How can I prepare myself for being a daddy?
December 25, 2007 12:04 PM   Subscribe

I don't feel ready to have kids, ever. How can I shorten that to around 2-3 years?

I'm 30. My girlfriend is 32. We'll probably be getting married in the next year or so (we talk about it, I just haven't proposed yet) and after that it's just a matter of time before she'll want to have kids. She has said she does not want them now (so no immediate pressure), but she does want them eventually (although possibly we might adopt).

I don't feel ready to have kids, at all. The thing is, I do want to have them eventually, so rather than putting this off until I feel ready I want to become the sort of person who is ready to have children.

So, I have 2-3 years. What are some things I can do to prepare myself for having kids, emotionally, mentally, economically, and physically? Will I ever feel ready? Or just scared as hell by the whole idea?


I looked through the past questions, and most of them ask "How do you know when it is the right time to have a child?" I want to know how to feel like I'm ready to have one.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I guess it comes down to why you don't feel ready. It might have been helpful to elaborate on that in your question.
posted by Estragon at 12:20 PM on December 25, 2007

Babysit. A lot. Eventually you'll either swear kids off forever or decide you want one of your own, frightened or not.
posted by tkolar at 12:26 PM on December 25, 2007

Though, to address tkolar's advice, babysitting made me NOT want to have kids. But I have one of my own now, and she is the only one I really like.

I don't know. I wasn't ready to have kids ever. Then, oops! Pregnant at 39. All the way through pregnancy I was, um, resigned maybe? And then she showed up. And I thought, "Oh! Huh. Well. If I had known it was YOU in there, kid, I would have been a LOT more excited."

DNA made me its bitch. I don't know if I ever would have been ready in the abstract. But in reality? My kid rocks.
posted by jeanmari at 12:41 PM on December 25, 2007 [16 favorites]

Well, one thing you can do is spend time with kids. I don't know your lifestyle situation, but I think if you can teach, or volunteer as a teacher, that would be extremely helpful in meeting your goal.

A lot of community centers and churches have activities that involve kids that you could help out with. If you have any skills that kids would be interested in (music, model rocketry, pottery, martial arts, dancing, whatever), you could get involved in teaching them as weekend or afterschool activities. Kids are lovable. In my opinion, people that don't like kids just don't have enough experience with them. If you're around them, you'll naturally get more and more comfortable with them. You were a kid once. : )

As far as parenting is concerned, kids go through three distinct stages: baby, kid, teenager. Babies are things that you have to take care of, and that's more of a skill set. You have to feed them, burp them, change their diapers, and get them to sleep. Get a bag of rice and walk around the room lightly bouncing it in your arms for a half an hour and you can get a taste of it. It's tiring, but not that challenging. The baby stage only lasts about three years.

After that they're really kids, and that's when the real joy sets in. You have an enormous amount of influence on their skill development, personality, morals, and character. Being the father of two boys, 6 and 4 (and a teacher of elementary school children), I think it's what life is all about. You have to know how to be strict without being abusive in any way, and you have to have a lot of patience. But watching them develop in all those ways is amazing and beautiful. There's nothing like it.

Teenagers are a challenge in another way; they can be rebellious and uncommunicative, but I believe that if you are a good parent during their "kid" years, you will have minimized problems along those lines. My own kids haven't gone through that yet, of course. Keep in touch, and I'll let you know in ten years. Anyway, by the time your kids are teenagers, you'll be quite accustomed to having them.

So the age to focus on is the "kid" years. The more you can be around them, the better.

Good luck to you and your future fiancee!
posted by strangeguitars at 12:44 PM on December 25, 2007

Having a kid is scary, it's a lot of responsibility and a huge time/moeny/emotional investment. Do you have any friend with kids? If you do I recommend offering to babysit them on a semi-regular basis. I used to hate kids until I spent time taking care of my friend's children on a semi-regular basis. After that I started figuring out how awesome kids can be.

I doubt anyone ever feels fully ready to have kids, but your best bet for getting more ready is familiarity. Don't keep letting kids be this theoretical construct that you eventually want, your friends will thank you for giving them a break and your girlfriend will probably be impressed that you're making the effort.
posted by nerdcore at 12:44 PM on December 25, 2007

If you don't like kids, then spend some time babysitting as mentioned before.

If the responsibility scares you and you're not sure if you can do the level of training and pay the level of attention that you need to pay to a child, get a large intelligent dog and see if you can handle it. (Husky, German Shepherd, Boxer, Ridgeback...) Intelligent big dogs are way different from golden retrievers and labs (both are good at what they do, but generally follow your lead and don't try to trick you) and require a whole 'nother level of attention and training that is supposedly very similar to having a child.

I wouldn't know, though. I got a dog and decided I definitely didn't want kids even as much as I love my puppy.
posted by SpecialK at 12:47 PM on December 25, 2007

Economically: start saving $500 a month now. Imagine this to be a kid-sized hole in your budget. Also, buy life insurance. You want at least 5x salary.
posted by crazycanuck at 12:55 PM on December 25, 2007

I didn't know I wasn't ready to have kids until I was raising them. Luckily for me there was a government parenting program available that made a huge difference. I've heard really good things about the Triple P parenting program. Maybe you could do that. Otherwise, some of the time, you just have to accept that you feel/are woefully ignorant and underprepared for guiding another human being's life. It's better than being arrogant about it.

With your partner, it might be wise to discuss a few things. You will probably change your minds when you get to it, but do consider what constitutes punishment for your child, what behaviours result in punishment, and which in lectures (which my kids hate worse than grounding). Discuss whether smacking/spanking is acceptable. Talk about who's going to get up for the baby in the middle of the night, who's going to stay home from work when the baby is too sick to go to daycare, whether one of you is going to take a few years out of their career.
posted by b33j at 1:01 PM on December 25, 2007

yeah, you might feel better about it if you a) have a financial plan, and b) simply become more familiar with kids. i don't think babysitting is the way to go because you're basically just the birthday clown--you entertain them for a few hours and go away, which isn't parenting. if you have a friend or relative with a child, develop a relationship with the kid. you might even try mentoring or tutoring. i didn't think i would ever want kids until i got to spend extended time caring for a toddler cousin during a family emergency. so although i haven't had a child yet, i'm now someone who wants to, and i never was before. so it's possible.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:08 PM on December 25, 2007

Honestly, I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that no one's really ready before they actually have them. Even those of us who think we're totally ready to have kids, beforehand, have the first one and realize "Holy _crap_. I had no idea I what I was talking about, and I'm _totally_ unprepared."

You can do all the prep you want, you can talk about it all you want beforehand with your SO, and you're _still_ going to totally end up winging it when it actually happens, just like the rest of us. (Most of whom end up doing just fine, just like you probably will).
posted by LairBob at 1:35 PM on December 25, 2007

Don't, whatever you do, babysit!

Good lord, other peoples children will put you off procreating forever!

And nobody ever feels completely ready to be a parent.

Our daughter was a gift from Dr IVF and we were still sh!t-scared.... even after all the planning, money and effort!

If you wait for the exact right time, you'll never breed.

I've said it before, I'll say it again:

Kids are like poo. Your own is never that bad. And you can always beat your own children to modify their behaviour to suit your own likes/dislikes. Other parents seem to get a bit snippy about assault. (Can't imagine why.)

I think you'd really start to get in to it after a few ultrasounds and a couple of good kicks from a gorgeous pregnant belly.

It's lovely, it's scary and you'll NEVER EVER EVER really feel 100% ready. EVER. But you'll love it. Kids are cool. Well, your own are. Other peoples children are just revolting and should be roasted and fed to rabid Republicans.
posted by taff at 1:42 PM on December 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

What LairBob said - being ready is an illusion. Think of the a reasonable timeframe, then go for it, you'll be as ready then as you ever will be.

My other tips would be:

1. Make sure that the pregnancy period has lots of stuff in it that you won't be able to do for a while (my wife and I gorged ourselves on theatre, opera and museums when we were pregnant with our first, in part because the kid arriving meant moving out of London as well).

2. Don't babysit for others' kids, you won't see much of the children if they're in bed, and anyway, they'll behave differently with you than they would with their parents. Try and be with the parents and their kids and watch them interacting, watch what the parents are doing, what's required of them.

3. Don't leave it too late. Other than the risk of disability, etc., being marginally higher in births to older mothers , it can be harder to get pregnant.

My eldest (now 5) was born when my wife and I were 29. It completely changed our lives, and in some ways 2007 has been the year when we've got our cultural and eating out mojo back (his younger sister is 3). But friendships and our relationship didn't change.
posted by athenian at 1:44 PM on December 25, 2007

For what it's worth, I feel that "being ready" to have children is not dissimilar to "being ready to fall in love" or "being ready to get married". I don't think that it's easy to (successfully) make oneself fall in love, or make oneself ready to be married. Similarly, I don't think that it's easy to make oneself ready to have children, no matter how much practice you have.

Hell, I'm a pediatrician, and I make my living taking care of children, and I wasn't ready to be father until my wife and I were ready to be parents.

You're young (30), and you have no idea, despite how well you think you know yourself, how you're going to change and evolve over the next few years, especially being newly married. My advice: don't worry about the future state of your feelings. It's clear that you're not ready to have kids now. From time to time you'll re-evaluate your feelings, either in response to some external stimulus (wife, friends, relatives), or in response to some internal stimulus. If you feel like you're ready, then you're probably ready. Being a new parent, I can tell you that it's very difficult to prepare for, no matter how much you know about kids.

One other thing: make sure your soon-to-be-spouse knows about your feelings. This is one of those things that it's hard to cover-up, and one of those things that can cause problems if you're not open in your communication.

Best of luck.
posted by scblackman at 2:00 PM on December 25, 2007

My suggestion may seem lame, but it worked to get my friend in the mood to be a dad when he found out his girlfriend was pregnant - go to a really awesome toy store in your area, one that caters to kids, not the toy department at Target, and ask the people in the store what some of the most fun and awesome toys they have are, and if you can play with them. My friend and I spent the better part of four hours playing with every single toy imaginable and by the time we left the store he was counting down the days until his son was born and he could play with those toys with him.
posted by banannafish at 2:27 PM on December 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

For heaven's sake, please do NOT adopt a dog (as SpecialK suggested) in order to "try out" your readiness for parenthood. First of all, parenting and dog ownership involve very different skill sets, rewards and challenges, and more important, the only person who should adopt a dog is someone who seriously wants one and is ready to make a permanent commitment to caring for one.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:30 PM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

A coworker once told me "You will never find the right time to have a kid." Trust me in that you'll never "feel" ready but when push comes to shove you'll be fine.
posted by Octoparrot at 2:55 PM on December 25, 2007

You can't. Whatever you do, or prepare yourself for, it will bear no relation whatsoever to actually being a father. You won't really know what it's like to be a dad until the kid pops out of your wife.
posted by signal at 3:46 PM on December 25, 2007

I know exactly where you're coming from. I'm in precisely the same place in every respect of your OP.

If I didn't have my nieces and nephew, I would really have a locked door with respect to kids. But hanging out with them (and other friends' kids) has chipped away at my general fear of them. I can break my fear down a little bit, which I think helps me. I am afraid that I will never have free time again, that I will never have personal space again, and that I will never sleep again. Some cheeky parent is bound to show up any moment now and tell me I'm right. Which won't help.

I think most folks who have kids are not completely ready for them. Even those who desperately want them aren't necessarily prepared. I think it might help you to talk about the way you feel with your lady. Maybe there's some kind of plan you two can put together that will help make it all seem doable to you. Maybe she wants to dial her career down for a while and shoulder the brunt of the child rearing duties in the first years. Knowing that might change the way you feel. Maybe you guys can just agree on some vague plan that will make it all seem a little more accessible, like "when we have kids they're going to summer camp every year." Just something to remind you that they'll be out of the house and, even if only for a couple of weeks, your life will be again more like it is now.

Another thing is to DO NOW things that you know you'll never be able to with kids. If you want to take your lady and hitchhike cross country as an adventure, now is the time. Perhaps just sitting down to think of what those things are will help. Who knows, you may not come up with anything much :) But, with apologies for the grim analogy, this is like facing death: when you're out of time it will ease your passing across the threshold to think of all the glorious things you've done with a sense of satisfaction. Don't carry regrets about things you never got around to through that doorway.

Another thing that might help turn your thinking a little bit is to stop thinking of it as "having a baby" and start thinking of it as "having a family." Imagine your household a little more full than it is now. Imagine your relationship with your lady as fertile ground for many other multifaceted relationships to grow and develop. If you like the thought of getting your friends in the car and going on a roadtrip, imagine doing that with your family. Your very own.

And as many have suggested, spend more time with people who have kids. I know many people who blame the kid for their inability to so much as go out for a movie. On the other hand, I know people with kids who get their act together all the way out to Burning Man every year.

For me the biggest thing is fearing that my entire life will vanish and be replaced by one that is entirely child-focused / other-focused. It helps to have folks near at hand who've fared better than that. It also helps a lot if you have a reliable partner who's excited about kids, and parents nearby.
posted by scarabic at 4:00 PM on December 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

I want to embolden you by making you understand that it's a GOOD THING to be scared about whether or not you're READY to have kids. As someone who's worked with waaaaaay too many families who don't exactly see all the amazingly scary awesomeness that having kids is, it makes me happy that you actively think about it.

Don't babysit. Generally, everyone else's kids are idiots, and they way they expect you to treat them in their own house is usually retarded. This is waaaay over generalized and unfair, but never EVER think to yourself "I can't have kids because of the way those kids act, speak, play, fight...whatever."

Honestly, I think that because you're logically planning to do it, it means that really--you're ready. You're mostly settled, at a place in your life where you can actually think "oh..hey...little footsteps, cool!" and not "OMG HER PERIOD IS LATE AND FINALS ARE NEXT WEEK" is fantastic. Chances are your diets are good, and you've got other telltale signs of being ready. (Car works, housing situation is secure, you've got friends with kids...etc.)

Lastly--you don't have to do it. There's no rule. Make sure that you've taken the time to enjoy your time with her, and to do things you know you really won't be able to do with a munchkin. (Random weekend in Cancun, for example.)

I'm sort of in your same shoes, but I'm trying to decide mostly if I'm ready to start fostering. My gene pool is pretty riddled with sickness, as is my girlfriend's, so I'm actually scared to procreate. Nice, huh?
posted by TomMelee at 4:25 PM on December 25, 2007

If people had "waited until they were ready" to have kids, the human race would have died out long ago.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:40 PM on December 25, 2007

I'm convinced there is a chemical change that happens in your brain when you become a parent. I too was totally not ready. I essentially failed the parenting class at the hospital. I didn't hold the doll correctly, I couldn't diaper the damn doll, etc. Even going into the delivery room with my wife I felt totally unprepared for what we were getting into.

Then I held my son for the first time, and it was like I was born to do the parenting thing.

So relax, the only thing more natural than being a parent is the fun leading up to it.
posted by COD at 5:12 PM on December 25, 2007

Bitter Old Punk has it right: You never feel ready. Just do it. I just did it 20 years ago and found that for quite some time I know more than my kids, so that made it pretty much okay.
posted by Doohickie at 8:05 PM on December 25, 2007

A lot of people suggest babysitting, however, no one specified the right age to actually CONVINCE you to babysit. I am a proud parent of the greatest little girl, but I absolutely cannot stand other people's kids. I can't stand my friends' kids, and trust me, I have tried. My husband and I have different standards in upbringing and manners and education than other people do, therefore we NEVER dealt with the terrible twos or any other tantrum phase. I know most parents see it as typical child behavior, if I were to babysit a child screaming and talking back to me, I would remain childless.

My suggestion is, babysit a baby. Do not offer to babysit a child that had already been formed by their environment and parents' parenting style, or lack of. What convinced me that I wanted kids was babysitting this little boy from the time he was 8 months to 2 years. There were tantrums, of course, but they were due to his frustrations in not being able to communicate, not because he was a brat.

I agree with others who claim that you are never truly ready to become a parent once you actually hold that child in your arms and enjoy their life every day. But when you do get to that point, I cannot describe the greatest joy you and your fiancee will be a part of. My little girl is the funniest person in the world to me and I adore her. I think it is definitely different when having your own child over watching someone else's. But I recommend the aforementioned advice, preferably a family member's baby. That way you establish the sentimentally attachment.
posted by dnthomps at 2:00 AM on December 26, 2007

When I was 30, my partner and I also didn't feel like we wanted to have kids. Neither of us ever felt "broody". The eventual decision to have a baby was more a cerebral one. Here's how my mind gradually changed:

1. I found myself mentally doing "vicarious parenting", occasionally when around kids and their parents. This is something you can try. Say when you're in a museum or something, or overhearing a conversation between a parent and child, or just thinking of some important moral principle or something: I'd wonder, how would I explain that, what would I say?

2. Consider that parenthood is a whole world of new experiences to discover. While I am still passionate to discover new music, travelling to experience new cultures, learning new skills, it's difficult to ward off an increasing sense of jadedness. You realise you can never experience something as intensely as you do the first time. I don't mean to imply all your erstwhile pursuits will become meaningless (they don't), just: consider the adventure!

3. Childhood is an amazing experience, but you can't ever go back. You can't relive your own childhood, but you can watch from the sidelines while someone else goes through theirs. In some ways it's better, because now you can look at it with the perspective your life has given you.

4. Then there's the boring, practical way of looking at it. After considering the arguments above, and the genetic drive to have heirs and so on, I arrived at the admission that I should probably have kids "someday". (Not "want".) So then I made the calculation, based on ages, domestic situation and income, when would be the best time? In my case, preferably before 36. So that means, a year or two before that, she stops taking the pill. It's a very non-direct decision: you might not have a baby for years.

Don't spend too much time thinking about how much work and effort parenthood might be, or waiting to feel "ready". Like everything else in life, when you get there you don't really have a choice, you just do what you have to, and discover the ability in yourself to do it.

It also goes without saying that you should feel that your relationship is stable and long-term. From what I've heard, expecting a baby to heal a rift or encourage commitment is a recipe for disaster.

I've just turned 36 and we had a little girl last March. I'm enjoying every day of it.

I admit I haven't read the thread above, so I'm probably not saying anything that hasn't already been said.
posted by snarfois at 2:39 AM on December 26, 2007

Oh, I'd add that I've never babysat, and I've always been quite awkward with kids. So I doubt that would've helped. Somehow, one's own kid is different.
posted by snarfois at 2:45 AM on December 26, 2007

Wait till just after the birth. That's when you change.
posted by Dr.Pill at 10:51 AM on December 26, 2007

I was going to say, "Nobody is ever ready - go for it, and don't worry," but then I thought about it a little bit more.

I think the best thing you can do to prepare to have children is build the relationship with your (future) wife. Make the relationship as strong as it can possibly be. Practice taking care of each other. Do everything you can to build that bridge and make it unbreakable. Having a child can be a wonderful, wonderful experience that will bring you closer together, but you'll need each other more than you ever have before.

Now, I'll say it: Nobody is ever ready - go for it, and don't worry.
posted by eleyna at 1:29 PM on December 26, 2007

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