CHOOSE THE RIGHT PARTNER (PRE-PREGNANCY, IF POSSIBLE)
Choosing the right partner is intrinsically important to every aspect of pregnancy, birth and parenting so try not to get pregnant with a subpar person, if at all possible. Having a baby will never ease existing tension in a relationship. It won’t solve problems of lack of intimacy or emotional distance. True, a baby conceived in love can strengthen a pre-existing loving bond, but trust me when I say the logistics of adding a child to your life will strain your relationship to some degree. This is why I strongly recommend starting with a solid partnership and a conscious, joint effort to conceive, foster or adopt, when possible. A solid relationship does not mean a perfect relationship. It means you completely trust that your partner will be just that – a partner. You need to know you can count on that person to face challenges with you, act as a teammate, collaborate on decisions with. It means you know you are committed to one another regardless of times of exhaustion or depression or identity crisis or whatever may arise in periods of difficulty and adjustment. You need to be certain of each other to be able to navigate the inevitable uncertainty that comes with parenthood.
Beyond commitment, you should also aim to discuss where each of you stand on growing your family. How many kids do they want to have? Do they even want kids? Are they ready for kids? What is their stance on discipline? Do they believe in spanking? What are their thoughts on circumcision? Do they want to raise their children with a religious teaching? How do they feel about home birth versus hospital birth? Do you feel the same about which parent should take parental leave and whether or not the primary caregiver will return to work after? How was communication about disagreements modelled in your family homes? What about what kind of circumstances would warrant terminating a pregnancy, if any? This is the beginning of a theme you’ll encounter again and again, which is: managing expectations. To minimize stress on the relationship, it’s a wise idea to have these discussions before a baby materializes. As a couple, you need to accept that components of your relationship will change. Your body will change, your schedule will change, your roles will change, your sex life will change. Try to keep a healthy perspective and remember that change doesn’t mean worse, and that no phase is permanent. Ultimately, you want to be sure you share a common vision and that you’re working together to create a life and a family.
If you’re reading this, and you’re already pregnant or a new parent and you have doubts or concerns about your current relationship, don’t panic. But also, please don’t ignore those feelings. In your own time – whether that is tomorrow or over the next several years – you need to find clarity on what needs to happen in your relationship so that you and your child(ren) can have the safety and security you need in your home dynamic. If your partner is abusive, disrespectful or unsupportive; if you are on completely different pages on parenting stances, or you’ve grown apart or fallen out love, you need to honestly evaluate the future of that relationship. In some cases, such struggles can be overcome. A big factor in success is whether or not you and your spouse are willing to learn, self-improve and grow together as life progresses. It may take couples counselling or individual therapy, it may take going to classes or reading books about conflict resolution together. Whatever the case, the willingness to understand one another and the commitment to the relationship has to be present on both ends. Other times, the best choice may be to end the relationship and remove yourself from a toxic relationship or environment. Your needs must be honoured in a relationship and it is up to you to set and maintain that standard. A prolonged negative relationship will affect your ability to be effective parents and will serve as an unhealthy model for what a loving relationship looks like to your child(ren). If you make a choice to romantically separate from your parenting partner, always aim to find ways to cooperate and provide your child(ren) with as cohesive a parenting plan as possible. So long as your partner is not a danger to your child, both parents can play meaningful roles in your child’s life.
I acknowledge some of you may be entering parenthood without a partner. Whether by artificial insemination, adoption, surrogacy, by separation or death of a partner, through a brief sexual relationship, or by rape, you may find yourself on this journey without a parental partner. You may also be in a non-romantic co-parenting scenario. Some of you might be polyamorous or polygamist, and have multiple parental figures involved in the child-rearing. These circumstances come with their own unique struggles, but so long as it is your choice to lovingly accept the role of parent to your child, you are an equal and valid parent. Having a partnership is not an essential requirement for being a sufficient parent. In fact, as implied above, having the wrong partner is often more detrimental to your child’s wellbeing than flying solo.