Deciding to have a baby is one of the biggest decisions you can make. Babies are wonderful! And they are a lot of work (understatement of the year). When babies join your family, there are many changes that come with them—some are amazing (brace yourself for that first smile, mama) while others are challenging (hello 2 am diaper changes). So whether you are just starting to think about getting pregnant or are well along in your pregnancy, it is always a good idea to start thinking ahead to your life as a parent. When it comes to parenting with a partner, considering what to talk about before having a baby can make a big difference.
We chatted with relationship experts to find out the most important topics to talk about as a couple before you embark on the biggest adventure of your lives: parenthood.
Here are 10 crucial questions to discuss before having a baby:
1. Why now?
There's no right or wrong answer, but it's essential to be on the same page about what you value, how you've already grown as a couple and why you both feel that it's baby time. (Psst: Is one of you on the fence about a baby? Check out our article about how to handle that discussion.)
2. How will this affect us as a couple?
Dr. Terri Orbuch, relationship expert and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great suggests that you talk about each of your expectations once the baby arrives, covering everything from dividing up responsibilities to how dynamics will change. Make sure you cover:
- Division of labor: Including changing diapers, waking up at night, caring for the child during the day, doing bath time, bedtime, etc.
- Finances: What will change? Will you create a new budget together? How will you save for your child's education and expenses? Be clear and upfront about this with one another.
- How your relationship will change: Adding a third person to your mix is going to make things a little different. But don't panic! Just be sure to discuss your hopes and fears together so you're on the same page.
3. How strong are we as a couple right now?
Ashley Davis Bush, psychotherapist and author of 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage, says, “You need to feel that things are working, that you are close, that you handle things well together." A baby won't make anything easier, so be sure you work on solidifying your relationship first and foremost.
“Often couples are feeling rocky and think that having a baby will bring them closer together," Davis Bush says. “Not true. Having a baby can be a stressor on the relationship, so you have to start strong. If you start weak, things will only get worse."
4. How do we want to parent?
Therapist Zach Brittle suggests discussing what being a parent means to you both. This might mean unpacking each of your childhoods a bit. What was great about them? What did you not like?
“We learn to parent from our parents. Some of us have a lot of gratitude and respect for our parents. Some of us don't have much at all," Brittle says. “It's important for both partners to expose their notions of parenthood to each other, and perhaps to do this over and over again as you learn more about it, so that you can define your own path rather than slip unconsciously into your parents' [paths]."
5. What will we do for childcare?
Marriage and family therapist Mary Kay Cocharo says this is a good time to start talking about who will work, and who might stay home, when the baby arrives. (It's okay to change your mind! Just start the conversation.)
“Today's couples have lots of choices but must also balance the demand of the increasing cost of living," Cocharo says. “Some couples want one parent to stay home and must either supplement their income from another source or make difficult cuts. Other couples want both parents to continue working but find the demands of career and children a difficult balancing act. Talking about this before baby makes three is an important step in planning."
- Are both parents going back to work? Will you hire an au pair or nanny? Ask the grandparents to take on a few days? Find a daycare center? Finding a situation you're both comfortable with is key.
- Is one parent going to stay home? If one parent is giving up their salary, discuss how you will make up for the loss in income. This financial shift will take some getting used to and you'll need to adjust your budget, so communicate with each other openly.
6. How will we discipline?
Marriage and family therapist Chrissy Powers, herself a mom of three, says discipline is a must-discuss item.
“Discipline is about so much more than just correction. We learned about discipline from our own parents, and as all married people know, each family is different. I wish that most people understood that discipline is more about the relationship with your child," she says. “My husband and I have had to get on the same page with this, but it's taken us four years to do so because we had different ideas of how to discipline. When bringing up the topic of discipline, I think a couple should discuss how they were disciplined as children and what they did and didn't like about it."
7. What religious beliefs or values do we want to pass on?
Do you want to raise your kids in one particular faith? What values do you hope your children embody in their own lives? How will you set an example for them? Does this mean attending religious services, or living according to your own moral guidelines in any particular way?
8. How will we make time for our relationship after the baby arrives?
Are you ready to add another person (aka an amazing little human) into your family?
Brittle explains, “When the baby comes, it will demand nearly all of your time and energy and love. This means you'll have less for your partner. That's just a fact. You'll need to be much more intentional about the time and energy and love that you do have available and use it to protect and nurture your friendship. It's easy for couples to grow distant without even noticing when they don't do this."
9. What if trying to conceive is challenging for us?
Remember that there are many ways to make a baby, so first and foremost, it's important to discuss which method will work best for you.
Next, Cocharo says couples should also discuss the possibility of not getting pregnant right away, and how that may feel. So questions like, “How would you feel if we were unable to conceive?" or “How do you feel about adoption or surrogacy?" are important to talk about.
“Infertility is a very stressful and challenging obstacle for many couples. Rather than silently hoping you'll be one of the lucky ones with no problems, discuss the importance of having children ahead of time," Cocharo says. “Ask each other about your openness to fertility treatments, as well as adoption or surrogacy. Assuming that your partner feels how you do, without discussion, is a recipe for disappointment and disaster down the road."
10. What do we want our future to look like?
It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of starting a family, but what do you want life to look like when your kids are grown? Do you dream of family vacations with one or two adult children, or Thanksgiving meals with a football team of kids gathered around?
“At some point—18 or so years after the baby arrives—the baby will leave. And the two of you will be free to make some choices," Brittle says.
“Don't wait to start dreaming about what you're going to do. Will you travel to Ireland? Buy a boat? Move to the mountains? Go back to work? It really doesn't matter what your dream is, but it matters that you have one. It'll help you keep your head up when the baby demands all your attention, and it'll give you vision for the future when you're overwhelmed by the present."
A version of this post was published April 22, 2021. It has been updated.