How do you know when you're 'ready' to have children? Is there a right time or a best time? Will your biological clock tell you? What if you realise that you want children too late, and go on to experience fertility struggles?
In today's world, where we are used to having a lot of control over our lives and our careers - and whether or not we get pregnant thanks to the plethora of birth control options available - making the decision can seem overwhelming. Some mothers who've had unplanned pregnancies even say they were relieved the decision was taken out of their hands.
It's a daunting mental minefield, but there are questions you can ask yourself to understand just how prepared you are. We spoke to new parents and grandparents as well as family and relationship counsellor Anna Jezuita to put a definitive checklist of questions together.
1. Is it me who wants a child or my partner/family?
"It's a good idea to ask yourself if this is a well-defined deeper need or something that is fulfilling a need of others, such as your partner or your parents," Anna says. "There are no right answers – just your answers, and the point is to see them clearly and honestly."
"Try planning your life post-kids to see if that changes your mind," says Diane, mother of two now adult daughters. "Figure out all of the possible ways your life will change because of it - your career, finances, relationship and social life will all be drastically different - do you like what you see? That helps put into perspective whether it's you who wants this or the people around you."
2. Why now?
"It is important to understand the underlying reasons for the timing," says Anna. "Is it a real need or is there externally-induced anxiety, like from your friends all having kids, or needing to conceive before the next big project?"
If everyone around you seems to be having kids, you can start to feel that it must be time for you to start a family too. Do you actually want kids or are you feeling pressured to fit into this new era your friends seem to be ushering in?
3. Am I ready to put things that are important to me on hold?
"The reality of parenting is very much about priorities being taken over by the child's needs, and your career, personal space and even your body may feel like they don't belong to you any more," says Anna.
"It is worth considering the things that you perhaps want to do before having kids, bearing in mind that there will be always something left."
"I wish I'd traveled more before having kids," says Elizabeth, mother of five children and grandparent to 10. "Both my granddaughters just went travelling around Asia which is something I'd have loved to have done but I'm far too old now. You have to think about all of the freedom and opportunities you have when you don't have kids. Take them while you're young enough to get a 10-hour flight without wearing plane socks."
4. Am I prepared to become my mother?
"Once my daughter fell over and hurt her ankle and I remember saying 'that'll be a pig's foot in the morning', says Diane. "I have literally no idea where that phrase comes from or what it means but it's something my mum always used to say when I was little. I remember the words leaving my mouth and thinking 'oh my god, I am my mother'."
We can unconsciously mimic our parents' parenting style and blurt out their weird phrases - because that's what we know.
But if you want to do things differently, the good news is you can. It's called 'conscious parenting'. By thinking about how you want to handle different parenting situations and acting on those decisions you can change negative patterns of behaviour and set your own parenting course.
5. What does being a 'good parent' mean to me and is that different to my partner?
"We all have ideas based on experience of our own childhood, but now you are creating a new family, with its own values and rituals," says Anna. "What would you like it to be? What is important in looking after a new human being?
"You and your partner may be getting along fine not because there are no contradictions in your views and values, but that's because there was no opportunity for them to clash," she says.
"Bringing up a child will definitely question your views about discipline, education, social values and more. Best to lay those views out now and see where the compromises will need to be negotiated."
6. Can I cope with things not going to plan - and not always knowing what I'm doing?
"You will cancel on people all the time," says Diane. "It's part and parcel of kids. Sometimes they'll fit into your day perfectly, sometimes they'll shit themselves every single time you're about to leave the house."
It's not just the disrupted schedules that can cause stress and upheaval though, it's also a feeling of not knowing what you're doing (especially in the early days).
"Children come to this world without a manual, which means parenting is constant guesswork," says Anna. "It is useful to know your own 'mental wiring' around plans and schedules and if you feel that it may be causing some difficulty and distress, perhaps talk to someone about some coping strategies."
7. What is my support network and am I good at asking for help?
Who can you count on in a time of need? Consider not only your partner - if you have one - but your family, friends and health professionals like a midwife, boss, or counsellor.
"Of course, having all these lovely people around won't help if you 'don't want to trouble anyone', don't trust anyone or think nobody will do as good a job as you will," Anna points out.
"This question is about understanding your own needs, acknowledging their importance, and making sure you ask for help even if the need seems small and trivial."
8. Do I feel prepared financially?
"Finances and being able to afford things that the child will need can cause a lot of stress in addition to all the daily challenges of figuring out who this new person is," says Anna.
"Planning and resolving this part of life ahead of time is a great way to ensure a more peaceful parenthood. That may include a basic check of your savings and employment package, or go as far as moving to a location with good schools."
"Have you thought of the real cost of children for the next 18 to 21 years?" asks Diane. "It's not just the cost of childcare, it's also the change in your relationship with your family if you rely on them for childcare; it's how both you and your partner will cope with having less money or if your career has to change because of that."
Via Grazia and Now To Love