Do kids really change your life – and your relationship with your spouse – as much as some people claim they do? My spouse and I have been thinking about starting a family, but we're nervous about "taking the plunge." Are we worrying unnecessarily?
The short and simple answer is yes. Children will change your life – absolutely, definitely, positively. In the beginning it will be mostly a matter of interrupted schedules and loss of sleep. Later on you'll encounter the vexations and victories of potty training, discipline, and the first day at school. Before you know it, you'll be saving for college and giving up the new car and corporate ladder-climb for braces or soccer practice. Make no doubt about it: whether it's trading sushi for macaroni and cheese or driving to piano lessons for the five hundredth time, you can't help noticing some significant changes when kids come on the scene.
The more important question, though, is the one you didn't ask: are the changes worth it? Do the rewards of parenthood outweigh the costs and sacrifices? Here again we have to respond in the affirmative. Kids will change you, your spouse, and your marriage – that's inevitable. But they're also capable of adding a whole new dimension of joy and level of fulfillment you can't find anywhere else. So if you're assuming that the changes that come with parenthood are so unpleasant that you should abandon any childrearing plans, we'd encourage you to think again. Children are more than just an awesome responsibility and a tremendous blessing from God. They're also an opportunity to learn, grow, expand your horizons, and experience adventures you haven't yet dreamed about.
That's not to mention that there are some things you can do to cushion yourselves from the shock. You can start by being prepared to adjust your assumptions. From a certain perspective, this is just another way of saying that you need to be open – open to whatever God has in store for you. Let go of your need to be in control. For example, if you're planning to have a child but are under the illusion that the baby can simply tag along as you follow your usual schedule, you may need to re-evaluate. This may be a time when you'll have to give up some of your usual activities in order to provide the structure your small children need.
Another way to say this is that you need to be ready and willing to make sacrifices. The truth is that you'll lose some of your freedoms if you choose to be parents. If you and your spouse can't picture yourselves making sacrifices, this may not be the right time to have kids. It's one thing to be realistic about the price of parenting. It's something else entirely to resent your child because of the things you're required to give up for his or her sake. So if you're thinking of taking the parental plunge, move forward with your eyes wide open – remembering that most parents find the joys of parenting well worth the sacrifices of redirecting time, money, and energy into their children's lives.
While you're making these sacrifices and adjusting to these changes, don't forget to give your marriage the attention it needs and deserves. When kids come along, you'll have to work harder at keeping your relationship strong and healthy. You'll have to become intentional about connecting. In the process, just as your child grows through developmental stages, you'll grow as a couple. You'll still need outlets such as dating, socializing, and spending time with friends, but they'll probably assume a different form than in the past. If tight finances put movies and restaurants out of reach, try window-shopping, hiking, or coffee at the kitchen table. The important thing is that you're together – and that you don't spend the whole time talking about the baby.
Be prepared to lose sleep. During infancy, a child depends on you to meet every need, and for some parents that means getting up several times a night. During this stage of parenting both of you are likely to be sleep-deprived. So be ready to see each other at your worst. Since the wedding, you've probably started to see some self-centeredness in yourself and in your spouse. When the two of you are required to fill the stressful roles of full-time parents and spouses, these tendencies will probably surface more often. So keep your eyes open, and decide now to consider your spouse's needs as more important than your own (Philippians 2:3-4).
In the beginning, you can expect to feel torn and conflicted in a number of ways. But take heart: if you're courageous enough to tackle the challenge of raising kids, things will get easier – eventually. The demands of parenting change throughout a child's life span. As they get older, sleeping through the night may become more common. But there will still be interruptions: calls to help a little one go to the potty, calls from a first slumber party when your child wants to come home, calls from a date that's gone awry and requires you to pick your child up. Parenting will never be stress-free, but there's a deep satisfaction that comes from watching children grow and change, encouraging them to know and serve the Lord, and developing an adult-to-adult friendship with them.
Obviously, we can't touch on every aspect of this question in a brief response of this nature. Because of this, we'd like to offer an alternative. If you'd like to discuss your hopes, fears, apprehensions, and concerns about parenting with a member of our staff, we hope you'll feel free to give our counselors a call. They'd be more than happy to spend some time talking with you over the phone.
How Children Impact Married Life: Gary and Barb Rosberg discuss how a newborn affects a marriage and especially the sexual relationship.
Preparing to Start a Family