Your future little bundle of joy means a big bundle of questions to ask yourselves about finances, discipline, the in-laws and more. Many couples assume they’re on the same page on the important issues, only to find out when the going gets tough that they are going in different directions. Here are five important topics for couples to discuss (and try to agree upon) before bringing home baby:
1 Finances: How will we afford this child?
Many people want to wait until they are financially ready to have a child, a time that may never come. "Don’t give too much credence to the (concept that) it takes $200,000-$300,000 to get a child to the age of maturity," says Barbara de Jong, a financial advisor with Edward Jones in Denver. Children can be adequately fed, clothed, equipped and educated even on a budget.
De Jong advocates creating a budget that clearly delineates between "need" and "want". "It’s a rare family that won’t find itself needing to reduce or eliminate one or more of those discretionary want expenses," says de Jong. She also suggests trying to live on one salary during pregnancy to better prepare to either have one parent stay home or meet the added expense of childcare.
As for future college costs, de Jong and many other financial advisors say saving for retirement is more important than saving for a child’s college education. College can be financed through loans and potentially scholarships. Retirement can’t.
2 Childcare: Who will take care of the child?
Who can you possibly trust to take care of your child all day long? That depends on your philosophies, finances and the stability of your job.
If one of you stays home with the child, which one will it be? Or will it be a nanny, family-member or daycare center? Have a plan in place well before baby is born. Compare the costs and check your budget. Make sure the philosophies of the person or program jive with yours. This is especially important if it’s going to be a family-member where complex issues may arise.
3 Extended family: How will we keep them all happy?
Oh, what a tangled but wonderful web family weaves! The key is to be a little selfish, so you aren’t pulled in different directions. Decide how you want to spend vacations, holidays and other special occasions, then work family around that. Some families create a rotating system where one side gets one holiday and the other gets another one, switching the next year, for example.
When their twins were born, Pat and Peter Matheson of Denver told their families Christmas Day was off limits. They spend the day alone, then host a post-holiday pizza party for everyone the next day. "At first, people were offended but that’s always going to happen with family," says Pat. "Now they respect our decision and look forward to hanging out the next day. It was important for us to establish our own tradition right away."
4 Family code of ethics: How will we handle behavior issues?
"Anytime we are discussing codes of ethics and disciplinary styles we’re ultimately talking about values," says Susan Weinstein, MA, MSW, LCSW, The Denver Parenting Coach. Weinstein says couples should ask themselves the following questions:
Did I like how my parents disciplined me?
Will I want to discipline my children differently? If so, why, why not and how?
What kind of parent do I want to be?
What do I need to learn that might help me?
What do I know about child development? And what more do I need to learn?
The answers to these questions help parents build a foundation and action plan to work from and they are invaluable in the heat of the moment. As your children mature they will present new and different challenges at every stage. Just keep in mind that you may need to adjust the code through the years.
5 Religion: What do we believe and how will we celebrate it?
What may have already been a tricky topic before you got married becomes more complicated when children are born. Weinstein encourages couples to ask:
What does faith and/or religion mean to us, individually and as a couple?
What do we want our child to gain from our religion(s)?
How important is it that our family follows one religion? Why?
What kind of religious education, practices, and traditions matter most to our family?
How would I feel if my child was raised outside my own religion? Realistically, there’s never an ideal time to have a child. Kids will present variables their whole lives that cannot be planned for completely. The best parents can do is have basic concepts in place, created through open communication, all bundled up with love.
Published October 2009, Updated August 2012