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What I wish we discussed about parenting before having kids

Here's what we actually talked about—and what we SHOULD have talked about.

what to discuss before having kids

My husband and I talked about a lot of things before becoming parents—our values, what kinds of parents our parents had been, and how that informed the kinds of parents we wanted to be. Those were good and important conversations and helped us get on the same page about some overarching themes of parenting.

But you know what we did not discuss? Which parent would be in charge of pediatrician visits. Who would handle researching the best way to introduce solid foods. And, down the road, which parent would take the lead on communicating with teachers. And oh so much more!

If there is one thing I would love to go back and redo, it is having a very specific conversation with my partner about how parenting duties were going to be shared.

Here's what I wish we'd talked about.


I wish we'd talked about what we both needed to feel comfortable as parents.

My brother was born when I was 10 years old, so I already had a level of comfort with babies. My husband, not so much. When we looked over the possible classes we could take before delivery—breastfeeding, childbirth, and so on—he was very interested in a class called Newborn 101. I thought it was a waste of time, but I agreed to go because it seemed to matter so much to him.

All I remember learning from the class is that newborns look weird when they come out (gray and slimy as opposed to pink and shiny), and you don't need to bathe them very often. Afterward, I told my husband it had been a waste of time, because we didn't learn much.

"I know!" he said happily. "I feel so relieved." For him, learning that being around a baby is way less complicated than he thought it was going to be was a major stress reliever. I didn't realize until that moment that he had concerns about parenthood that were totally different from mine.

I wish we'd talked about working as a team from the start.

When two people become parents through pregnancy, the birth parent is intimately involved with parenthood from the start by carrying the baby—but if the non-birth parent can take on some responsibilities during pregnancy, it sets the stage for co-parenting equity down the road.

When Sheehan David Fisher, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, works with new parents and parents-to-be, he recommends that the non-birth parent stay engaged throughout pregnancy by attending all the prenatal visits, reading books about child development, understanding the changes a developing fetus is going through, spending time around (and holding!) babies and looking for dads' or parents' meetings to start attending in pregnancy. "The more engagement during pregnancy, the better the involvement outcomes in the postpartum," says Fisher.

I wish we'd talked about the big picture of co-parenting.

"I think people can be great dads, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are great co-parents," says Jill Krause, creator of the popular blog Baby Rabies. Krause tells parents to "talk with your partner about what it is to be a co-parent versus what it is to be a mom or dad." And set up the expectation early that you will share not only the practical responsibilities of raising a tiny human (like who handles the inputs—food—and who handles the outputs—diapers) but the big decisions that come with being a parent.

"We talked about a birth plan, how we were going to diaper them, and where they were going to sleep." But Krause recommends thinking even bigger than that and talking about other issues you will eventually face in parenting, like managing social media, asking about firearms in the home before sending a child on a playdate, getting help if your kid needs it with school. Not that you have to answer those questions now, but by talking now, you are setting up your "team game plan" for sharing the small and the large aspects of parenting. "Talk about all the issues together so that it doesn't feel like one person is the boss and the other is the employee."

I wish we'd broken down responsibilities—in detail.

Fisher meets with parents before delivery to sort out who is going to do what in the days and weeks after birth. Making those kinds of decisions in the moment—when you're feeling overwhelmed and sleep deprived—is much harder. Fisher has folks come up with a plan of who will handle some of the early tasks, including making sure there are groceries and diapers in the home, bathing the baby, and putting him or her down to sleep. If one parent is breastfeeding, then the other can commit to picking the baby up when she starts to cry and bringing her to the breastfeeding parent along with a glass of water and a snack, for instance.

When sleep specialist Kathryn Lee, RN, was researching how to help new parents get better sleep, she actually had them sign a contract listing out which responsibilities they would each take on.

Whether or not you go the contract-writing route, putting to paper a brainstorm of all you will need to do and assigning responsibilities will make it so much easier to share the work when the time comes and also be a great reference when the inevitable arguments about who's working harder begin. And, of course, it will be a living document that changes as you learn more about what parenting actually entails.

I wish I'd given my partner ownership of more logistics from the start.

I really wish my husband and I had talked in detail about responsibilities so that he could have had ownership over certain aspects of parenting from the get-go. We have a general belief in equity, but I retained so much control over the logistics of parenting that I was usually asking for "help" and then having to turn over reams of information in order for him to follow through. We've begun to change that dynamic—ten years later. It's never too late, but starting early is way better!

In a piece in The Huffington Post a few years ago, the blogger M. Blazoned coined a term for this kind of the kind of parenting setup my husband and I inadvertently started off with: "The Default Parent."

"Default parents know the names of their kids' teachers, all of them. They fill out endless forms, including the 20-page legal document necessary to play a sport at school, requiring a blood oath not to sue when your kids [get] concussions, because they are going to get concussions. They listen to long, boring, intricate stories about gym games that make no sense. They spell words, constantly. They know how much wrapping paper there is in the house. The default parent doesn't have her own calendar, but one with everyone's events on it that makes her head hurt when she looks at it. They know a notary. They buy poster board in 10-packs. They've worked tirelessly to form a bond with the school receptionists. They know their kids' sizes, including shoes."

It's exhausting just to read that paragraph, let alone live it. Which is why I suggest taking some time now to consciously set up a real division of labor. Of course, it will change over time, as you each develop different interests and competencies in parenting and as the hours of your paying jobs ebb and flow. But by starting parenthood with a plan to truly share the tasks in those early weeks and months, you will be laying the groundwork for meaningful co-parenting down the road.

I wish we'd both agreed to let the other parent make decisions and mistakes.

Fisher encourages couples to work against the "default parent" set up by making sure both parents have a chance to carve their own path for taking care of the baby without micromanaging each other.

"If somebody feels incompetent or is criticized, they stop trying," says Fisher. "If every time the baby is crying, a dad hands off the baby, it sets up the expectation that mom is the one always solving problems," says Fisher. "I encourage couples to avoid that."

Krause puts a finer point on it: "It does nobody any good for a mom to take on a martyr role or play into stereotypes. You have to give the non-birth parent more credit, show that you trust them and believe they can do this. Allow them to make mistakes, because you're going to make them too, and the last thing you need to do is be at each other's throats when you do."

Here's what some very smart parents did to prepare for parenting together:

"We talked a lot about wanting it to be equal. I was up front about wanting to have the baby because I was pretty sure it was the only way our kid would like me—kids just always love my wife. We took turns getting up at night and still do. We take turns letting the other person sleep in on weekend mornings. We split the evening time so that one of us does pajamas and teeth brushing while the other does books and bed, and whoever puts her to bed gets her up in the morning."

—Amanda, Decatur, Georgia

"In the first few weeks, my husband was great about letting me sleep (bottle-feeding helped with that). We shared many of the responsibilities that come with a newborn. Once he went back to work and I was still on leave, things shifted more to me, which made sense, but the tension grew. My suggestion for new parents is figure out your agreement ahead of time. Are you going to take turns throughout the night? Do you get up Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and he takes Tuesday and Thursday? Does he get up with you? I feel like if we had done that, we would have saved a lot of energy."

—Amber, Indianapolis, Indiana

"Next time, I would devise a plan with my husband and delegate who was doing what. I would insist that he be in charge of some of the research and decisions. You look into how we should start solid foods. You decide how we introduce the dogs to the baby. You make a meal plan and cook for the week."

—Jamie, Atlanta, Georgia

This excerpt from STRONG AS A MOTHER: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood was first published June 2018; it has been updated.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

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Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

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With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

The Sill: Instagram-ready potted plants

We've long admired this female-founded brand and the brilliant mind behind it, Eliza Blank. (She even joined Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety on and episode of The Motherly Podcast!) The mission behind the business was simple: To make the process of bringing plants into your home as easy as possible, and as wonderful as the plant themselves. With their in-house, exclusively designed minimalist planters, the end result makes plant parenthood just a few clicks away.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

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You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

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