Recently, you walked past a Baby Gap. In the window, adorable little white mannequins were clothed in miniature khakis and chambray shirts. You stopped to notice the tiny leggings under a sundress, the small jean jacket with only enough room for 2 buttons down the front. Your heart began yearning strangely. You wondered, How do I know when I’m ready to have children? You tally up some convincing evidence in your mind:
· You’ve been married for two or more years.
· Your mother has been asking monthly if you’re “trying.”
· You’re increasingly interested in holding or babysitting other people’s children.
· You’re not embarrassed to make goofy faces and unintelligible sounds just to elicit a baby’s smile.
· You want to buy baby clothes for no apparent reason.
Are these signs? Are you actually ready?
This is not a question for your parents or friends. (Don’t take a poll because everyone has an opinion.) But if you’re married, this question should prompt regular, friendly discussions with your spouse. Even if you think you know what your spouse wants, ask again. Opinions can change (especially after a walk through a Baby Gap).
My husband and I have done enough marriage and family counseling to arm me with a bit of advice about finding out when you’re ready (or not ready). Here are 6 signs that you are not yet ready for kids:
Sign #1: Only one spouse feels ready. If one person is ready, and one person is not, then you’re not ready as a couple.And when you’re married, parenting is a couple-event. Sure, you can go for it with the realization that the nervous person will get up to speed eventually (and he/she will), but that’s going complicate the whole issue unnecessarily.
Solution #1: If only one of you is ready, then you should wait until you both feel ready. While you’re waiting, find out what has created the hesitation. It might be that one of you recognizes a sign in the other. Perhaps one of you isn’t emotionally healthy or has some more growing up to do. Regardless of the reason, how you handle one of you not being ready to parent reveals how ready you actually are. If the “ready” spouse responds with pouting, whining, punishing, pressuring, or manipulation, then nobody is ready. Immature behaviors should be long gone before you begin parenting, within a few years of baby-hood, you will notice them in your children. Prayer and spiritual growth will reveal the best decision to you.
Side note: If you are single person considering parenting, you have a different question. You should not ask “Am I ready for kids?” Instead, you should ask “Am I ready to be a single parent?” And that question should bear the full weight of all that single parenting involves. You should not couch the question with “my friends and family will help me,” although that may be true (and you will certainly need their help). However, they aren’t bearing full responsibility as the parent; you are. So read the rest of the signs below and ask someone you trust to be honest with you about your life. If you find a sign that you’re not ready, fix the problem. Then think about parenting.
Sign #2: Handling conflict poorly. Do you or your spouse argue/debate/nit-pick/nag/complain about what the other person does or doesn’t do? Does someone always need to be “right?” The irony about couples that argue a lot is this: most of them say they don’t fight much. They think heated conflict is healthy and that they just enjoy lively discussions from differing points of view. They use excuses like being Italian, being Type-A, andenjoying repartee. No. Just no. If you can’t kindly figure out how the dishes get clean or how much money you should spend on entertainment, you are not ready for children. Right now, the worst that can happen is a sink full of sticky dishes or mounting credit card debt (also bad). The worst that can happen with angry parenting is two people create an atmosphere for their child that’s filled with insecurity, fear, hatred, abuse, and divorce. That’s much worse. And the home environment your create forms the backdrop for your child’s personality. It will create insecurity and fear that can last a lifetime, and your child will learn to act just like you do. Side note: If you are an argumentative couple, having a child will not unify you. Parenting will exacerbate your differences.
Solution #2: Learn how to handle conflict. Do a Bible study, take a course, get a mentor, see a counselor. Conflict is not bad; it’s an opportunity for growth. Handling conflict is a maturing process that takes time; you don’t have to be perfect at it now, but you should be growing in your ability to kindly and calmly figure out how to find common ground with your spouse. You should be willing to submit yourselves to one another and give in to one another.
Sign #3: Tight income. Before adding another person to your family, you need to look at your budget, income, healthcare coverage, maternity leave, and work schedule’s flexibility. Have you allowed for whether mom will stay home or go back to work and what childcare will cost? Will one spouse have to work longer hours and how will that affect your family time? What will happen in emergency situations, like a lay-off or a discontinuance of parental (free) childcare?
Carefully consider the stress that comes with budgeting. Children are expensive. Just walk through a baby store with your calculator or call a daycare and get quotes. Ask the tough questions: Can you afford the monthly expenses of a child? Do you have family sick days from work? Do you have wiggle room in your budget for unexpected problems relating to children’s health and schooling? How much free help can you expect from your family? Most Millennial couples are waiting longer to get pregnant for all these reasons. Many don’t see how they’ll ever afford children until they’re older and are already established in their careers. Yet they also feel the weight of putting off the decision until they’re older and running the risk of not getting pregnant.
Solution #3: Take a deep breath. You can’t plan for everything or foresee everything, but you can be wise and at least consider all the angles that you see now. The financial discussion regarding children is actually a good time to discuss money in general. Find out what your material priorities are (what does your heart crave?). How much is enough? The bottom line is that you don’t need to be affluent to be a parent. It’s just a good idea not to be strapped. And it helps if you’re both on the same page.
Sign #4: Emotional baggage. This is the hard one. Nobody wants to admit having issues serious enough to alter their life plans. Sure, you might have some carry-over fears from your dad leaving or your mom’s insecurity, but you’re all grown up now, so you’re fine. Are you? Make sure you are. Emotional baggage shows up in various ways: jealousy, manipulation, rage, insomnia, chemical dependence, cruelty, paranoia, over-reaction, mood swings, clinginess, distrust, impatience, over-sensitivity, insensitivity, coldness, co-dependency, and more. Regardless of the reason you have baggage, you must address the harmful issues in your emotional psyche for the sake of your health and the health of your home.
Side note: Your emotional insecurities will tell you that loving a baby will make you content and happy, that a baby will fill the void in your life or bring you and your husband closer emotionally. Not true! While loving children does bring happiness and a sense of purpose, children cannot fill your emotional hole. (You should be filling theirs and directing their need toward Christ.) If you hope your child will meet your emotional needs, you will create a needy, clingy, suffocating, guilt-driven relationship with your child, which generally will produce a child who resents you, avoids you, or maintains a co-dependent relationship with you.
Solution #4: Investigate yourself. Find a counselor and/or mentor and honestly share what’s going on in your heart and your head. If you gloss over your issues, you won’t change, and you won’t get better. And you will pass along your insecurity to your children. Your desire to be a healthy, happy parent might be the perfect motivation to do a little emotional digging. Ask yourself: What do I need to work on? What scares me? What do I avoid fixing in myself? Plenty of things will surface once you have kids (we all realize a ton about ourselves as we parent), but if you can eliminate your glaring insecurities before you become a mom or dad, that’s preferable.
Sign #5: Addicting habits. Yep, I’m going there. If you have an alcohol, drug, or porn habit, don’t have children. Get to a counselor immediately before you destroy your marriage and yourself, because you surely will. If you have a media addiction, a spending addiction, a gambling addiction, or any other obsession, get help immediately. Any obsession, left alone, always becomes an addiction. (The Bible calls it an idol.) Addictions destroy the addict and everyone close to the addict. Always. No kid should suffer because his parents wouldn’t get help with their addictions.
Solution #5: While difficult, this solution is surprisingly simple. Trace the addiction back its source and root it out. Dig up the plant, look at the gaping hole, and fill it with what God intended the hole to be filled with—Himself. Do you have to be a spiritual person to be a good parent? No. But truly spiritual people make the best parents. They look at the stuff in their life and they call it by name and they correct it. Then they set their unspiritual little children on a path to finding God and being fulfilled in Him. True spirituality never fills a God-sized hole with an addiction. It just doesn’t.
Sign #6: You have other things you want to do before kids. Do you want to get an education, travel the world, live dangerously, or achieve career goals? Then by all means, do it now. Do it so you don’t regret it later. Does everyone who has children instead of backpacking Europe regret the decision? Of course not! Mature adults consider options and choose what they desire most. The issue here is giving up something to have a family. It’s not a hard choice if you’re ready for a family. All the baby-lovers out there should remember that having a baby is only a three-year commitment, but the commitment to parent lasts a lifetime.
So--what if you’re about to become a parent in spite of your good planning? Your birth control failed, or you miscounted days. Or you adopted a needy child or stepped into a parent’s role for a dysfunctional family member. You started down that road before you felt ready, and you’re hyperventilating, just a little bit.
Don’t panic. You will never get it all together. Yes, you’ll still have to work through your selfishness, pride, and perfectionism, but that’s real life for everybody. We’re all growing and changing. We all have issues. We’re all in the process of transformation.
What keeps parents parenting well is love. As the Bible says in 1 Pet. 4:8, “Love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” The real question is Are you ready to love someone like Jesus loves you (or at least, try)? If you’re ready, you’ll know it.
Sue Schlesman is a Christian writer, teacher, and speaker. Her blogs, fiction, and non-fiction reach a wide audience. You can find her philosophizing about life, education, family, and Jesus at www.susanwalleyschlesman.com andwww.7prayersthatwork.com.