For some women, the urge to have a baby comes on strong and seemingly out of nowhere. One day, they’re climbing the corporate ladder and enjoy-ing a life of spontaneous weekend getaways and the next, they’re dreaming of knitted booties and Stroller Fit classes. It can be that dra-matic and sudden. For a spouse or partner blissfully ignorant of secret baby fan-tasies, though, an “I’m ready to start a family” announcement over morning coffee can be downright shocking. Or maybe it’s the reverse—maybe he’s more than ready to be a daddy, but you don’t know if you’re ready for stretch marks and sore nipples. How exactly do you broach the baby-making business? The answer: Very carefully!
Time it right
There’s no perfect time to have a baby, so the saying goes, and in truth, you never can fully prepare for the upheaval and chaos that a baby (and one day, a teenager!) brings to your life and home. There are, however, really bad moments to even discuss it—just after your partner loses his job, for instance, or your employer requests that you accept a cross-country transfer, or while you’re in the midst of relationship troubles. The more stable your partner feels financially and emotionally, the more receptive he or she will be to talking about tots. Ideally, you already agreed somewhat on your family plan before you two committed to each other—it’s much easier to have the “Are you ready?” conversation than it is to have a “Will you ever be ready?” debate. Especially if you’re facing the latter, make sure you’re both in a really good place professionally and personally first.
Plenty of good parents started out reluctant, only to fall madly in the love the moment they laid eyes on their offspring. But this is not a gamble you should take. You want a partner who’s all in for the blood, sweat and tears—and that’s just the pregnancy part. If your partner is hesitant, listen to his or her concerns and address them—all of them—from an irrational fear of the minivan to financial insecurity over another mouth to feed. In fact, you should discuss as many of the logistics of having children as you can beforehand. Who will stay home with the newborn and for how long? How will you fund college? Time-outs or the naughty chair? Most likely your nervous partner has thought of at least one or two legitimate issues that you should work out in advance anyhow.
Avoid desperate measures
You will make use of regrettable negotiating tactics once the kid arrives (“Just eat two peas and you can have the box of jellybeans”; “Yes, the binky fairy stole your binkies”; “Over my dead body you can get a tattoo!”), but don’t play games or make unrealistic promises to win over your partner to having a baby. Here are three common strategies you should refrain from using during your baby chat:
1. Agreeing that you will change every diaper and cover all middle-of-the-night baby duties. You will regret cutting this deal, but your partner will never let you forget it. EVER.
2. Assuring your partner of months of crazy baby-making sex. This could happen, but other likely scenarios are that (a) you conceive right away and almost as immediately get the “please don’t touch me” first trimester nausea fol-lowed by the “I’m getting fat and don’t feel sexy” second trimester anxiety followed by the “I’m just too big and tired to bother” third trimester laziness, or (b) you don’t conceive right away, freak out and spend the next several months obsessively checking your basal body temperature and generally treating intercourse like a clinical procedure. Your partner will not let you forget this either.
3. Arranging to babysit a friend or relative’s newborn in the hopes that it will inspire your partner’s parental tendencies. This will backfire. Nobody enjoys holding a screaming, colicky infant, especially one that doesn’t have your eyes or share your adorable chin dimple.
Ultimately, for the sake of your relationship and the best interest of your potential child, your partner should share your readiness and excitement before diving into this most demanding of responsibilities. Also, I’d suggest getting dual diaper duty in writing.
Katherine Ludwig is a lawyer turned freelance writer and mother of two who thinks passing the Bar was cake next to breastfeeding and potty training.