There's a saying that goes, "Begin as you mean to go on," and it's stuck with me ever since I became a mom.
Before I had kids, I would hear friends say, "I didn't intend to co-sleep—it just happened," or "I never wanted to be the go-to parent for everything, but I am.” And I took note because I didn’t want to be one of those parents who looked at her life and wondered how I got there.
When you’re an overwhelmed, exhausted new parent, it's easy to default to what everyone else is doing even if it’s not the best solution for you. The problem is, one day you end up saying, “This isn’t what I wanted!” and don't know how to change it. So before the baby comes —or while the baby is still young enough to adapt to change without too much fuss—think about these important parenting choices. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Sleeping is probably the biggest issue for new parents and it can cause huge issues once the baby is here and you’re trying to figure out how everyone in the house can get a decent night’s sleep. So decide now how you will handle the sleep routine. Where will the baby sleep? Will you co-sleep? If so, for how long? And how will you transition your toddler to his own bed when the time comes?
If you won’t co-sleep, what strategies will you use on those nights when you're super tired and have to get up with the baby every 90 minutes? Do you and your partner agree on a plan? If not, how are you going to negotiate the issue before it becomes an even bigger issue? Knowing what you will do before it happens will go a long way to helping everyone have more peaceful (and restful) nights.
“I’ll worry about it later" is how you end up with a 7-year-old sleeping in your bed every night. Which is fine if that was always your plan, but not so great if it’s an unfortunate result of not planning ahead.
Don’t be surprised if something you thought was a sure thing turns out to not be in your partner’s plan.
Division of Labor
A lot of parents intend to co-parent equally, but they never plan for it. The end result is someone (usually Mom) ends up feeling like they're carrying the childcare load solo, whether it’s taking on all of the nighttime feedings or being the one to take time off from work for sick days and doctors appointments. If you want to be equal partners in parenting, what are you going to do to make that work? What does that look like for your family? Will you both be working full-time? If not, how will you divide the parenting duties? If one of you will be staying home with baby, what are the expectations of the working parent?
Most importantly, when it comes to successfully dividing the parenting duties, are you willing to accept that your partner may not do things exactly like you? You don’t want to be the parent who says, six months from now, “How did I end up being the only one who knows how to wash the baby’s clothes/make the baby cereal/rock the baby to sleep?” Plan now for how you’re going to share those duties.
Family traditions and beliefs
From religion to family vacations to favorite holiday foods, these are the topics that most couples take for granted until they have a child. I knew my husband for nearly two decades before we had our oldest son, but having children added a new, mostly unexplored, layer to our relationship. Even if you and your partner have discussed your beliefs and have your family traditions in place, it’s still a good idea to have a few conversations before the baby is born to make sure you know what each of you wants.
Will you split holidays between your families? How do you want to handle religious instruction? Are you both on the same page regarding public school vs. private school? Do you plan to start a college fund? What about family vacations? Having a little person to raise can change your focus on what’s important and what you will need to compromise on. Don’t be surprised if something you thought was a sure thing turns out to not be in your partner’s plan.
Finally, the most important thing of all to think about: When to throw your decision out the window and try something else.
Look, the truth is that no matter how much you talk and how well-prepared you are, the arrival of a child in your life changes everything. And sometimes, despite your best laid plans, things don’t go exactly the way you intended. If your baby has colic, it might throw your sleep schedule out the window. If you need to go to a part-time work schedule because of childcare expenses, you might find the division of labor being closer to 70/30 than the 50/50 you planned. If you decide to move to be closer to family, your holidays and vacations may need to be re-evaluated.
Whatever the case, it’s almost certain that something you believed to be written in stone will have to be chiseled over and reconsidered.
And that's OK.
At the end of the day, when the house is quiet (and everyone is sleeping where they need to be sleeping), whatever works for your family is the right choice—even if you had to make a few changes along the way to get there.