Am I Ready for a Baby?

Am I Ready for a Baby?

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Having a child is one of the coolest, most meaningful experiences a human being can have. It’s also a mind-blowingly huge responsibility. How can you decide if you want to become a parent? And if that is your heart’s desire, how can you know when you’re ready for a baby? 

These aren’t easy questions to answer. Many people arrive in couples counseling or even individual therapy at this particular crossroads in their lives. 

Some of these clients believe that once they have a better place to live, or a better job title, or a certain balance in their savings account, then they’ll feel ready to build a family. Others aren’t sure what they’re waiting for, aside from an internal sense of certainty and readiness. Still others feel ambivalent about having kids at all, but worry they may run out of time to have biological children and regret not acting sooner. 

The truth is, none of us are ever “ready” for a baby. The experience of having a child will change you, your relationship, and your day-to-day life in ways you can’t fully anticipate or prepare for. That’s part of the fun of parenthood… but it can also be a major source of anxiety, particularly if you’re someone who likes to know what’s going to happen next. 

This article will help you explore your desire to have a baby, and find clarity about your next steps. If you’d prefer to listen, I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. It’s a conversation between myself and my colleague Brittany S., a marriage counselor and parent coach on our team at Growing Self. I hope you’ll find it helpful. You can find the episode on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

How to Get Ready to Have a Baby

No matter how much you prepare for fatherhood or motherhood, the experience of having a baby will always be different than you thought it would be. Even if you read all the baby books and follow all the parenting advice to a T, you’ll still be improvising your role as a parent every day, and being continuously invited to grow and evolve in ways you can’t even imagine yet.

But there are a few areas of your life to explore as you’re getting ready to have a baby:

  1. Relationship Health — If you are partnered and you’re planning to have a child together, is your relationship fundamentally healthy? Your bond with your partner will be the foundation of your family. It’s worth investing in the health and strength of that relationship before becoming parents, because parenthood and even pregnancy can stress your relationship in surprising ways. This work also gives you a roadmap for nurturing your relationship after you have kids. If you’re not sure about the health of your relationship, start with our “How Healthy Is Your Relationship” quiz
  1. Career & Finances — Let’s be real. Raising kids is expensive, and parenting can make it challenging (but not impossible) to continue climbing the career ladder. You don’t need to reach all of your professional or financial goals before you have a child, but it’s worth taking some time to think about how you intend to juggle work and parenting, while continuing to move toward your goals.
  1. Emotional Health — It takes strength, resilience, emotional intelligence, and a deep well of self-love to be the best parent you can be. If you struggle in these areas, working with a good individual therapist prior to having kids is a smart move. Once you become a parent, prioritizing yourself will only be more difficult. Building your “emotional self-care” toolkit now can help you prepare for common challenges along the path to parenthood, including postpartum depression or coping with pregnancy loss.  

Your Timeline — As much as you might like to get all of these elements perfectly in place before having kids, the reality is that, for women, fertility takes a sharp nosedive around 40. If you want to have biological children and infertility is a concern for you, or for your partner, you’ll have to balance all of these factors against nature’s timeline. You might consider freezing some eggs as soon as possible if the biological clock is ticking and you still need a few years to get ready for a baby. 

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What Is Your Why?

Your reasons for having a baby actually matter more than all of the practical considerations that you’re trying to get just right. If you have an intrinsic drive to raise, nurture, and love a child, then that’s a sign that you’re emotionally ready (or getting ready) to move forward into parenthood. 

But that’s not the only reason people have kids. Getting clear about your “why” will help you avoid making this monumental life decision for the wrong reasons. 

Here are some signs that you’re not ready for a baby:

  1. You’re Feeling A Lot of External Pressure —  Maybe this pressure is coming from your family, society, your partner, or even just from the reality that you’re coming up on your “deadline” for conceiving a child naturally and you’re understandably worried about the possibility of infertility and pregnancy loss. Rather than responding to external pressures, tune into your own emotional guidance system as you make this big decision
  1. Your Partner Doesn’t Really Want Kids — If your partner doesn’t want kids, or shrugs their shoulders half-heartedly and says “maybe someday” when you talk about having a baby, take that information at face value and respect their right to make this choice for themselves. You deserve a willing and enthusiastic coparent, and your child deserves the same. 
  1. You’re Hoping a Child Will Fix Your Relationship — Children are lovely, but they do not make relationships easier. Keeping your relationship strong after a baby is tough. It will uncover its weak points — not repair them. If you need to work on your relationship (as every couple does), it will be easier for you and better for your children if you start that work, ideally with the help of a good couples counselor, prior to becoming parents. That will give you the tools you need to get through hard times together, rather than falling apart. 
  1. You or Your Partner Aren’t In a Good Place — Substance abuse. Codependent relationships. Untreated depression or anxiety. Trauma. Dysfunctional family roles. Problems like these are very common, but they can have a negative impact on the trajectory of your childrens’ lives if they aren’t proactively addressed. If you or your partner have a problem to resolve, doing that work before having kids will allow you to be the parents you want to be, and avoid passing these challenges down to the next generation.   

Creating Your Five-Year Plan

If you have the luxury of delaying for a few years before you become a parent (and not everyone does), think about the things you need to do between now and then to make that dream a reality. 

For many single people, it’s finding a healthy, loving, committed relationship. If you have struggled to find that kind of relationship in the past, and you’re starting to worry about running out of time to have kids, one of the smartest moves you can make is to get involved in high-quality dating coaching, not with a self-anointed “coach” who doesn’t have relevant training or experience, but with a licensed therapist who specializes in relationships and also offers dating coaching (learn more about what a dating coach does). 

Many people want their careers to be in a certain place before they try to become pregnant. If that’s the case for you, wanting a child can be an excellent motivator to get clear about your career goals and make a professional development plan to bring them to fruition. If finances are a consideration, start making a plan now for how you’re going to reach your financial goals (like paying down debt, earning a certain amount, creating a savings cushion). You don’t have to have all the pieces in order before you start taking steps to become a parent, but having a plan will help you feel confident and ready. 

Finally, recognize that parenthood never goes 100% according to plan. We all have to learn on the job, identify what we need after problems arise, and trust ourselves to course correct as we go. If you’re waiting until every element of your life is perfect, then the right time to have a baby will never come. If, on the other hand, you are willing to be flexible, resourceful, and devoted to your own personal growth throughout this journey, then that is a sign you are ready to be a parent. 

Getting Help with Building Your Family

Building a family can be daunting, and many couples and individuals could benefit from support. Whether you would like to work on your relationship in couples counseling, your parenting skills in parent coaching, or on your own patterns with support from a dating coach or therapist, we’re here for you. We invite you to schedule a free consultation with one of our relationship experts today.

xoxo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Am I Ready for a Baby?

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Music in this episode is by Lifeformed with their song “Light Pollution.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://lifeformed.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love Happiness and Success podcast. Becoming a parent is one of the most exciting experiences any of us can have. And it is also a big responsibility that the wise among us take some time to thoughtfully consider before diving into that pool. And it can also be a hard decision to make. Are you ready for a baby? That’s what we’re talking about on today’s episode. 

The artist Lifeformed is setting the tone for our discussion today. Lifeformed is an artist that I’ve just recently kind of stumbled across but I am already a fan. They are based in Taiwan, it looks like, and have all kinds of really nice, just impressionistic audio. I don’t know soundscapes, is that the right word for it? But I’m digging it. And if you would like to learn more about life forms, you can check out their Bandcamp page lifeformed.bandcamp.com.

So we’re tackling a big and important topic together on today’s show, which is babies. Specifically, how you can prepare yourself, you know, mentally, emotionally and in all the other ways to make that leap into parenthood, if that is your heart’s desire. And also, you know, just to talk openly about the reality that many people feel quite ambivalent at the thought of becoming parents. And for good reasons. I mean, there is really a lot to consider before, before heading in this direction, or deciding to, you know, let this happen in your life. 

So, if you are thinking about having a baby, or are in this life space, where you feel like you, you need to make a decision fairly quickly. You’re I’m sure already thinking about so many of these factors, factors like “How am I feeling about my relationship? Am I in a relationship? Am I in a good place mentally, emotionally, financially, even to start raising a little human? And are we in a good place to raise a little human together if you’re embarking into this as a partnership, but so many other things?” I mean, really, when a kid does a cannonball into the pool of your life, it does really impact everything, and many things in very positive ways.

But you know, some things can feel more challenging than they did before having a family things like, you know, what about your career? How are you going to juggle that? Are you going to juggle that? I mean, you know, there for some people is either an off ramp or a temporary parking lot where career aspirations go, when a child is added to the mix? Or if you are in a partnership? How do we create an egalitarian situation where we can both, you know, hold on to certain aspects of our career, while also taking care of the needs of a child and making even some decisions about “What do we want our partnership to look like now? How do we reshuffle that deck so that we have maybe different expectations around who is doing what in service of not just our partnership anymore, but our family.”

And that’s just the beginning, we haven’t even talked about like child care where you’re living can often be a factor when it comes into where you want to raise children, right might not be the same place that you’re living now. So anyway, there are so many practical considerations to think about before having a baby. But in addition to just like the nuts and bolts and the logistics, how are we going to make this work exactly? There is also this internal process that we all sort of need to move through to mentally and emotionally wrap our heads around what is happening. 

And this is multifaceted, because it is also true that many people want to be clear about what is going to happen. What are all the things that I should expect? How is my life going to be different? How am I going to manage all of those differences? Right? Sometimes we feel like we need to have all of those things lined up, figured out before you can move forward into parenthood and as we discussed on another recent podcast that you may have caught on the topic of how to make hard decisions and cope with uncertainty is also the fact that, however much you prepare for the experience of becoming a parent, it will always feel different and be different than what you thought it was going to be. 

Like, there is literally no way to fully prepare for what this is actually like. So that can be a very challenging place to be in if you’re trying to make a conscious choice about whether or not to have a child. And there is a lot to unpack here. 

So to support you in this and have a truly full conversation, I have invited my friend and colleague Brittany to join us on today’s show. Brittany is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist here on the team with me at Growing Self. Like myself, she is also a parent and has gone through some of this experience herself. Although, you know, truly everybody’s experience is totally unique. But in addition to her own life experience, obviously Brittany, as a marriage counselor, and couples therapist and relationship coach also has a lot of experience in helping individuals and couples, sort through all of these variables. 

Find their way through the ambivalence, and come to a place of peace and clarity around whether or not to have a child or not have a child, whether to have another child. And also, you know, she has a ton of experience of helping parents and new parents navigate and build, I think, a really satisfying life on the other side of that decision. No matter what that decision is. So I’m just thrilled to talk with her today and to have the opportunity to share her wisdom with you. So Brittany, thank you so much for joining me today.

Brittany: Oh, thank you for having me again, Lisa, I’m excited to have this conversation with you. Yay.

Lisa: Well, so I wanted to talk with you specifically because I know that you have worked with not, you know, not just that you’ve worked with so many couples and individuals around this. But also, you know, I know that your own path, you too are a parent and also understand, I think on the inside what this journey is like. 

And so, you know, just to kick off this conversation, I guess. I’m curious to know, in your experience, when you meet with people, either individually or in their relationship, what tend to be some of the obstacles are the big things that they’re thinking about that are like, “Ooh, maybe we should slow this train down” What are people wrestle with?

Brittany: Yeah, I think there are several things, you know, depending on if it’s an individual person who’s maybe single, or if it’s someone who is in a couple or relationship. I think some of the things that come up for individuals that I see a lot are like timeline, like maybe they are in the place where they’re ready, like career wise, or financially. But you know, there’s so many societal pressures. And we hear so much about like the ticking timeline for female identifying people, especially, that they’ll start to feel like this sense of urgency. 

And I see that causing a lot of just like, internal conflict for a lot of people feeling like they’re running out of time or, you know, but maybe they’re not ready internally, or just their life circumstances aren’t quite there yet. So that can lead to that against that internal struggle. 

Couples, I think financial stress is also a real barrier for people and just the cost of childcare and planning careers and support and all sorts of things really impact their decision. And then of course, relationship health and really feeling like are we in a place that, you know, having a child can add to our family in a positive way? is a really big question that people face.

Lisa: Yeah. Oh, my gosh, so many huge, I mean, these are all huge things. I mean, we could have a multi hour podcast on each of these subjects. But thank you too, you know, I mean, even just for bringing up that individual experience that I think is more a female or female identifying experience, and maybe we can even just start with unpacking that one. You know, I too have have had so many conversations with people, with women who feel the sense of urgency like I am running out of time based on the biological, you know, reality of the fertility does kind of dry up once you get past 40. And though feeling highly conflicted, because they really aren’t ready to do this right this very second or they’re not in a relationship, or they’re not in the relationship. And you can also have a baby on your own too. But like, where do you even begin to unpack that and help somebody get clarity on what to do with those things? And no, I don’t have a ton of time. I know I want to do this eventually. But I don’t know about right now.

Brittany: Yeah, it’s such a hard place to be in. I think a lot of the work I do with clients in this space is encouraging them to think about their “why.” And really tracking like, where that voice is coming from, are they feeling the pressure. Because family members or, you know, just friends or whoever in their life? Is maybe sharing these messages putting pressure on them? Is that increasing their own sense of urgency. Or is it truly like this internal drive, and something that they really value is really important to them. So I think it’s first important just to get clear on that. 

And I would say that across the board, like whether you’re in a relationship, you’re single, you’re considering parenting, in any relationship status, I think that’s an important piece. So get really clear on the “why”, get clear on your own intentions and values. And, you know, just start to identify, like, if this is something that you really want, this is your internal voice.

What are the steps that you maybe feel like you want to take to start to actualize this dream? You know, are you looking for a partner? Are you in a place that you want to be in a relationship? And if so, what are the steps you want to do to start meeting people again, or to put yourself out there? What are the markers of a healthy relationship that you’re looking for in a future partner, spouse, co-parent, and start to take those small steps that are within our control right now, knowing that so much of this piece of parenting is out of our control. So really staying like present, focused.

Lisa:  Yeah, that is such good advice. Because if you try to like launch yourself four years into the imaginary future, where you’re now a parent, it like that is so paralyzing and overwhelming, but to think about, okay, if I do legitimately for myself want to go into this direction, what are those little micro steps that I could potentially start taking today. But also, I love what you’re saying about like, being suspicious, even of like this, like, where is this drive coming from? Is this what I’ve been, you know, acculturated into believing I should do or should want? And is this intrinsically true for me? Because it actually might not be? And that is okay. 

Brittany: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Okay. 

Lisa: I think I also, and this is probably coming more from my own personal experience, would add to that, like, I think any time any of us are caught in what feels like a binary choice, you know, it’s either this, or that. You need more choices. You know, like, if I ever find myself doing that, and like, know that I need more than two choices, because this is crazy making. 

And so to like, just expand on that a little bit. I mean, I became pregnant at 43. Right? But after a lot of difficulty, so you know, that was not easy, but it did happen. But on the journey to that, you know, now I have great respect for people who decide to freeze eggs to buy themselves more time, like, if that’s within reality, but also, I think, you know, expanding the narrative of the ways of becoming a parent, or even being in a parenting role, you know, foster parenting, adoption, being a mentor, or having a positive relationship with young people. Like, there’s so many different ways that that can look like and just to, let’s have some more options, you know.

Brittany: Yeah, right. There are so many options, and what anybody chooses is totally theirs. But it’s an important conversation to have, you know, if you are in a relationship with someone you’re considering parenting with, or if you are, you know, single and wanting to parent just really being clear for yourself of what am I open to? What could it look like? What are the possibilities? Because there’s some freedom in that and that can just take some of that pressure off to know what we’re really we might be open to?

Lisa: Yeah, for sure. Okay. Now, you also, I think, brought up some important, you know, considerations that are sort of logistical, and I mean, one of them is, is financial, like pieces of that, you know, certainly it’s like child care where we’re living the circumstances of our lives. I think the reason why those are so hard is because they often are, what they are, in the moment at least, like maybe we can have long term plans of wanting things to be different, but I think sometimes people feel like they need to get those things lined up or before they do start planning for a child.

In your experience, what kinds of ideas or even conversations have you found to be helpful in creating a path forward? You know, like, and I guess what I’m what I’m trying to say in elegantly in way too many words is this idea that sometimes it can be very paralyzing, I think for all of us to feel like, we’re not ready to do something and sort of have this like, idea of where we should be in life in order to be able–and that could be true for getting married for having a kid for whatever.

And I guess, you know, an exploration of like, how to know which of those is, like, valid? And like, “yeah, I should probably have that figured out before I have a baby,” versus, you know, what are the kinds of things that we think we need to have figured out but maybe we don’t? Like, can we be 80%? Sure, we have most of the things lined up and still move forward. Do you know? I don’t know.

Brittany: Yeah, I mean, there are, again, I think this is going to be so different for each person who’s considering becoming a parent. But I think it’s important to realize that, and I honestly, I didn’t realize this myself until after becoming a parent. So I guess in hindsight is 2020. But there is nothing that can fully prepare you to becoming a parent.

Lisa: whatever you think is gonna happen is wrong.

Brittany: Right. Yes, still read books, and you know, learn what you want to learn. And, you know, don’t just go in blindly, but also know that there is a degree of flexibility that’s required. There is a degree of, you know, letting ourselves learn on the job, and identifying what we might need after the fact. So I think anytime, you know, parenting, or just really any decision we’re facing in life, if we’re waiting for things to be perfect conditions to be perfect.

To make any step forward toward a goal, we probably aren’t going to be achieving a lot of the goals we have for ourselves. So we have to really identify like, what are our core needs? What is it that I like, most need for me to feel like I can take a leap of faith, or for me to feel like I can be apprehensive or nervous or scared about this decision, but also move forward in that and feel safer or more comfortable moving forward. And I think that it’s just going to be different for everybody. 

Some people, you know, might really need to feel like they have a certain number in their bank account, or in their emergency savings, or whatever it might be, they might need to feel like, you know, maybe it’s they need to have health insurance, or they don’t want to be living in their one bedroom apartment, whatever that is.

Can you talk about it? Can you identify why that feels so important for you? And if you can’t identify it, right? Like, what would it look like to look to be flexible around whatever that line item is? Or whatever that need is? And how could you do that in a way that allows you to take a leap of faith? And know that you can figure things out? Who are your supports? How can you, you know, take steps while also moving forward with this decision to parent and know that it doesn’t have to all be figured out in that moment.

Lisa: And Brittany, I think this is so profound. Because really, I think you just said something so insightful, which is that like, the one thing that’s going to make this like, almost a better experience for you like the one thing that is an indication that you probably are emotionally ready to become a parent is this idea of flexibility. That your your ability to actually let go of your preconceived ideas about the way things should be, is actually the indication that you’re going to be alright.

Brittany: Yeah, I don’t think any day of parenting looks the same as before. Like your routines, might certain things, the TV show that’s on in the background all day long, or whatever might be the same day today. But there’s no– I don’t think there’s any day that looks the exact same. The emotions are different, the experiences are different. Your children are constantly growing and evolving, you are constantly growing and evolving. And so that that ability to adapt to change, that ability to be flexible, I think is really critical.

Lisa: Yeah. And learning on the job. No, that’s a great- I have two very distinct memories that are coming up for me as we’re talking. One was actually a very, like poignant, honestly sad conversation that I had once with a woman– knows probably in her late 40s or early 50s. At that time, she was actually another therapist, and we were just having a conversation and just you know, getting to know each other talking about each other’s lives. And she shared that She was married, and I was pregnant at the time.

So, you know, that was a topic of conversation, but she just shared. Yeah, you know, I really, I really wanted kids, but then, you know, I was always like waiting for the right time. And it was never the right time. And now she was like 50. And it was okay, like she had processed that and was like in an okay place with it. But it was just like, in that moment, you know, that you can’t actually wait too long. And then another memory that I was having was once one couples counseling session, I will never forget, it was a younger couple that were probably in their 30s. And they were not on the same page about whether to have children was very that stereotypical, she wanted to have a kid he didn’t. 

And I remember talking with him about his reasons. And he was like; we need to be debt free. We need to be home owners, I would like to have most of the mortgage paid off and like have at least $100,000 in the bank. And probably, you know, the bulk of college funds saved already. Like it was very sort of financial. And I was like, so you basically like to be retired before having children was like, yes. And it’s just like these ideas about what needs to happen.

But even your comment about the one bedroom apartment — we lived in a one bedroom apartment when we had our first child and it was just fine, because the kid actually lives in your room anyway. And so like, there you go. So I don’t know. But I love this is like whatever you’re holding on to is like, shake that up a little bit.

Brittany: ​​Yeah, yeah. And if it does turn out that that is really critical for you. Okay, then that’s like your that’s your data moving forward with and what steps then can you take to move toward that? Or if you realize, like, oh, this actually isn’t a coordinated this, there’s just fear here. How can we work with that?

Lisa: Well, and I also, you know, I’m also afraid that people listening to this conversation right now will think that we’re both like really advocating that everybody should be having babies. And that’s also not true, right? Perfectly okay to say, I don’t actually want to do that. Yeah. What in your experience would be some, you know, things to listen for? Or think about that might indicate that it’s probably not in the best interest of you, or your future child to be doing this? Right. This very second, like, are there things that would make you say, “Ooh, let’s slow down here.”

Brittany: Absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, if you are in a relationship with someone and considering co-parenting with them, if you’re with someone who’s really adamant that they don’t want to be a parent, right, that they have always felt that way.

They don’t want to be a parent, and they don’t see that changing. Certainly everybody has the capability to change their mind, that’s always a possibility. And I think it’s really important that we adhere to those messages that a potential co-parent is sharing with us and telling us that they don’t want that. Yeah. Right. And to take that at face value. I mean, I think it you know, parenting is such a big change in our lives, it’s such a big decision that we step into. 

And if your plan is to co-parent with someone, right, then it requires so much teamwork, it requires so much communication and the health of the relationship. And if that person isn’t in it, right, then, you know, what could you realistically expect from them? Are they going to show up as a parent? Are they going to show up as your partner, as your co-parent in those situations? And what will that actually look like, to have a child with someone who really does not want to parent?

Certainly, it’s possible. And there might be shifts that happen in that person after becoming a parent, but we certainly don’t want to go into it, assuming that will happen. And I think it can just be really hard, emotionally, physically, mentally, it’s apparent in that type of landscape.

Lisa: Definitely. Yeah. And, and I’ve seen that happen, you know, and it’s taken a variety of forms. I mean, I’ve seen partners sort of badger their boyfriend or girlfriend into getting married, because as soon as we get married, things will be different. And then shortly thereafter, there begins this badgering of like, “okay, now it’s time to have a baby or do one of these other things,” without, you know, and I think that the mindset is, well, when we do this, then it will be better this is, you know, and kind of like dragging their partner into something.

And I think you and I have both seen the long term outcomes of that, which is that, you know, maybe what they’re saying is true, and it’s not really good for anybody to have somebody who would really rather be doing something besides the work of parenting, resentful, you know, checked out, and now you’re unhappy because they’re resentful and checked out like it’s not. No good.

Brittany: Totally. Yeah. I think what you just said is, is another kind of like yellow to red flag right of, you might want to slow down. Like, if you’re assuming that having a child will fix things in your relationship or change your partner, butt that is, you know, that may not be realistic. And that may not happen. And that a child often is not something that repairs relationships or, or fixes them.

Because children wanted–excited, you know, we’re excited for them. They’re planning for whatever circumstances are they’re still a stressor in our life. As you know, as wonderful as they can be. There’s still a stressor. We haven’t been here before. And so certainly, we will grow in a lot of ways, but there’s still a stressor on our system and our relationships. And so to assume that it’ll fix things may not be realistic.

Lisa: Shall we talk about the horrible graph?

Brittany: The horrible graph? Tell me more? 

Lisa: Okay. I’m sure you’ve seen the horrible graph, as soon as I tell you what it is, you’d be like, “Oh, yes, the horrible graph”. So there is a horrible graph that let’s see, it’s on on the up and down axis, I can never remember if that’s the X or the Y on the up and down axis, it is the level of relationship satisfaction, in a marriage, correlated with the horizontal access of when people have children and how old those children are. And so what you see is that prior to having children, relationship satisfaction is usually at some of their highest levels. 

And then it plummets for easily, you know, a decade kind of rises higher, it plunges back down again during adolescence and then starts to trend higher again. And then, you know, as children achieve cruising altitude and move on with their milk crates full of Xbox, whatevers, to their dorm rooms, that it gets better again, and that’s not to be totally catastrophic. There’s lots of good times and good moments, but to your point where so many positive things of having a family, so many magical moments, it’s meaningful, there’s value in it. But it is not typically the easiest time for a couple because there’s a lot of stress.

Brittany: Yes, yes, yes, I when you say that the Gottmans have a wonderful book called The Bait and Baby Makes Three, which is great if you’re considering if you want to be a parent, or you’re planning to be one. But they mentioned in their research, two thirds of couples experience relationship dissatisfaction following the birth of a first child, right that it is just a really big stressor. And it changes the equilibrium of your relationship.

Lisa: I think the little fractures and the differences that don’t really matter that much before you have a baby, like all of a sudden, those things matter so much and need to be different, like immediately. I think it sort of reveals all of the things that need to be worked on, right in pretty dramatic ways sometimes. So yes, not, not something to at least not consider, you know. I will also say that, in my experience, there are also a lot of bonding moments and positive new experiences that you’ll share as a couple too that you also may not have considered or expected before having a child which is important.

So another facet of this that I think is important for our listeners to consider is going back to what you mentioned about it being so different than you think it’s going to be. And also maybe even, you know, just busting the myth that all babies are planned and that there is this thoughtful process that goes into deciding on whether or not to have another child, right. I know from my own life experience.

My husband and I were actually married for 11 years, and pretty sure that we did not want to have children. At the time, I was very focused on my career. I looked at other people with kids and thought to myself, Why would anybody want to do that? That does not look like any fun at all. Right? I think I was thinking about the experience from that like pros and cons list and thinking about “Here are all the things I won’t be able to do. And here are all the problems, you know, that having a kid will create.” 

So like, “No, I’m good, don’t need to do that.” And then we got pregnant with a love child. And I had this existential like, oh, no, what and like, I mean, it was actually very difficult for a while there because at the time, that was not anything that I had wanted to do.

But you know, my husband, he was so wonderful. He was like we can figure this out. We’re going to be alright. And I think because you know our relationship was as — we’d been married for 11 years, right? So we wound up moving forward with it. And to my great surprise, my life became so much better and richer and more interesting. And there were so many things that we still couldn’t do that I wouldn’t have thought weren’t possible and I mean, 

I wouldn’t change any of it. And then of course, decided that we wanted to have another child. But at that point it was hard work to make that happen. But just like that shift in perspective, I just wanted to put that out there for people because it’s like, you don’t really know what is on the other side of it. And it’s so difficult to make these choices. Without, it’s almost like you need to have the experience to even know what it is that you’re saying yes to or no to. But that’s like impossible, because you have to almost decide to do it before they’re deciding if it’s a good idea or not.

Brittany: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s such a good point. Right? Like, we don’t fully ever know, what’s on the other side. There might be times people face an unplanned pregnancy, and they know that they’re not ready to be parents, and that’s okay. That’s a decision and, or it might be like what you experienced, and it’s a, you know, it’s a nice surprise and it turns out to be a positive experience. There are so many different outcomes, right? People who have gone through fertility treatments, there’s often still a difficult transition into parenthood. They can be surprised sometimes when they noticed difficult emotions coming up, or resentments, or, you know, having a hard time and parenting because they worked so hard for it. We just don’t really ever fully know what’s waiting on the other side.

Lisa: Yeah, but it’s not such a great insight. And I know, we’ve both worked with people. That’s, I mean, people who have wanted children for so long, and have had all these really positive expectations about the experience, plunging into sometimes pretty serious depression on the other side, because it’s different than what they thought or people who were extremely apprehensive about becoming parents like myself. I was like, I don’t think this is a good idea, doing it anyway, only to be surprised that it was so much more fabulous than I had made it out to be. Can we touch on the former though, for a second? So you know, people who really want to have children are so excited about it. And then on the other side have that, “What have I done? What goes into life?”

Brittany: Grief.

Lisa: Yeah, grief.

Brittany: Yeah, right. Like, I think more of the unexpected. And, again, we can’t plan for it, especially if this is our first child. We haven’t been here before. So there’s no roadmap, there’s no, you know, it depends on like, what did the birth look like of our child? And what is our parenting support look like? And what are our life circumstances? There’s so many factors that go into this. We can’t ever fully know. And there might be emotions that come up. And so, you know, like, are we open to getting support? Are we willing to and able to, who are our supports just in our own life, professionally or just, you know, friendship, family, whoever, partner? Can we be compassionate with ourselves and realize that all emotions are okay, if we’re safe with them in parenting? And they probably all will show up at some point.

Lisa: Yeah, definitely. And again, I mean, like, I’m sort of feeling right now, for somebody who was like, Yes, I’m gonna listen to this podcast, because by the end of it, I’m going to have clarity about what I should do. And I think what we’re talking about is really just like, the messiness and the ambiguity. And the fact that you are, whatever you think is, you know, how confident you are always rolling the dice to some degree, and that this idea of making a very conscious, deliberate decision that will take you to a specific outcome, the whole thing is an illusion. Most of the time, and that’s, I think, just like existentially hard for people to cope with.

Brittany: We love certainty, we want to know, we need to know, and it’s not possible.

Lisa: Yeah, definitely. Okay.

Brittany: Yeah, yeah.

Lisa: Well, so to recap, so to really, probably lean on the side and not if your partner is like, I do not want to do this, this is not a good idea. So pay attention to that. Any other major red flags, you would say? Slow down, listen to that.

Brittany: Yeah. I think you know, if in your relationship, you feel that you and your partner get escalated quickly, and often you don’t have healthy ways of managing conflicts. You aren’t able to regulate yourself or with another person, right? You don’t have coping skills. You know, if there’s substance abuse happening, or violence in a relationship, right, like, probably something that really needs attention, before moving forward and bringing another person into that system, do you feel like, you know what you can expect of each other? Probably a good idea to slow down if you haven’t had conversations around, like, what is our day to day going to look like? What can we reasonably expect of each other? Are we both going to take active roles in parenting? And what does that actually look like?

If you haven’t had those conversations, right, it’s not like, “Stop, don’t”. But hey, there may be things that we need to talk about before the light turns green. And we do move forward in that in that decision making. Also, do we really support each other? Do we prioritize our relationship now? Because that gets harder after having children. So having those skills in place now. And if they aren’t, maybe that’s an invitation to restructure what our relationship looks like, prior to children. So that we have those skills, we have those tools to find our way back after becoming parents.

Lisa: What a good idea. I know, we’ve sort of talked about this in a joking way at our practice before, but like this idea of like we have premarital counseling for people before they get married, like we need pre-parenting counseling. I’m going to work on this idea of Brittany, but just like this idea of like, “okay, what do we need to be ready for, in order to have this” You know, to feel totally as prepared as possible. At least?

Brittany: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s a small, you know, it’s a session of my premarital work with couples. And I always tell them, like, we’re just planting lots of little seeds. Right. But when and if that time comes, right, I think we need pre-parenting support, for sure. And post parenting support. We always need support in this process. 

Lisa: Forevermore. I hear you. No, these are great suggestions. And I will add to, you know, one of the things that I do think about and you know, that could be a red flag, I think that sometimes people who have not had children or spent a lot of time around kids underestimate the amount of time, energy, thought, you know, just that is really required for truly taking care of a growing person and meeting their needs, you know, and to really, I think, do some honest evaluation of what your capacity is for meeting the needs of this child. Every day, all day. 

And you know, what is that going to involve it. And again, I know that we cannot always it’s hard to imagine the full reality, but like, I think, you know, I’ve talked to people who are very careerist, and have super huge ambitious goals. And you know, this, well who’s going to take care of the baby like the I think, you know, focusing on just the fact of having a child rather than the part of of being the constant parent that they need that that’s real.

Brittany: Right? Absolutely. And just as you’re talking about, like that capacity, and being aware of what our own capacity is, I think that, you know, lends itself to mental health as well. And just being you know, really, really aware that one, like a person of any gender can get pregnant, and a person of any gender can experience perinatal, postnatal, postpartum depression, anxiety and mood disorders.

To be aware of that — it’s not just cis women who experienced that, and to seek support to know if you might have risk factors that might lend itself to something like that exacerbating after becoming a parent. And that’s definitely going to impact that capacity to meet your own needs and other person’s needs.

Lisa: Definitely. And as you’re talking right now, I’m thinking of one last thought that I’m feeling compelled to say right now, which is that if if part of the motivation for having a baby or having a child is because you believe that you will feel happier, you will feel more whole, you will have achieved your whatever that there’s kind of a fantasy of what your reality will be like, as a parent to do some exploration of that.

Because the reality is that having a baby is probably not going to make you feel a whole lot better than you do right now. And if you’re, if that’s the hope, that is, I think, putting you in a disempowered position. And also, the real question is, am I going to be the kind of person who can make this baby really happy and healthy and whole and feeling emotionally supported. And that’s a hard shift sometimes, but that to me is just something that I wanted to mention before we glide to a halt here.

Brittany: Absolutely. Yeah. Know your “why”, be really curious with yourself about why you want to parent what your dream in it is.

Lisa: Yeah, yeah.

Brittany: Okay.

Lisa: Brittany, thank you so much yet again, for such an insightful and important conversation. I appreciate your taking the time to do this with me and our listeners. Thank you. 

Brittany: Of course. Thanks so much for having me back, Lisa. 

Lisa: Oh, wow, what a conversation and what a huge topic, you know, this was an awesome conversation with Brittany. And also, I feel like we very much only scratched the surface of many of the different variables and facets of this life experience that we were talking about today.

You know, we didn’t even get into things like how these decisions can be impacted by a pregnancy loss or other loss, how these decisions can be impacted by the other relationships that you have in your life with an extended family even. And also, you know, we did not talk about the very real challenges and path forward of how to navigate a situation where perhaps you and your partner are gridlocked about whether or not to have a child or have another child. You know, gridlock is the term for it if you have very different positions on a topic. Like one of you really wants to have a baby or another baby and the other person is really pretty sure they don’t.

Brittany and I were certainly talking about how it is not typically a good idea to move forward and welcome a child into those circumstances. But you should also know that there are ways of working through that gridlock so that you can come into the middle, and at least not feel like you’re at odds with each other. Have a lot more clarity about your path forward as as couples, potentially as individuals, and so whatever the outcome of that is, it still feels like there is resolution to that particular difference. So anyway, lots for you here. And on our website, growingself.com.

If you would like to learn more about Brittany or talk with her about your situation, you can certainly do that. But you can also take advantage of the other resources that we have for you. We have actually a whole collection on healthy families where we’re talking about things like you know, different challenges for new parents, pregnancy loss, infertility, parenting styles, even blended family situations can all be very relevant here. So I hope you help yourself to all of it. 

You’ll go to growingself.com forward/ blog-podcast, and from there access the love collection. And once you’re in the love collection, you should see the happy families collections being very easily available. So that’s how you get to there. And I will be back in touch with you again soon with another episode. Don’t forget to subscribe while we’re here so that you are notified of that fact. But I’ll be back in touch soon, and we’ll continue the conversation

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