- Starting a family is a major life decision that needs a cultural overhaul in terms of how we prepare for it.
- We prepare for many other life milestones, but oftentimes we jump into starting a family head-first.
- While we cannot be totally ready for family life, we can be better prepared.
Throughout human civilization, groups of people have engaged in certain rites of passage. These rites of passage marked milestones in a person's life where they were exiting one stage and entering into another. Due to the perilous environment that our early ancestors were living in, it makes sense that any advancement, any graduation, any further survival, would be celebrated. These moments indeed would be marked as special.
Rites of Passage Today
Today rites of passage still exist. Milestones such as getting a spot on your school's sports team, driving, college, and marriage are passage points as we age.
To increase our chance of success, as we approach these milestones, we go through a preparation phase. We identify the goal we are moving towards and we work hard to experience that moment with a readiness that will ensure a smooth transition.
For example, a high school hopeful will work extensively on her basketball drills, fitness, and precision to get a spot on her varsity team.
A nervous teen yearning for independence will study for his driver's license test, log practice hours on the road with his parent, and get a good night's rest before taking his driving exam.
A junior in high school with hopes for making it into higher education will study hard. They will get involved with clubs and extracurricular activities, stay out of trouble, and prepare for entrance exams to ensure that they land the college of their dreams.
Couples considering taking the big step of marriage will spend time getting to know one another. They will learn about each other's families, histories, and compatibilities before getting engaged and then committed to each other for life.
One area that is on par with all of these major life changes is: Starting a family. However, it’s been my experience as a couple and family therapist that I do not see the same level of preparation for starting a family that I do for many of these other important areas of life. It can be argued that starting a family is one of the most intense stages, and yet it gets the least preparation.
Our early ancestors procreated as a means of survival and, well, there wasn’t anything to prevent it. Our more recent elders procreated out of ideals of duty and family obligation. Today, adults have greater agency and say over when and how they have kids. This is evident in the rates in which couples are choosing to have children later or choosing not to have children altogether.
These changes are interesting, but where some areas progress others stagnate.
In my career, time and again when exploring why my clients chose to start their families, the responses are along the lines of: "It’s just what you do." These conversations are precipitated by many conversations and sessions that involve managing the difficult transition to family life. This often includes the frustrations in parenting. The unmet expectations. The regrets. As a clinician, I want to help families make the best choices for themselves and their young ones. These choices start before kids even come into the picture.
A New Way of Thinking About Preparing for Family
Of course, families have survived and thrived off the notion of not preparing for family life for decades and it is one viable way to enter into parenthood. But is there a possibility that a different perspective can be gained in our generation?
As we become more advanced in our technology and health care, we should strive to become more advanced in our decision-making and preparation.
The topic has many facets that can and should be explored but the first of which starts with individual introspection. I encourage my clients who have not yet had children but are thinking about it to examine their reasons. More than that, I ask them to examine their readiness.
Some questions that are good to explore:
- What makes you feel like now is the best time to start this family?
- What challenges do you foresee coming up should kids come along at this point?
- How are your finances?
- How is your relationship with your partner?
- What kind of pressure are you facing to start a family?
No, we do not need to have everything figured out and perfected before considering having children. As humans, we are always a work in progress, and perfection is a myth. However, where perfectionism is fiction, preparation can be a fact.
When facing one of the biggest life-changing events in any couple's relationship, a little more preparation can go a long way.