doing more than they should. By working out ahead of time what fair looks like, you can check in on one another’s preferences, tussle out any nagging discrepancies, and make sure you’re on the same page for the long haul.
What are your red lines?
You won’t see eye-to-eye on everything, nor should you expect to. It might be whether or not it is wrong to swat a child; or name a child after a distant relative; or let the kids eat candy or organic food. These are conversations worth having ahead of time, even though your perspectives might evolve over time. Even more important are the views you don’t expect to change. These might be philosophical, like whether you want to raise your children in a religious tradition, or practical, like how much involvement and support you’d like from your own parents.
None of these have to be deal-breakers, of course. You’re both adults; you should be able to reason out compromises (or know when to give a little).
But there are a few red lines that are also red flags. Look out for an unwillingness to factor in your opinion, or anything that treats you as a second-class citizen — someone who won’t, as a matter of principle, change a diaper, commit to sharing night feeds, or contribute to the nitty-gritty of parenting. Finally, if your partner says they’re against immunization, or otherwise following the advice of your pediatrician? Show them the door, and run for the hills.