Five questions to ask yourself—and your partner—to be sure that you’ve picked the right time—and the right reasons—to become parents.
Today? Tomorrow? Next week? Two months from now? Next year? You toss the questions around in your mind and discuss them with your partner, hoping for some clarity. Daunting, isn’t it? How can you know—for yourself and as a couple—that this is the “right” time to try to have a baby, and that you’re becoming parents for the “right” reasons?
As a family counselor, I’ve spent years talking with people about parenthood. Among the things I’ve learned is that there is no absolute “right” time to attempt conception nor any defining characteristic that deems you “right” for parenthood. Just as the decision whether or not to have children is an intensely personal one, so is the judgment as to whether the time to try is now.
For those who do feel a desire—even a need—to raise a child, judging emotional readiness often involves asking yourself and/or your partner some key questions.
Why Now? Am I Doing This for the “Right” Reasons?
Although there’s no magic formula for deciding the right time to try and conceive, there are some reasons that may sound compelling but aren’t very good factors to base your decision on. Some of these include: Because all your friends or coworkers seem to be having babies. Because your parents are getting older and you want them to be grandparents. Because you’ve reached the age at which you always planned on starting to build a family.
Ellen Lefkowitz, M.S.W., a Santa Fe, New Mexico, psycho therapist, suggests that you ask yourself: Am I in a “good place” in my life right now? “On the positive side,” Lefkowitz observes, “most women today don’t seem to feel compelled to follow a preordained ‘schedule.’ Some choose motherhood in their twenties, while many wait longer. I’m pleased to see that many women arrive at a decision feeling really ready to love, care for, and nurture a child.” Still, she adds, “There are some women who make the ‘mom decision’ for flimsy reasons, such as that they haven’t found a satisfying career, or they are feeling bored. Even worse, some women attempt to get pregnant in an effort to save a bad marriage.”
Being very happy in your job and marriage help make for an “ideal time” to opt for parenthood, even though pregnancy and childbirth can radically change both. After all, it’s easier to prepare to give a great deal of yourself to another person when you’re feeling good about yourself, your circumstances, and your partner. As one woman put it, “I want to see myself and the one I love most in a child— to see the combination of both of us.”
Los Angeles marriage and family therapist Carole Lieber Wilkins, M.A., recommends asking yourself whether you’re ready for the tradeoffs that come with parenthood, and even before. “Are you ready to trade independence and spontaneity for planning and structure? Are you ready to trade the ease of travel with being more of a homebody?” she asks. While planning for a baby often invokes fantasies of becoming a child again, it really requires recognizing that you’re now an adult.
Is My Partner Ready?
It’s not uncommon for one member of a couple to feel ready before the other does, notes Rosalyn Blogier, M.S.W., a psychotherapist and adoption counselor in Washington, D.C. Sometimes, this offers both members some balance—with one pushing ahead and the other holding back a bit, they may arrive at a pace that feels right for both of them. However, Blogier notes that there are times when people really are at different places. “It’s important that the more hesitant partner be willing to look at his/her concerns and feel more comfortable before moving ahead,” she says. “It might help to talk with close friends who have had children to find out how they worked on possible differences in time schedules. The couples I really worry about are those who didn’t address the topic of having children before getting married and later discover that one wants to be a parent and the other does not.”
Assuming that you know your partner wants to become a parent, but you fear he may not be ready, you need to explore what might be holding him back. If you’re planning to be at home with the baby or to take an extended maternity leave, he may be feeling pressured to earn enough to support the family. Or he may be reflecting back upon his experiences with his own father, wondering if he can measure up or fearing that he will repeat his father’s mistakes. Be sensitive, also, to the possibility that your partner may be reluctant to share your love, affection, and attention with a child. Each of these concerns should be something that you talk about together and, if needed, with a trusted therapist or in a couples’ group.