Shortly after you’re married, you’ll soon be barraged with a single question from family and friends alike: “When are you having kids?"
As a father of two daughters, ages 7 and 10 respectively, and the uncle of 10 kiddos, here’s something to keep in mind about children: Children are external amplifiers of your internal traits and character. While there might be exceptions, the vast majority of kind, loving and considerate people tend to make great parents who produce great children who echo the traits of those parents. But if someone is a broken person when they become a parent, they will almost certainly break their children into a shattering mess that can cycle through several generations.So to avoid that destructive cycle, here are six questions to consider before you consider having children.
1. Can you work as a supportive team? This requires honest, forthright communication between you and your mate. If either of you fly off the rails at each other about leaving a towel on the floor, the cap off the toothpaste or dirty dishes in the sink, it’ll be a challenge to rise to the occasions of nighttime feedings, sleep deprivation and dirty diapers. Both of you must absolutely agree to work as a cohesive team toward the unified goal of building a family. For example, my wife wanted to nurse our girls; since I couldn’t help in that department, for the first several months I happily changed diapers and gave our daughters baths. Teamwork is critical.
2. Do you have similar disciplinary styles? I was raised in a home where there was one punishment and that was spanking—regardless of the offense. However, my wife was never once swatted on her backside. Needless to say, we had a lot of discussions about how we would discipline our children when the time came. This was important because we wanted to be prepared and in agreement regarding this aspect of child rearing. There are a variety of good books that can help guide your discussion in that regard.
3. Are your religious beliefs and worldviews compatible? Many people who were religious in their youth drift from their childhood faith as an adult, only to reconsider the value of religion when they have kids of their own. It’s critical to ensure that both you and your spouse are completely aligned well before your children are born on this topic. Whether it’s a church, synagogue or mosque, family unity is crucial regarding the area of religion because it’s so personal and transcends this life. This can be a tricky issue for some couples, especially if they come from different faith traditions and may require counseling to successfully navigate.
4. Do you and your spouse agree that your relationship is paramount in the family? A lot of married couples with kids will disagree with this assertion and automatically allege the kids are the most important element of the family. I would respectfully disagree, because if you as parents focus exclusively on the needs of your kids at the expense of each other, it can have a negative impact on your marriage itself. Child development experts almost universally agree that stability, security and love are the foundational elements necessary for healthy children. If you don’t take care of your marriage first, your kids may be left in the wake of divorce. Consider this: Airlines always tell passengers that in the event of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first and then you’ll have the respiratory wherewithal to effectively help your child travel companion. The same principle applies to your home; focus on keeping the marriage strong and the family will follow along.
5. What are the financial implications? There are many financial concerns to address ranging from diapers and baby food to saving for college. One of the most important and overlooked financial component is life insurance. Most singles and couples with no kids usually don’t give a thought to life insurance. However, that all changes once you factor in a baby. Even though someone has a life insurance policy in their name, it’s not for them—it’s for their surviving family members if something happens to the policyholder. Depending on the size of the death benefit, it can help the survivors pay off the mortgage, cover daycare expenses, finance the kids’ college education or any other needs the survivors may have absent the lost income of the deceased. The rule of thumb is that the death benefit for each parent should be six to seven times their annual salary and a term policy (rather than a whole life policy) is usually the best way to go, but contact an expert regarding your specific situation.
6. Who will take care of the kid(s) if something happens to you? This was probably the most difficult issue to discuss for my wife and me. We each have siblings and both of my wife’s parents are still alive, whereas both of mine are passed. Still, there are some individuals in that mix who don’t share our Christian worldview, or our perspective on discipline or already have a brood of their own. Additionally, there’s the chance that some family members might hold resentment if they’re not selected. The solution my wife and I came up with was to ask a non-blood-related husband and wife whom we’ve known for decades to be our girls’ guardians if necessary. They’re great parents, and we’re also closely aligned philosophically, religiously and from a child-rearing perspective. Additionally, we know they’ll strive to maintain a strong connection between our daughters and the girls’ blood relatives, which is an important consideration as well.
While these are just some of the questions that prospective parents need to consider, they are a great place to start before starting a family.
Tor Constantino is a former journalist who has worked for CBS Radio Network and Clear Channel Communications. His first nonfiction book, A Question of Faith, will be available in November 2011, and he posts regularly at www.torconbooks.com.