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Two Halves of a Whole

Being ready vs. being prepared for parenthood.

Key points

  • Finding the middle ground between not being ready yet still being prepared for children.
  • It's okay to not be "ready" to have children.
  • It's immensely helpful to prepare for parenthood.
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“You’ll never be ready to have kids.”

When I first meet clients who are struggling with new parenthood I ask them how ready they felt to have kids. Often, I will get the above response. They will tell me, “Well, you’re never ready to have kids.”

I hear this frequently but each time it still makes me sad. These now struggling parents had a great opportunity to minimize their pain in this transition, yet in their greatest moment of need for good instruction, they got only one-half of a very important picture.

As a result, they missed out on being more confident and prepared for the biggest challenge of their life. But what do I mean by getting only half of a very important picture?

Two Halves of an Important Whole

The idea that you’ll never be ready to have kids has truth to it. Having a child is an experience like no other. You go your whole life only needing to take care of you and your needs. Then a new player enters the game.

All of a sudden you are the sole person responsible for taking care of a completely dependent new individual. Without your constant vigilance in those first years, their very survival is at risk. This kind of pressure alone can drive any well-adjusted adult to the edge of themselves.

This is standard for any child, but some kids have very strong wills and are very challenging to parent. Others may have special needs that take extra care and resources. No kids ever, no matter their need, come with manuals.

Each will have a different personality. All will have a set of individual emotional and behavioral needs requiring parents to be constant learners. Parents are required to adapt and react to help bring up this child into a physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy adult.

The pressure is enormous. To say that you can never be ready for THIS is true. But this is still only the first half of the very important picture that needs to be painted for new potential parents.

The Second Half

If we were to finish the sentence, “You’re never ready to have kids…”, with its companion, it would be, “…but you can prepare.”

If my clients were given the whole truth, this idea that you’re never ready to have kids but you can be better prepared, then many of them would not be in the positions that they are in when they come to see me. I will even go so far as to say that I would not have met many of them because they wouldn’t need professional therapeutic family services in the first place.

Yes, my clients would still be facing the challenges of parenthood that they were not and could not be “ready” for. The sleepless nights, the learning on the job, the changes to body and mind. However, the work that could have been done on the front end to prepare themselves would have made immense inroads towards better family health.

The kind of preparations I am speaking of include but are not limited to:

· preparing mentally for the changes they would encounter physically and, in their relationships

· improving on communication with their partners and their own parents

· deciding on discipline strategies that they are and are not willing to try

· looking at finances, childcare, and parental roles.

When the knowledge that these preparations are possible is withheld from potential parents, you end up getting new parents at their wit's end. These parents are at their wit's end because they were told they could “never be ready” so the preparation that could have happened to be on the best footing possible was not even considered.

These are parents who are struggling in many ways, encountering many blows that could have been cushioned but were not because they thought that this was the only way.

This situation can be best illustrated in the case of one of my clients.

A Couple on the Brink

The couple got married young and by their third anniversary, they had two children together. They were struggling financially, and their marriage was deteriorating. The mother was a stay-at-home mom because they couldn’t afford childcare.

With the mom not working, the husband had to give up his dream job for one that was more lucrative so he could support his small family. When asked how prepared they felt to have their kids, they told me the same thing as many families before.

They said, you could never be ready and anyway having kids was just the next thing you did after marriage. After building a relationship with them I was able to dig a little deeper and ask about any regrets. The mother said that while she didn’t regret her children, she wished it hadn’t been so hard.

She said that having more financial security, having better prepared a social cushion, and getting their marital problems on track before having kids would have saved them years of pain and hardship. A hardship that not only strained their marriage but that their children were also exposed to at a young age. The husband agreed.

This family loves their children, and their children love their parents. Still, the mother is right when she notes that things could have been different with a little preparation. Hindsight always shows us the paths we wish we could have taken. While this couple cannot go back to take these easier roads, couples that do not yet have children can use this couples’ hindsight vision to create their future map.

The Whole Picture

Yes, you can never be ready, but remember that’s only half the picture, and that you absolutely can prepare.

For couples who are interested in starting families, there is nothing more valuable than getting the whole picture. In the mostly uncharted territory that is first-time parenthood, you’ll find that this picture makes for a pretty good map.

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