What should we discuss before we have kids?
March 26, 2009 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Apologies, I know there is a lot on this topic, but I have a specific question that doesn't seem to be answered. We are thinking of having kids. We both want them. What should we discuss before we jump in with both feet? Who will stay home, and for how long? What kinds of names are you considering? What forms of punishment / praise will be used? When can she get her ears pierced? etc. There seems to be so much to discuss... and I want to start having the conversation before I get hormonal. This will be our first. What conversations did you have before yours were born?
posted by saragoodman3 to Human Relations (20 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Two biggies: circumcision and vaccines. You want to be on the same page here.
posted by Mountain Goatse at 1:42 PM on March 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wow, I can't imagine ever deciding to have kids if I thought I had to cover questions like "when can she get her ears pierced" in advance.

For us, after having dated and being married long enough, we had discussed enough at higher levels to be comfortable that we'd be able to work though specific questions as they arose. Thinking back, things that I know we specifically discussed (much of it through watching other people with their kids): day care/school, the importance of treating kids like human beings, how we will control our respective tempers, and most importantly I think: how we will maintain our relationship with each other. (On my sister's advice, who, at 25 years my elder, told me to always remember that your kids move away, and your spouse is still there, and you don't want to wake up 18 years later finding out that you've both become different people without noticing. Having a healthy and strong relationship with each other is good for your kids.)

Things we've discussed since being pregnant: types of traditions we think are important, where we'll spend Christmas, how much "baby stuff" is reasonable, whether to use cloth diapers.

Another big topic: religion. If one of you feels strongly about raising a kid in a faith that the other one doesn't practice, or believe in strongly, come to some kind of understanding about that.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:47 PM on March 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I have thought of vaccines, and homeschooling, but not the rest.
Thank you so much, everyone who has answered so far and will answer.
Keep it coming...
posted by saragoodman3 at 1:59 PM on March 26, 2009

- Religion. This includes baptism, which many non-religious folks do anyway.

- Vaccines

- School (home/public)

- If you're working, how long will you stay home with baby before going back to work?

- Will someone be a stay-at-home parent? Who? Permanently? If not, for how long?

- What's your philosophy on discipline? Spanking? Time-outs? Positive only?

- Breast feeding?

- Circumcision?
- What will you do if you discover (before birth) that the child has Down Syndrome (or something else on that level of gravitas)? Would you abort? Are you prepared to raise a child with special needs, or who is profoundly disabled?

- Natural childbirth? Scheduled c-section? Delivery in a hospital? Birth center with a midwife? Homebirth?

- Who would you want to care for your child if you die in a car accident the week after she's born? (Really, do this, and consult a specialist in family law).
posted by DWRoelands at 2:01 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

don't have kids.. but religion is a big one. Also just a general discussion about your expectations for parenting. What do you imagine it will be like?
posted by Gor-ella at 2:06 PM on March 26, 2009

My wife and I did not discuss enough about who would do the massive amount of work that it turns out is involved in raising children (take whatever estimates you have now and multiply by ten). Turns out that, despite thinking I was rather progressive and equality-minded, deep down I was expecting to have a similar experience to that of my Dad, which involved him providing the money and my Mom providing all the hard work. Didn't work out that way for me, which I suppose is fair.

Other things to discuss:
Multiples (we have twins)
Which spouse gets to get fixed once you're done procreating (which, if you have twins, will be soon-after)
posted by TurnedIntoANewt at 2:09 PM on March 26, 2009

I think an important aspect of the pre-conception discussion is how well you and your partner are able to resolve conflicts in other areas of your relationship. Hopefully, you already have a conflict resolution system that works and doesn't involve screaming, grandstanding, and/or passive-aggressive behavior. Because honestly, there's no way to even discuss, much less resolve, everything in advance.

I do think it's important to be on the same page regarding schooling, religion, daycare/preschool, grandparents, vaccines, and the potential division of parenting duties, because if one of you has wildly different expectations in one of these areas, it would be best to hammer out the differences ahead of time. To that end, it would be beneficial for each partner to lay out their list of items on which they feel so strongly that they are unlikely to change their minds. For example, if one of you feels that daycare/fluoridation/religious practice/home schooling/whatever is absolutely off the table for discussion, that should be stated upfront.

Finally, it's worth remembering that although pre-natal discussions are worthwhile, everything can and will change once the baby is in the room. One of my most distinct memories is bringing my wife and son home from the hospital, walking through the front door, setting the infant seat containing our son on the floor, and then sort of staring at each other and wondering, "Now what?!" The reality of having the kid in the room brought its own gravitas, and made the post-natal discussions a lot meatier than the pre-natal ones.
posted by mosk at 2:23 PM on March 26, 2009

Who is going back to work and when?

Who has the better insurance policy for families?

What is the cost of daycare in the area and is it worth the expenditure?
*anecdotally, my wife and I figured out that the cost of daycare was only slightly less than her after tax income. For the hassle, the loss of time together (their mommy & baby time), for better one on one support, we decided to forego daycare for at least the first year.

Financially, how long can you suvive on one income?
*anecdotally, my wife and I scaled our expenses down to under one income.

What happens if there is an unexpected employment change for your husband during the pregnancy?

What happens if there is an unexpected employment change for your husband during your maternity leave?
*anecdotally, this almost happened; we had a contingency plan where I would stay home and she would re-enter the workforce if this occurred (to maximize unemployment, severance, and effectively short-term income).
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:55 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

"What forms of punishment / praise will be used?"

I highly recommend you look into nonviolent parenting. Both punishment and praise are far from ideal for a child's self-esteem and confidence. There are ways to raise your children while preserving the emotional connection between you and foster your child's creativity, emotional maturity and leadership without compromising age-appropriate boundaries.

The best book on the topic I've read so far is Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. It is an excellent introduction to nonviolent parenting with concrete recommendations and examples firmly established in (referenced) scientific research.

The majority of parenting books are founded on behavioral psychology which addresses behaviors from the perspective of what's convenient and appropriate according to adults, disregarding the genuine needs of the children and the importance of the emotional connection between parent and child.

Also, if available in your area, try to take a nonviolent parenting or nonviolent communication workshop.

If you are in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend the Center for Nonviolent Education of Parents.

Good luck and get ready for the ride of your lives!
posted by andreinla at 2:58 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just be sure you can re-visit things when you have a change of heart. I don't say "if" because it will happen. You won't have a change of heart about everything, but there will be something at some point that makes you change your mind. Could be something big, could be something small. Keep your minds open. Always.
posted by cooker girl at 3:03 PM on March 26, 2009

I'd say the big issues are:
  • religion,
  • how're you going to take care of him/her when he/she is little (e.g., can one of you stay home? are grandparents available?),
  • do you want to know the sex before birth, and
  • are you going to do prenatal testing, and, if so, what will you do with the results of the tests if they are problematic for you.

    I understand from your question that you like to think things through, but, believe me, all these intentions of yours are about fantasies. You don't have a real kid to relate to yet, you don't know what his/her needs and strengths are. All those other decisions will be based on your real interactions with a real person -- in my experience, fantasies about childrearing will go out the window once you have one in the house.

  • posted by jasper411 at 3:15 PM on March 26, 2009

    If adoption's at all on the table would be a good thing to discuss.

    Also, aside from the specific hot-button issues mentioned that people generally have strong feelings about (religion, circumcision, vaccines, etc) ask him and yourself if there's anything else that you feel strongly about. You can talk through your respective childhoods to discover if there are any preconceptions about child-raising that you don't share (eg: Of course we weren't allowed sugared cereal or TV on weekdays! What kind of crazy person would allow that?)
    posted by ODiV at 3:18 PM on March 26, 2009

    If one of you doesn't agree with the other's in-the-moment parenting decision, how are you going to address that?

    How would you deal with things if your child were to have a major health /behavioral /developmental issue? (e.g., are you comfortable with therapy, do you have a network of family/friends that you'd feel comfortable calling on for help, etc.)
    posted by corey flood at 3:32 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

    There's been lots here and I agree with just about all of it. But you might also want to approach the subject by comparing the things you loved/hated as kids yourselves, somewhat as ODiv has suggested. What happened in your families that was so great that you'd love to have your own children experience? What happened that you swore you'd never do to your kids?

    For example, when I was growing up, our dinner table was full of fun, jokes, stories (often with accents), although my parents were sticklers for table manners. My husband's family dinner was not quite so raucous but in discussing our experiences we realized that family dinner is critical. So, we eat as a family, at a table, with no TV. (We also say grace, although my family never did when I was a child.)

    On the opposite side, my husband was spanked as a child and found it distressing and humiliating. (I was never hit.) So we don't hit. However, I remember a devastating comment from my dad. So Mr. A and I agree that discipline cannot shame, humilate, or hurt our children, but must provide reasonable and logical consequences, as well as the opportunity to make true amends. (We like Barbara Coloroso's take on discipline.)

    In short, I'd compare the best and worst from your own childhoods, and get the sense of underlying values you have that will inform your day-to-day decisions when you have kids.
    posted by angiep at 3:44 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

    Whatever you decide about who works and who stays home, what happens if Mom decides, after maternity leave is over, that she just can't bear leaving the child and going back to work?
    posted by amtho at 4:08 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

    Your lives will focus entirely on the child. The child will be the very center of your family universe. Are you ready and willing to face that?
    posted by JayRwv at 5:01 PM on March 26, 2009

    I'm endorsing the need to discuss parenting roles and decision making. Do you trust each other to make major decisions on the spot without input and without second guessing? Do you find each other reliable and trustworthy in general for decisions about health and money and acceptable behavior standards? Snap decisions will be needed regarding sick babies and hospitals, discipline in public places, etc and both of you can't/won't be there each and every time-much less be in complete agreement each and every time.
    posted by beaning at 5:17 PM on March 26, 2009

    Don't get too manic about this... if you both want kids, that's most important. And don't stress too much if your partner doesn't want to talk in detail about all of this stuff either.

    I think it's good to know a lot about how your partner's same-sex parent parented him or her. So find out how your partner's father (right?) fathered him.

    I say this because I think many of us, especially in moments of stress, become just like our same-sex parents. It's helpful for me when I can recognize that my husband is reacting the same way his dad would, because I know that's not necessarily how he'd like to parent (though of course I don't bring this up in the heat of the moment!).
    posted by bluedaisy at 3:51 AM on March 27, 2009

    Before you start trying, you may want to discuss fertility issues. I had no problem getting to the pregnant state I am in now, but I was also adamant that I would not go through fertility treatments if we did not conceive the old-fashioned way. I saw too many women go through it, and from what I saw, I wanted no part of it.

    My fiance has really wanted his own child for some time and I wanted him to know that fertility treatments were off the table for me. Just a thought.
    posted by murrey at 10:10 AM on March 27, 2009

    I agree with bluedaisy about examining your SO's relationship with his/her parents. A lot of issues related to that come up in one's own parenting. You're also going to have more be more intimately involved with your in-laws, which can be difficult.

    But another one: something to discuss is expectations of who does what and what is "fair."

    As a new parent and a frequent readers of parenting forums, it appears that "Today's Woman" often expects that the work load will be 50/50. While Mommy may be breastfeeding, many mommies expect that daddy/other parent will be keeping up on housework and doing his/her fair share of childrearing.

    And then reality hits. In the overwhelming majority of my educated feminist-leaning couple friends, men that I have known and respected for years and would have (naively) assumed would step up to 50/50 parenting are not. It is not to say that these guys aren't doing more parenting than their own fathers did, but certainly the expectations differ from reality. Breastfeeding is exhausting. Being home with a baby all day is exhausting (and great too!). Having to ask four times for your SO to taking out the MF GD trash because a baby is hooked to your boob is an additional exhausting thing to deal with.

    Boobs aside, due to more generous leave for mommies and perhaps certain traits that women appear to have, mommies end up doing a lot. (I read an article recently about a stay-at-home dad and the working mom was STILL the one having to make doctor's appointments, buying gifts for birthday parties, etc... there is perhaps something about women that they do these multitasking things with greater ease?)

    So, if this is a concern for you, it might be worth discussing.
    posted by k8t at 3:39 PM on March 29, 2009

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