Sooner or later in one’s dating life the question of “kids” comes up. “Do you want them?” you will ask each other.
Certainly, we have been conditioned to think that “kids” are part and parcel of a committed long-term relationship. You remember the skipping song: “Sally and Jimmy sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Baby in a baby carriage.” I remember this from my own childhood and my sons (now in their early 20s) remember hearing it in their schoolyard too.
But fewer couples are having children now. According to Statistics Canada 44.5% of couples in their 2011 census did not have children, a continuing decline of the percentage of couples with children at home. And, fewer than half of the general public says having children is reason to marry, according to a study by Pew Research. There is lots of evidence that kids can hurt, not help, a relationship. Marital satisfaction drops after having kids, and couples without children experience lower depression than their married counterparts.
It’s no wonder. Children are a lot of work.
My husband and I were together for a decade before our first child was born. We don’t regret for an instant having children. It has been hands down the very best decision we ever made and one that has brought tremendous joy to our lives.
But, not every relationship can handle kids. If there was ever a time to be on the same page as a couple, being co-parents is it. If you are dating and getting close to broaching the topic of kids, here are five questions to ask your partner.
Do you like kids?
I know this seems like an obvious question but being a parent means not only liking your own kids but liking other children (and their parents too). I never would have guessed how much my social life would change after kids. You spend a lot of time doing “kid” things as a parent – school events, birthday parties, play dates, etc. etc. etc.
For many years, most of our weekends were devoted to either basketball or soccer tournaments. It helped that my husband and I were in this together, making an effort to cheer our kids (and others) and make friends with other parents. If this was an activity that had made one or both of us “grumpy,” it would have affected our relationship. Or, if one of us had assumed that the other one would handle all the chauffeuring and sitting in bleachers, that could have easily caused resentment – also not a good thing in a relationship.
So, honestly, do you like kids?
Are you willing to make time?
I was shocked to discover how much time kids actually take. I did the math once and it was close to 7 “extra” hours in a day. That’s a full-time non-paid job in addition to paid work. From spending 15 minutes in the morning singing “wake up toes; wiggle, wiggle, wiggle,” to rouse a sleeping child to reading for 30 minutes before they go to bed, those hours add up. One person can do it all (and many single-parents do), but it’s so much easier when duties are shared.
I’ve seen bitterness seep into relationships when one person seems to be handling the lion’s share of the work, or when one parent is very selective about what work they do. Sure, kids are fun but you can’t raise a child by doing only fun things like tossing a ball around or making gingerbread cookies. How are the other less fun tasks divvied up – endless laundry, resolving tantrums, lice treatments (oh yes, just wait!)
What “me” time are you willing to give up to raise a child together?
Are you prepared for financial sacrifice?
Kids are expensive. One Canadian report estimated the cost at $13,000 per year. Having raised a couple kids, this number actually seems low. I live in Toronto where median daycare costs are well over $1000 per month per child now. Add on clothes, food, toys, etc. and that discretionary Tim Horton’s double-double on your way to work may all of a sudden be out of reach.
With endless financial resources, family finances after kids may not be so stressful. But for the average person, having kids will require having to prioritize where money is directed. Do we take a romantic couple’s trip to Florida this winter, or enroll our children in hockey? And decisions that seemed like a reasonable risk without children – say leaving a job that was higher pay for one that pays less but feeds your soul—will need to be done in a collaborative way.
Money problems can hurt a marriage. Are you and your partner on the same financial page?
Can we fairly work out dual careers?
Not too many years ago, the “traditional” model was that the woman would make all the career sacrifices in her marriage. Or, if she was working, she would start a “second shift” after her paid work to do domestic work like meals, cleaning, and laundry. While things are moving towards a more egalitarian philosophy of dual careers, it’s still a challenge for many couples to balance work and home responsibilities. Or, to feel like they are not shortchanging one for the other.
How will you support each other’s careers while raising children together? Here are a few hypothetical scenarios you may want to hash out now:
- You are offered a bigger role with greater responsibility, travel and more hours. How much additional time at home is your partner willing to do?
- Your child has special needs that requires a more involved, possibly stay-at-home parent. Who makes the career sacrifice? What criteria did you use to make that decision?
- The daycare calls. Your kid has lice and has to be picked up immediately. You are both in important meetings. Who drops everything?
Do you think you’ll be able to figure out which career ladder to climb and how high as working parents?
Do we handle challenges together well?
Perhaps the most important question to ask right now is how well you handle challenges together?
- Do we point fingers when things go wrong or put blame aside and muddle through a solution together?
- Do we freak out when things don’t go according to plan or try hard to see the funny side?
- Do we rigidly stick to our beliefs, or try to see the situation from our partner’s perspective?
Trust me, there will be lots and lots and lots of challenges as parents that require cooperation, compromises and sacrifices like you’ve never experienced before. And, it’s more than worth it – every gray hair, every wrinkle, every sleepless night – if you have a great partner beside you.
Can your relationship handle kids?