How Do You Know If You're Ready To Be A Dad?
June 25, 2009 11:54 PM   Subscribe

How do you know you're ready to be a father?

My fiancee, a woman in her mid 20s, wants a baby. I'm a man in my early 30s, and... I'm not sure how I feel.

One part of me very much likes the prospect of being a dad and actively wants to have a kid. I like the though of seeing my partner happy and pregnant, and then eventually happy and a new mum with her new baby. I like the idea of seeing what kind of person the two of us would create. I like the thought of shaping the kid, teaching him or her the values and the things he or she needs to know and will shape their lives. I like the idea of playing games with the kid, showing them the world. It all seems pretty cool and I'm totally onboard with all of it.

But another part of me (and I'm not sure its a bigger part or not) is worried. I worry about money and whether we'll have enough to do this right. I worry about how a pregnancy know would affect the wedding we've been working so hard to plan. I worry about having enough time to look after it and spend time with it (both of us work long hours, busy jobs) and the effect having a baby will have on what little social time we have left. I worry about lack of sleep because the baby is crying (I like sleep). I worry about accidentally hurting the baby somehow. I worry I might be a terrible father and my kid will grow up to hate me.

And I worry about what would happen if our baby was ever to die. I know its macabre but I do worry about it. I worry about the effect the death of our child would have on my relationship with my partner and on me, personally. I worry about future wars that could hurt our child. I worry about them making some stupid, split second decision at some point in their life that ruins everything for them. I don't want any of that to ever happen to my kid and I'm not sure I could handle it if it did.

Of course I have considered that the reasons I'd like to have a baby are not necessarily reasons in and of themselves to bring a child into this world. By the same token, I know some of my fears are irrational and not reasons in and of themselves as to not have a child. Frankly, it seems to me that the most obvious reason to have a baby is because both partners are ready to take on the responsibility of caring for and raising a child, and by the same token the main reason not to have one would be because you aren't ready.

Which leads me to my question. How does one know they're ready to be a father? Is it a lack of any doubt? Is it the opposite; that having fear and doubts like mine is a good sign that I'm ready to be a dad? Or is there simply no way one can be ready for such a thing, that one should throw caution to the wind and accept the apparently incredible changes that having a baby apparently brings you (according to previous Askme threads I read about how cool it is to become a parent and how your life changes).

Any insight and advice you can give me would be appreciated.
posted by Effigy2000 to Human Relations (42 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Go to the store and buy some diapers. Take a huge dump in it. If you can take your hands and plunge them in there without freaking out and contaminating your whole're good.

You're good on diaper duty at least...the rest of the stuff...I have no idea.

Biologically, physically, and are probably adequate to be a father who can take care of a child...unless I missed something huge in your question.

Its not whether you CAN...the real question that should be asked of potential fathers is whether they WILL be a father.

Being a father to a baby is easy enough...its like a pet that has biological needs. The real question is whether you will WANT to do them.

I think the doubts you are having are a good sign. I see them as you thinking "oh snap...this is going to be a huge responsibility...can I do this". Thats way better than rushing into a decision because it figures into the lifeplan you formulated at age 16.

Also...come to terms with WHO wants the baby. Don't just have one to make your partner happy; thats not fair to the child.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:12 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's entirely possible that I'm nitpicking, but you referred to this potential future child as "her baby," and "it." Even as a person who doesn't particularly care for children, these seemed like unusual choices.
posted by biggity at 12:22 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Go to the store and buy some diapers....
It's actually not like that. I hate diapers, I hated diapers, I will hate diapers - on other kids, diapers are repulsive, disgusting, etc etc. On my own kids they were just a part of the whole deal, though I will say that now that diapers are over I have no idea how I weathered it.

Which is, I think, a big part of father-hood. You can not have any idea how you will do it. I had a friend tell me I would do stuff I did not know I was capable of, good and bad. He was (sometimes horribly) right.

For myself, I was ready to have kids when I was sure (reasonably sure) they would be provided for with shelter, food and love. Other than that, it's a total crap-shoot - wars, meteorites, play-ground bullies - there's nothing you can do, which is a lot to wrap your brain around. But if you're lucky you get to do all of it with a partner you love and the whole thing, whatever the outcome, well, makes up your life.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:28 AM on June 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

Effegy2000, I would need a book to truly describe "how you know", but truth is you don't

My SO and I were are fiercely independent. We had been together for 12 years and no way did we want a baby. We weren't trying, we weren't interested, but accidents happen. I've got to say I was ambivalent at first, then after she made the decision that she was going ahead with becoming a mum, and the decision was made I resolved to be a dad.

It's the best thing that's ever happened to me. You get to discover what absolute pure love it (and I'm a loveless cynic) When she was born, and immediately afterward I felt left out- and true, for the first 3-4 months of baby's life you are persona non grata, and I was, well, unprepared for sleepless nights, lack of sexual partner, no movies or pub- it was hell. But when she smiled at me for something that I did, and giggled because I kept doing it, it made it all worth while. That was six years ago, and we have another one now- and I was prepared for the aftermath- so ir was easy

Now when I leave work I wonder what adventures await me when I get home, someone with boundless enthusiasm, who loves being told and telling stories, who loves the art gallery and drawing, who is just starting to read, can wipe her own bum, wakes up for wees- she's totally amazing- and the new one, the boy is making car noises and points to everything, and I know he's going to be my good mate.

So, you don't know if you are, but it's great fun finding out.
posted by mattoxic at 12:51 AM on June 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

Well, I really liked this topic you put on, because I am a woman in my late 20's and I do wonder how my partner feels about bring the new born in couple years. Honest to god, I think man and woman both worry about the same questions these days, and personally, I believed that the only way to reduce the fears are having a "plan", a plan you could manage the social life style with your partner, also plus a baby in the picture. I'm sure you would of be a lovely father cause by the way of your expression, you seem like a responsible person who knows what he wants and at least consider different situations.
I have thought of many many times if I would be ready to been a mom in couple years (trust me, woman have the "age" issues because our body produce less egg after 30) and I had realized just last week, as long as my partner and I could manage our life together in a stable condition: money, time. Having a baby is possible in couple years. My sister is having a second baby girl, and she is one awesome mom. From what I learn off her, raise a child with regular time schedule will really help. I mean, those little ones need their sleep, and tummy fill. As long as make sure all those are normal, baby don't just wake up at night and none stop crying. The only time they cry before 2 years old are either hungry or tired, not too much temper after a little bigger.
Okey, I have so much to tell about a baby, cause I'm loving my nephew, he is too cute for me, and I wish to share all with you.

About your question, I will say, we can't be ready for it(baby), everyone has different things to worry, depends on the person. BUT, the abilities to be a father or mother are: money, time, love, care, patient, patient, patient!! Just remember those little one are still small, love them with all your heart, forgive them when he or she broke your favorite collection, no matter it's tv or bluerate sets, or if you are out of town for business meetings, instead of hanging with bodies for extra couple drinks or party, you would wonder what the little one is doing at home, just can't wait to open the door and see a smile face run up and grap on your leg....I think if you are ready for this change, you might be ready to be a dad...^^...
posted by sugerrabbit at 12:52 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Men are rarely as sure as women that they're ready. All your doubts and fears are normal -- very normal.

Once your child is born that doubt disappears, replaced by awesome paired senses of joy and responsibility. You will, in short, grow up -- big time.

And I second the sentiment with no equivocation: having a child is the best AND most daunting experience I've ever known.

It's the reason we're here, after all. The rest is just window dressing.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:52 AM on June 26, 2009

How do you know you're ready to be a father?

You're not. But nobody ever is, really.

Forget parenting skills: everyone makes it up as they go along anyway.

Just be sure you're willing to be around for the kid for the the next sixteen years... even if it's not fun, even if you break up with your future-wife, and even if it cripples other parts of your life.

If you're willing to commit to that... really, really commit to that... then you're fine. If you're not, then don't do it.
posted by rokusan at 2:58 AM on June 26, 2009 [6 favorites]

But another part of me (and I'm not sure its a bigger part or not) is worried.

This is what happened to me. I was 25 when my daughter was born, younger and poorer and more stupid than you are.

I worry about money and whether we'll have enough to do this right.
We saved and we scraped and we borrowed and we haggled and we called in favours and gave some and there was plenty of money. We bought second hand things and cleaned them up and took hand-me-downs from friends (and passed them on when we were done). It was not super easy, but it wasn't hard.

I worry about having enough time to look after it and spend time with it (both of us work long hours, busy jobs)
My wife stopped working for a year or two (I can't remember exactly any more, offspring is 14 tomorrow). We paid for daycare so the kid's mother could go back to work, and we muddled along. Muddling along becomes a kind of theme.

and the effect having a baby will have on what little social time we have left.
Ha! You socialise with other parents, or you take the kid along and hope there's somewhere for it to sleep, and be prepared to leave early. It's ok though, because you're too knackered to have a lot of interest in socialising anyway. Train them to sleep in other people's houses is my advice, from about 3 months on.

I worry about lack of sleep because the baby is crying (I like sleep).
You get used to it in a week or two. Everyone does. After a year or two, they start sleeping through, and you forget all about (until the next one). It's like doing shift work. Once you do it, and you have a routine, it's not so bad, and you don't even realise that you're suffering until the blessed moment when you start sleeping whole nights again and wonder why you feel so great.

I worry about accidentally hurting the baby somehow.
This is actually pretty hard to do. There are a lot of books out there, and they're hilarious if you read them all, because they contradict each other. Babies are tough and hardy and if you don't drop them on their heads they do just fine -- otherwise there wouldn't be 6 billion+ of us. Just apply your common sense. This is the sort of worry that people who don't have enough to worry about have.

I worry I might be a terrible father and my kid will grow up to hate me.
It's possible, but really, is it very likely? You seem like a fairly decent sort of chap to me. The fact that you even have this worry, compared to some of the self-absorbed arseholes I have known, augurs well for your potential offspring.


is there simply no way one can be ready for such a thing, that one should throw caution to the wind and accept the apparently incredible changes that having a baby apparently brings you

Well said. That's your own answer right there. Worked for me. Works for a lot of people. Life is full of risk.

I am very happy that I was young and full of beans. Having said that, I can think of some older parents who were smart and well-established and who used their capital well to offset their lack of energy. There were also those who waited until they were "ready" and ended up old, tired, crabby, desperate with worry over their possible infertiilty, and often full of preconceptions of the perfect kid that couldn't be met.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:00 AM on June 26, 2009 [10 favorites]

You're never ready when they arrive. Fatherhood isn't a steady state that you can adopt ahead of time. It's a process that you spend the rest of your life working on. At least that's a concept that's helping me to always try and be a better one, five years in.
posted by dowcrag at 4:05 AM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

I would submit that becoming a parent is one of those things that can't be fully prepared for - like college, getting married, or any number of things in life. One can only be so 'prepared' for things you know might happen, and a million more things that will actually happen. Every experience is unique, and there's little to determine which way your path will go.

If you're more comfortable with the status quo, hold off - get your wife-to-be a chance to be with / around other kids to fulfill that desire of hers. If you're ready to shake things up and/or are adventurous enough to take on one of life's challenges, then make it happen. I'll leave the execution of that up to the two to you :) Good luck.
posted by chrisinseoul at 4:45 AM on June 26, 2009

The fact that you're worried about this stuff is a good early sign that you care a lot. That is a huge part of it.
posted by k8t at 4:59 AM on June 26, 2009

You're never "ready," but you do reach a point where you are able to consistently demonstrate good judgment and maturity when it happens. You don't become ready and then fulfill the role, you become ready as you fulfill it. It's a process of accretion. For example, when you're wife says, "I'm pregnant" and your first thought isn't which window to jump out of but "Well, hell, this is an interesting development." Of course, what you actually verbalize is, "That's great honey!" Then, you know that you better take the time off of work to go to the doctors visits. You go shopping for baby clothes even when you don't want to. You are now doing all the basic legwork, the discipline, of fulfilling the father's role.

I would be more worried if you had come to some grand conclusion that you were totally and absolutely ready to throw anything that fatherhood could throw at you. The emotional strain associated with being stripped of that delusion would be difficult to deal with.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:07 AM on June 26, 2009

A woman is ready the moment she misses her first period.

A man is ready not ready until the nurse hands him his child for the first time.
posted by jefficator at 5:16 AM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm not a parent, but it sounds like you're putting a decent amount of thought into this, which makes me think you'll be a mature, responsible caregiver. However, I think your concerns about money and wedding planning are very valid; a friend of mine is in her first trimester, and she's exhausted all the time. I wouldn't want to deal with that and with planning a wedding, too. I think it would be totally fair of you to say "Honey, I'm on board for this--but let's start trying in a year, when the wedding is over and we've saved up some money. We can even start a 'baby savings account'!"

Aint nothing wrong with financial planning.

I worry I might be a terrible father and my kid will grow up to hate me. And I worry about what would happen if our baby was ever to die. I know its macabre but I do worry about it. I worry about the effect the death of our child would have on my relationship with my partner and on me, personally. I worry about future wars that could hurt our child. I worry about them making some stupid, split second decision at some point in their life that ruins everything for them. I don't want any of that to ever happen to my kid and I'm not sure I could handle it if it did.

Oh, and I have to say that the above concerns are both totally neurotic sounding and totally normal. If the unthinkable happens (whatever that might be), you'll get through it, though I know that saying that doesn't make any of the fears go away.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:21 AM on June 26, 2009

One part of me very much likes the prospect of being a dad and actively wants to have a kid.

That's a good start. You're as ready as you can be.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:28 AM on June 26, 2009

jefficator wrote "A man is ready not ready until the nurse hands him his child for the first time."

I disagree with this statement. It gets repeated a lot, but I disagree with it. It smacks of 1950's gender role hair-on-the-chest manly "only women show emotion" bullshit.

Hell, I disagree with the first part of the comment, too: My wife was scared as hell when she saw the pink lines on the pregnancy test, and she was the one who planned on trying for the kid when we did. We had 18 years together to build our relationship and prepare for that moment before it happened. It was still a shock, and simultaneously the most exciting and frightening thing that had ever happened to us before.

By the time we got through the first shock and "oh shit we really did this!" moments we started getting prepared emotionally and mentally for the kid. But we were ready when he arrived. We were ready before he arrived. We had 9 months to get ready. 9 months to work through things, prepare the kid's room, work out how we would deal with expenses and child care, and the like.

I didn't have to wait until I held him for the first time to be ready. I simply had to wait until then for him to finally look at me, and decide if he was ready to have me as a dad. I felt like I had been waiting for him my whole life. I am pretty sure that I was more immediately attached to him than my wife was. It took her a few days to get to know him before she really felt like she had a connection with him. It's different with everyone, and from what I've heard it's even different with every kid, but how you react and when in the pregnancy you are ready doesn't depend on your gender.

So, E2K, are you ready to be a dad? You're asking the right questions. You might be. You never know until it happens, really. Financial things, health things, there's a hell of a lot to worry about. There's never a perfect time to have a kid, you'll never be fully prepared, you'll never understand how much work it is until you do it. But you'll also never see how rewarding it is, how that 8-pound lump of pink wiggling screaming needy thing can be so important to you.

Another thing to keep in mind. You may not know if you can handle it, but you very likely have some good role models you are mentally comparing yourself against. My own dad, for example - I worried that I might not be able to be as good a dad as he was for me. But you know what? Having a good dad (or stepdad, or uncle, or any father figure important in your life) simply means you had a good teacher to learn from. You picked up more than you think you did.

And you don't need to wait until you meet the kid to realize that.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:57 AM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

You're going to be married soon? Why have a baby now? Weddings are stressful and emotionaal enough without a newborn / pregnant bride in the mix. Get married, wait a suitable interval, and then start thinking about getting her knocked up.
posted by sid at 5:57 AM on June 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

I became a dad a little over three years ago, and can say you're not going to understand how big of a change this is until you are handed your child for the first time. At some point, you will realize how little control over life and events you really have - and that your child will shape you as much as you shape them.

I know I have found reserves of patience far deeper than I ever thought I had; an ability to function on incredibly small amounts of sleep; an ability to deal with incredibly gross moments without my stomach being turned; a whole new sense of wonder as I learn how to see the world again as my son discovers it; moments of profound worry and profound joy. It is a heck of a ride.
posted by never used baby shoes at 6:07 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

My suggestion? Start trying on the wedding night.
posted by aetg at 6:15 AM on June 26, 2009

A woman is ready the moment she misses her first period.

A man is ready not ready until the nurse hands him his child for the first time.

Wow, that's... an interesting perspective. And by interesting, I mean offensively reductive. A woman might be ready the moment she misses her first period, but another woman isn't, and a man might be ready when he sees the + on the pregnancy test and another man might not be ready even after his kid has graduated high school. OP, you might not be ready. I mean, I'm not sure I'm ready and our kid is two, but dealing with a lot of the practical shit around making our lives ready for a baby (down to one income during maternity leave, let's find an OB, let's figure out where a baby would sleep) can get you prepared.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:16 AM on June 26, 2009

There's a lot of wisdom in this thread. I would just suggest, as sid did, give yourself at least a year to be married and enjoy that transition.
posted by canine epigram at 6:26 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

A woman is ready the moment she misses her first period.

This cracked me up.

OP, nobody's ever really ready because you literally can't imagine it until you've done it, and once you're doing it you go from feelings of competence and confidence to berating yourself for being a total moron every half hour. Good lord...those first few weeks. Wow.

You sound like you're asking the right, thoughtful questions, and it sounds like you might just want to focus on the logistics--pick a time and do it. Have a lot of fun with your wife for the time being, enjoy it being just the two of you. There's no big rush.

There's no real preparation, other than, you know, have a reasonably stable, healthy life.

A really deep and perverse sense of humor is helpful, and I'll pass on the best piece of advice we got, about getting through life without sleep: Drink a lot of coffee. Try not to talk to anyone.

Seriously-- that piece of advice? That's a keeper.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:37 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

As others have noted, you already answered your own question, with your second and third answers. If you're asking the questions you're asking in your post, you're ready. And if you're human, you're not ready, because no one ever really is.
posted by troywestfield at 6:42 AM on June 26, 2009

Parenthood will feel like a string of failures no matter what you do. The successes are easily forgotten, but the failures stick with you. Doesn't matter how much money you have or how ready you are. You will fall short. You won't be enough, at least in your own mind. In your child's mind you will be enough as long as you love purely. A soft heart is the most important thing you can provide a child. All the questions about money, time and whatever are distractions. Can you provide a soft heart for your child? Then yes, you're ready, at least you're as ready as you possibly can be without actually having a baby. Everything else is easy compared to that.

One last point I would like to make is that many non-parents look at parenting as something you do, like a job or hobby. Parenting is not a full time job. It's not something you can pick up or put down. It's not something you manage. It is not something you do at all. It is something you become. Figuring out the details is important; it helps. But it's not the essence of the experience.
posted by milarepa at 6:50 AM on June 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

It's a lifetime thing. Babies are a lot of work, and you have to accomplish it while sleep-deprived. You have to watch toddlers every second so they don't dash into trouble. Adolescents can be a huge PITA. You could have a child with a disability or a baby with colic or a Nobel peace prize candidate. Children add a new and very different dimension to your life, one I wouldn't have missed for the world. Diaper contents are trivial; can you handle being totally responsible for a tiny helpless human who will grow into an adolescent who will wreck your car, who will grow into a an adult who will totally surprise you?
posted by theora55 at 6:54 AM on June 26, 2009

Is it a lack of any doubt?

I don't have a lot to add to this topic, but I will say this: lack of any doubt about having kids is not a sign that you're ready, it's a sign that you're deluded.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:04 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had the same (and more) fears/reservations when Mr. Murray and I decided it was time to start trying to have a baby. I am currently 30 weeks pregnant, and I still have many of the fears/reservations you have. I also have some new ones! Let's just say the childbirth class I just took added a layer upon layer of apprehension that my body can do the things they were describing. You obviously won't be giving birth, so rest easy!

I think there are just some people, like me, who never really get their arms around these things before the baby arrives. I also suspect that had I not been at the tail end of my reproductive years (39 years old), my fears/reservations would have stalled the decision to start trying to have a baby.

No one can know if you will ever jump into this decision without reservation. And if you are like me and want all of the questions answered before you make a decision, I don't think that will happen. But at some point, if you want a will have to take the leap of faith that it is all worthwhile. I know that's what I had to do.

One fear you can definitively put to rest is the effect of a pregnancy on your wedding day. Your fiance is very young and has MANY good reproductive years left. Why not just wait until that is over?
posted by murrey at 7:16 AM on June 26, 2009

Last night I was thinking of it being like 19th Century emigration: sure, you can move from place to place in the New World, but you're not going back. :7) It's a lifelong commmittment.

I wasn't totally ready for our first, and still probably wasn't ready for the fourth. But I love them all dearly, and every morning I resolve to be a better dad.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:22 AM on June 26, 2009

Having a child is more of a commitment than getting married; if you divorce your spouse, the assumption is that they are an adult and you have no responsibility with regard to their personal development.

Not so with a child. Making an affirmative decision to have a child means that you're implicitly agreeing to make your genuine best effort to help that child become a decent person. More than anything else, this requires time. Parenting isn't something you do after all the other stuff is done; parenting can't always wait until after that big project, that big presentation, or that trip you want to take.

Parenting often means making sacrifices. There are going to be things you want to do that you can't do and places you want to go that you can't go because you've got a child to deal with. That exquisitely-planned and expensive vacation can be torpedoed if your child gets the flu. Your nice dinner out at a cool restaurant can go down the tube if your child throws a tantrum.

Being a parent transforms you. If you run in a social circle that's mostly non-parents, you will find yourself feeling as though you have less and less in common with them. They, in turn, will have no frame of reference for understanding all of your new experiences. They may not even be interested. Parents love to talk about their kids. People without kids tolerate these stories - for a while.

I have three children (ages 7, 6, and 3), whom I adore. It's been a wonderful, exhausting, frustrating, aggravating, fantastical adventure that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. But, it's not for everyone. I have friends who tell me, "I know I wouldn't be a good parent because I'm too selfish, and so I'm not having kids." I salute these people for their self-awareness and thoughtfulness.

The one real qualification (IMO) for parenthood is this: Are you ready, willing, and able to consistently put your desires second or third behind the needs of your spouse and children? If you can honestly answer "yes", then get on with the spawning. :)
posted by DWRoelands at 7:28 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might be ready, as everyone says, but put logistics before emotions: wedding AND pregnancy at the same time? I'd say make sure there are a few months in between the two, no matter which comes first. Why have all the planning/stress/excitement for both life-changing events at the same time? You have the rest of your lives, try to spread it out a bit, since both require a lot of work.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:00 AM on June 26, 2009

I got married when my baby was three months old. I'd vote for a bigger separation between pregnancy/birth and the wedding than that. You sound completely normal - you will probably be a great dad.
posted by saucysault at 8:32 AM on June 26, 2009

Effigy2000, I don't know you from Adam but based on your question, I think you're probably as close to ready as you can get. Your concerns are the right ones, IMO, mostly about how to have a child and do it right - as opposed to 'how can I minimize the impact of a child on my free and irresponsible life?'.

The truth is, like the other posters said, that you're never ready. You'll never be rich enough, you'll never have done all the things you'd like to do before you get really tied down. So don't expect an absence of doubt. Instead try to evaluate if you feel that the benefits outweigh the cons. Yes, having a child is a huge financial adjustment, and the physical and emotional responsibilities can be overwhelming to contemplate. But if, in spite of these weighty and valid concerns, you still find yourself thinking about how much fun it would be to take care of a small child and play with them and teach them and watch them grow up into becoming their own person, completely separate from you - with all the ups and downs that involves - then I think you're getting to the critical stage. Which is: you're ready to put someone else's needs ahead of your own as necessary.

Having kids is the most difficult and the most rewarding thing most of us will ever do with our lives and I recommend it highly. Having said that, I'd wait till after the wedding. These are highlights of your life together and should be savored - what's the harm in waiting a year (or whatever the case may be)? Best of luck!
posted by widdershins at 8:35 AM on June 26, 2009

I have three adult sons, no daughters. My advice to them was to wait until they'd been with the woman at least five years before they had kids together. In other words, having a really solid relationship with the potential mother of your future child/children is critical if you're a man who wants to be a fully-engaged parent. The younger you are when you have kids and the fewer years you've been together the less likely the marriage will last. I don't have statistics to back this up, but I'm pretty sure I'm right, at least in terms of US families.
posted by mareli at 8:35 AM on June 26, 2009

I get the sense that you don't really want to do this yet. That's not wrong. You can have that feeling. One idea is to suggest that you wait a specific length of time. "I want to wait two years, and get a chance to take you to Italy first!", something like that, seems reasonable to say to your partner. Maybe figure out some specific things you'd like to do first, things that can be achieved in one to two years.

But then, when the time comes, it would be unfair for you to have left her waiting without holding up your end of the commitment. So it would be very important that you follow the advice above then and just jump in with both feet, with a true life-long commitment to the child.

(from a mom not a dad)
posted by serazin at 8:44 AM on June 26, 2009

What everyone said.

Now, without knowing how long you've been with this lady...

No way in hell would I do this with someone who I haven't lived with for a long time. My wife and I had been together for 11 years and have a lot of shared experiences to fondly look back on. We're 99% on the same wavelength.

You need that, because I still want to wring her, or the toddler's, neck some days. Sleep deprivation and bad smells will make you think indescribably nasty thoughts. I'm talking RAAAAAAAGGGEEEEEE that has to be bottled up so tight and shoved so far down in your gut that all that comes out is a "you're right, it's my turn to clean up the puke at 3am."

Toddlers will do stuff that, were they ANYONE else, even a mild mannered person like myself would beat them senseless. Yesterday he picked up a glass lamp with a fair amount of sentimental value associated with it. I asked him to put it down gently. He threw it across the room, shattering it into a bazillion tiny pieces then looked at me with a "now what, old man?" I can't say anyone has ever challenged me like that before. Somehow I managed to grab him, pick him up, and put him on time-out in his bedroom without snapping.

Late that night, he made up for it by crawling onto our bed. I feigned sleep while he spent a few minutes patting my back like we pat his back as he goes to sleep. Then he wrapped his arms and legs around my arm and went to sleep. Impossibly wonderful.

You can have a great, full life without raising kids. However, as clich├ęd as it is, I don't think you can really understand the human condition without doing so.
posted by paanta at 9:20 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

It is definitely important to have time as a committed couple before having children because life with children is living the Keith Richards lifestyle without the glamour, money, rock and roll or drugs not to mention legendary stamina.

If you are planning a wedding, a very stressful situation, do not add to it by throwing in a child too; wait a bit.

I think the questions you ask are important and relevant. My reply, like the others, is that one is never really prepared and it is a roller coaster but we humans are adaptable. Further, your questions indicate a healthy understanding of the future and points that you will be fine and that if I know one thing in this world, no matter how dark, is that people love their children.
posted by jadepearl at 9:54 AM on June 26, 2009

i (female) am not a parent, but i am a child of a man who, perhaps, should not have been a father. or at least should have been more conscientious about it. i have learned a great deal from him about what not to do when i become a parent, and also what traits to look for in men, as i do want to start a family some day.

to be ready to be a great father, you need to address any anger issues you may have as well as any other control issues. children are incredibly unpredictable and spontaneous and are constantly testing boundaries (this is how they learn how to function in society). discipline is necessary but enraged punishment is not. if you have problems sharing emotions in a healthy manner you should go into therapy and learn those skills.

you need to be able to tell and show your child that you love them and that they are special. this might seem straightforward and obvious, but there are plenty of fathers out there that are not able to do those things.

you need to have some serious discussions with your fiance/wife-to-be about parenting philosophies. true, you mostly learn as you go, but you need to generally be on the same page. one of the most important aspects of raising a child is consistency. they need it and they crave it when they don't have it.

i would also advise that you should really try to hold on to and develop your friendships and make sure to schedule alone-time and dates with your wife. being a parent will be your most important role, but i think many men (and women) become bitter and unhappy when they feel like they don't have "their own" life anymore. both of you will need to be willing and happy to let the other have some nights with their friends, or even just on their own.

to me it sounds as if you're ready. as others have said, the very fact that you're asking questions shows that you are thoughtful and introspective, two great traits in a dad. a good parent should be able to ask for help :)

good luck!
posted by imalaowai at 10:11 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

My daughter turned one month old yesterday. I wasn't sure I was ready to be a dad until... well, I still don't know for sure if I'm ready. Ask me again in a few decades.

I try to reassure myself that I'm more ready to take care of a child than most people who have them, that I've got a wife and family who would be able to pick up the slack if something ever happened to me, and that babies are more resilient than we fear. Hell, my cousin even dropped me on my head when I was a baby, and there was no bermanent drain pamage.

So far, I'm finding that some of my worries were unfounded (changing diapers sounded like an intolerably awful task, but when your kid's sitting in her own waste, you can't *not* want to clean it up), some were real but turned out okay (my wife needed a C-section, but is healing well), and some were even worse than I feared (Lack of sleep is very bad, and that's despite the fact that we had lots of housework/baby help from visiting family).

One thing that helps is that you only have to face your fears a little at a time. "How do I teach her to read" won't be a problem until long after "When does she sleep through the night?" gets answered, and both will be distant memories before "What dating rules should I set?" becomes an issue. When you imagine having a child you imagine 18 years and 9 months of challenges, but in reality they don't all hit you at once like that.
posted by roystgnr at 11:11 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

To me it sounds like you'll make an excellent father - your heart is in the right place and you are thinking about this properly. From what you indicated, it sounds like you are planning a wedding at the same time that you are talking about kids. From experience - wait... at least a little while. Don't get me wrong - make sure you and your partner are on the same page on this topic, but wait for the actual baby making until the two of you have had some time to adjust.

Pregnancy hormones + wedding stress != stress free life. Get through the wedding first, but be saving for both. If you both decide you really want to start with a baby, start thinking on a timeframe to get her off the birth control. You can always go with old-school condom protection until you are past the big day, but pill and implant birth controls can take significant lengths of time to pass out of her system. Of course, when you do decide to start trying and the bun is in the oven - you've got 9 months to work on logistics... but once that happens, you've got 9 months to provide solutions.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:01 PM on June 26, 2009

I think a lot of people say your fears are "normal" and, in a way, that's invalidating the absolute reality of your fears. How would you do with a special needs baby who would definitely cause strain and problems in your marriage. Your fiancee is only in her mid-twenties, when it's normal to want to give it all up and just be a mom instead of fighting that uphill battle for promotions and raises.

I don't think the wars business is really a real enough thing to worry about, but not all mothers and fathers feel "pure love" for their children. There are fathers who aren't ready for fatherhood and their unhappiness makes them hate themselves and hate the way their lives are. They leave their families and eventually, when they're ready, they have a new set of children. Yes, so children actually do create strain, pressure, and unhappiness.

Don't let her push you into it. If you want to have a kid, like a marriage, you're going to really have to want it, and it doesn't sound like you've had anywhere near enough time to consider it, even though you're in your early thirties.

I don't think you should have a baby right now. And if she insists that right now is when she wants to have the baby, then maybe it's time to delay the wedding. I mean, essentially, the reason a lot of people get married is because they want the same things. You don't even know if you want a baby and she's sure she does and now.

So caution. Nine months is not enough time to provide solutions. Not in this economy.
posted by anniecat at 3:22 PM on June 27, 2009

Yes anniecat, it is my feeling that ignoring my fears out of the belief that they probably indicate I am ready is probably ill-advised, but funnily enough this seems to be an opinion held by many, both inside this thread and out. Friends and even my partner have suggested that having fears suggests I'm ready to be a dad and apparently quite a good one. I'm not sure how that works exactly but it's often said that there is some strength to commonly held wisdom. On the other hand, Dubya subscribed to common wisdom, so there you go.

Thanks for your advice, thoughts and opinions everyone. There is definitely some food for thought here. I'll be visiting and revisiting this thread over the coming weeks and months and mulling over your words.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:53 AM on June 28, 2009

Friends and even my partner have suggested that having fears suggests I'm ready to be a dad and apparently quite a good one.

I think it's more a case of what your fears are than just that you have them. You're worried mostly about the baby -- whether you will be a good father, a good provider, a good caretaker of the child, and only a little about yourself. Selfish people who are not ready worry primarily about what the baby will do to them and how the baby will affect their life.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:22 AM on June 28, 2009

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