The happiest and holiest children in the world are the children whose fathers succeed in winning both their tender affection and their reverential and loving fear. And they are the children who will come to understand most easily the mystery of the fatherhood of God. – John Piper
One of the earliest conversations I recall having with Eric during our courtship’s infancy was about children. He wanted six and I wanted four; so, we settled on six. ~smile~ Those were the days when I thought life would go the way I expected, and it had not yet occurred to me that our future path might be different than we had imagined.
During those discussions, we talked about names, probably a bit about breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding, the role of discipline, and boundaries with family and friends; but, I cannot recall having many deep discussions about the ins-and-outs of parenting – probably because we did not know where to start! Considering our pre-marriage parenting discussions left a lot to be desired, I thought it would be helpful to share parenting topics couples need to discuss before engagement; but, as I sat down to write, I realized how woefully unprepared I still felt to tackle this subject.
So, I reached out to the professionals! Seven of my young mom friends were gracious enough to share topics of discussion they broached (or wish they had broached) with their husbands prior to becoming parents. Read and learn (along with me) and take these ideas with you when you and your significant other decide it is time to have “the baby talk.” ~smile~
Topics to Discuss:
- Discipline. How, when, and where to correct behavior can be a major source of conflict for couples. For one parent, light correction (e.g., time out, losing a favorite toy for a day) might be the preferred method; whereas, the other parent may favor stricter discipline (e.g., grounding, spanking, manual labor). When having this discussion with your significant other, be careful to be listening to understand (versus listening to respond) – especially when you disagree with his or her point of view. Understanding why he or she takes a particular stance may change your perspective or help you better articulate why you believe other forms of correction are for the best.
“When my wife first discovered she was pregnant with our first child, she starting worrying about this little baby growing inside of her. Well, I didn’t have any baby growing inside of me; I had to worry about something. I started worrying about how we were going to pay for all of this. Overnight, I became my own father. Just stalking through the house turning off lights. ‘Anybody in this room? Anybody going through this room? We’re lighting up the neighborhood here, people! Listen, I’ve got a 75 watter in here, but I can drop her down to a 15 if we can’t handle the responsibility!’ By the time my second child was born, I was standing outside the house staring at the meter going ‘Turn something off! This thing is spinning like a top! Turn something off! You people are killing me! Unplug something!’” – Comedian Jeff Foxworthy (Totally Committed).
Whether you are just scraping by or swimming in millions of dollar bills, financial discussions should take place before any baby-making begins. Regardless of your financial state, you and your significant other may have extremely different financial expectations and you do not want to discover this two days after bringing your baby home from the hospital. How much would you like to have in savings before having children? What standard of living do you want to enjoy – or, are willing to live at? Will one parent stay home? How much are we willing to spend on daycare? Babies change everything in sweet and precious ways… and they also cost a lot. Talking about money issues and financial expectations before becoming parents will keep you from having to make financial decisions while you are sleep deprived and emotional.
- Handling Unexpected Plot Twists. When my brother-in-law was first married, his grandmother told him, “Having kids is just what you do.” I remember a time in my life when I thought the same: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl get married. Boy and girl have babies. Boy and girl have grandbabies. Boy and girl grow old together surrounded by their loving children and grandchildren. It all seemed so cut-and-dry back then… and sometimes I miss the days when I believed having kids is just what you do. As I have dealt with infertility, God has given me the blessing of knowing other women who struggle – some with infertility, some with miscarriages, some with special needs children, some with extremely difficult pregnancies, and some with children who scream with colic for months on end. My story is not unique. Many moms and dads have endured plot twists. And, though we cannot fully prepare for every curve, we can talk about scenarios and make tentative plans as to how we might handle those unexpected situations should they arrive.
- Birthday/Holiday Expectations. When Eric and I were dating and contemplating marriage, he told me he wanted birthdays to be a big deal in our family. Thank goodness he told me that or he might have been dreadfully disappointed with his yearly restaurant and one present birthday celebrations I had originally thought to do. In my home growing up, we did celebrate birthdays; but, we were not big party people. Usually, there was pizza, cake, ice cream, and a gift. To me, that is an excellent birthday; however, Eric likes surprises – giving them and receiving them. One year he took me on a food tour in Charlottesville for my birthday. Another year he arranged for me to ride an elephant which was on my bucket list. When you imagine your future with children, how do you envision celebrating with them? What do you want them to take away from those special days?
- Keeping boundaries with Family and Friends. If you talk about nothing else, talk about this, my friends! If you and your spouse have different ideas about boundaries, conflict is coming. It is only a matter of time. Eric told me early on that he did not want our future children filling up on sugar every time they visited their grandparents. At the time, my dad was a Dairy Queen enthusiast and I wondered how I was going to bridge that gap! There is a difference between one ice cream cone every four months and getting to eat gobs of candy every time we visit Grammy and Papa’s house. Talk about the boundaries you plan to place around your children. Where do you differ? Where are you alike? What compromises can you make?
- Midwife versus an OBGYN. Some ladies swear by their midwife and others want to see a doctor. Your preference is fine. Do not let other people with firm opinions strong arm you into changing your mind. Discuss your options together and agree on the best decision for your family. If you have a gut feeling about which direction to take and you two disagree, you should do more research, talk to other moms, and bring the findings to another discussion. And always consider your health needs when choosing a birth plan.
- Breastfeeding. One of Eric’s childhood friends was in for quite the surprise when his wife decided to ween their first child at three months old. He expected her to breastfeed quite a while longer. It is funny how some men could not care less about breastfeeding (or, much less have an opinion about when a woman should stop breastfeeding); whereas, others have strong opinions about it! You may think you are dating someone who does not care, but you might be wrong! ~smile~ Even if it feels a bit awkward, breastfeeding should be on the to discuss list. If you do not currently have a strong opinion about breastfeeding, consider doing a little research. Compile some data and comb through it together.
- Discussing Future Children. When Eric’s mom was first married, she wanted five children. After his brother was born, she decided she wanted three children. After Eric was born, she declared herself finished. ~smile~ Just because you think you want a certain number of children does not mean you will always feel that way, so couples need to be willing to reopen the child discussion after each child is born. If you agree that you want four children when you are well-rested, single, monetarily-sound, and skinny, you should not go into marriage treating that number as an absolute. God may give you more or fewer. Sleep deprivation gives some women second thoughts about having more children. Financial concerns cause some men to question if having more children is wise. Some women experience extremely harsh pregnancies and are uneasy about trying for more children. Sometimes, a desire to adopt rises to the surface. When discussing how many children you want, keep your plan with an open hand. Be willing to reevaluate after each child is six-months to a year old.
- Entertainment. “Jack! Why do you not change the channel when the music gets scary?” Mom used to be so careful about what she allowed me to watch and she is still careful with what she allows herself to watch. It used to annoy her so much when Dad watched non-child appropriate shows while I was in the room. In Dad’s defense, he did not always realize I was in the room and he did not intend to visually scar me. I did eventually start sleeping again after witnessing two “stabbings” back to back. ~smile~ Entertainment is one of those “fun” conflictual areas many couples do not anticipate when family planning. How much TV is too much? What is acceptable to watch? Can my two-year-old handle the same shows my eight-year-old watches? Is gaming okay, and if so, how much is too much? As children age, agreeing on approved entertainment becomes more important. Too much Sesame Street might not profoundly affect a child, but a culture of constant television from birth to college may cause problems.
- Parenting Roles. The term roles can have a negative connotation to some folks as if to say certain roles within the family make one spouse less (or more) important than the other. Well, if you have the chance to job shadow a stay-at-home mom (or dad) in action, it would be clear that one parenting role is not less important than another. And, when it comes to raising children, it is best for roles to be defined, but not chiseled in stone. If it is primarily Mom’s role to change diapers because Dad is at work all day, that does not mean Dad should yell up the stairs, “The baby needs changing!” when he can do it himself. The more each spouse gives to lighten the load of the other, the deeper the emotional bond will be created. Often new parents grow apart because babies are adorably demanding, but embracing their agreed upon roles, and still giving outside of those roles, will help each partner feel valued in the midst of the chaos!
- Approaches to Problem Solving. Eric and I have extremely different problem-solving For example, if the washing machine flashes a weird error message, a tire blows on the interstate, or the oven catches fire, Eric immediately jumps into high-efficiency problem-solving mode. He quickly figures out an answer to the problem and puts out the fire (no pun intended). Me, I stand there and stare, scream, or cry. Problems momentarily paralyze me while they turn him into Superman. When less extreme or time-sensitive problems arise, I cope by ignoring them and hoping they correct themselves while Eric dives on them immediately – at least, in most cases. It is important to discover how each person approaches problem-solving before children come or we run the risk of adding conflict to already stressful situations. I may not always like the way Eric solves problems, but I am rarely surprised by him. And, should an issue arise with our future children, understanding his thought process will keep me from becoming further baffled in moments of stress and anxiety.
- Incorporating Teachable Moments about Christ in All Situations. In a world of Santa Clauses and Easter Bunnies, it is challenging to teach children the meaning of Christian traditions while still allowing for the fun of modern celebrations. As a child, Mom told me Santa was not real before I was old enough to believe in him fully. However, she also told me he was a fun fantasy, so I still enjoyed Christmas cartoons and seeing Santa displays around town. However, the most important part of Christmas was Jesus, and I am glad my family raised me to associate Christ with the most exciting holiday of the year. For Easter, I still got a fun Easter basket with candy and a stuffed animal. Easter was also about Jesus and I always knew Mom and Dad were the givers of the baskets. Why should a mythical bunny get to take credit for their work anyway? ~smile~ Thanks to my Mom, Grandma, Miss Betty (my mentor), and several others in my life, I experienced many teachable moments which incorporated God into my daily life. It excites me to see my friends doing the same with their children.
- Read Shepherding a Child’s Heart. “We had not strongly considered the difference between reactionary parenting versus intentional parenting before we read that book. Parenting with an end goal of raising children who love the Lord and love others looks very different on a day to day basis than parenting without an end goal and reacting to bad behaviors as they irritate you.” – Toni Kerr – Even though Eric and I are not yet parents, we read Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp years ago and recommend it to our clients. So many books give tips to help with behavior modification; but, Shepherding a Child’s Heart gets to the nitty-gritty of raising children to love and honor God by focusing on their heart rather than only their behavior.
It is important to remember that, just as in marriage, you will need to rely on God for wisdom in your parenting. Preparation is great and expecting the unexpected is wise.
God has graciously allowed me to learn from other women who are currently walking this parenting path. Not only do I learn from their stories, but also from watching them interact with their husbands and children. They are real with me and tell me the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have seen their children misbehave and act like angelic beings. There is no Instagram filter on their lives. Raising children is hard, but appears to be the greatest and most worthwhile challenge God has to offer us.
To all the mothers out there, we at PreEngaged wish you the greatest Mother’s Day possible. Call your mom! Send her flowers! Write her a beautiful note telling her what she means to you. Visit her. Nobody exhausted her more than you (and your siblings), yet no one else touches the core of her heart like you. ~smile~
Is it time to start the parenting discussion with your significant other?