Common wisdom today is to wait several years after marriage to have kids. If you don’t, you’re breaking some unspoken rule that says children ruin young marriages. Both my parents and my husband’s parents waited six to eight years before settling down to have children… you should have seen all of their faces when we came to them, with news, our second year! They were totally adamant that “wise” couples wait until they are bored and own a house, to have kiddos. Didn’t we realize we were too young for this?
Almost seven years later, I understand their feelings better. I see that I am a much more mature person now and could have felt less intimidated if I’d waited until now to have my first baby. I understand the blessing that owning a house and having some savings has for a family (at the time, we had a grocery budget of $35/week!). I even understand that eight years into my marriage, I know my husband better and we’re a good team, so that maybe we could have had a couple less fights than we did when we were young parents.
BUT. Teaming up with my husband happened largely because of the kids. Moreover, kids change your marriage regardless of when you have them. I’m not sure that having more time under your belt prepares you for this. You’re still starting from zero, just at a later age. In fact, in some cases, starting late might be harder because your marriage is a significantly different entity than when it was younger. For me personally, it was easier to make changes in the beginning when we were starting up, figuring things out. When you’re younger, you’re still in construction mode, but when you’re older, you are largely in preservation mode (i.e. I have to preserve as much of my life when the baby comes, can’t let it destroy what I’ve got).
I share some these thoughts in another post about when you should have kids.
That said, for couples who are considering whether/when to have kids, here are some thoughts:
Kids make you consider how stable you are. When you’re married without children, you are basically free to take whatever risks you want. You can move to a new state, start school or a new career, invest or splurge financially, etc. When you have kids, your mindset changes from one of risk to one of security. Some inborn risk-takers will continue to brainstorm new trajectories as they raise children, but most parents (especially the moms) want to nest. This makes parents naturally examine their finances, housing, neighborhood, friends/relatives, and job plans in a new light. You don’t need to be upper middle class to raise kids! But the natural tendency when you bring a new person into the world is to make a stable environment.
Kids test your commitment to one another. You might have said “til death do us part” in your marriage vows, but once you have kids, the option to separate becomes even more remote than it might have been. That is because, as most people know, divorce is even more awful for kids than it is for parents. (Not to mention ridiculously expensive, especially for husbands). Even if there is no possibility of divorce, the strength of your commitment is tested in-house. All of a sudden, you and your mate are forced to ally with one another to raise a little cherub. It’s like being assigned a lab partner for the science experiment that NEVER finishes! And you have to decide, daily, if you are willing to team up with one another or if you’d rather fight against each other (or leave one another alone). Lots of parents divvy up their roles and never really learn teamwork at all—they create a system where as long as no-one steps on the other’s toes, everyone’s fine. But this may contribute to alienation after the kids leave home and sometimes bitterness over decisions that could have been made differently if both the parents had been involved and allied. I guess I’m saying, kids can make it harder to welcome your mate in the same way you did before because you’re often at odds, trying to balance each other out.
Kids interject something more important than you. Or your spouse, job, finances, health, etc. Overnight, a third party becomes the most important factor of your life. Even a little baby, which has no desire of its own, can reorient all the daily decisions of life such as if you take a shower that day, if you talk on the phone, if your husband comes home late, and where you will spend the holidays. I think most couples know this going into babyhood, but you can never be fully prepared for the total readjustment having kids will make. They change your glasses forever and they rocket your sense of responsibility in this world. Whereas you might have had lifestyle issues that were fine before, now everything is (and should be) under the microscope for whether it’s healthy for Junior to pick up. This can cause friction, resentment, and sometimes finger-pointing in a marriage. You have to agree what’s changeable and what’s not, and in what time and way to change things. Grace, grace.
Kids can divide Mom and Dad. Thinking of a typical two year old, it’s difficult to imagine that one day you’d be allying with him against your husband. But from the very beginning of babyhood, Mom is inundated with childraising literature and she has to start figuring out where she stands: is she going to have a natural childbirth, breastfeed, use organic foods, attachment parent… And it is easy for Dad to feel left out, or to feel punished for having an opinion. In all likelihood, he won’t care about most of the decisions but he’s likely to have an opinion on SOMETHING, and then the turf war begins. This kind of thing is common throughout early childhood when there are so many questions and ways to treat them, and then the more important parenting techniques come into play later which can also ally children either with Mom or Dad. I don’t need to belabor the point. The main thing is that you know from the outset that Dad is God’s partner for Mom to make it through this marathon. The secret that most large families learn quickly is that it is always MOM/DAD versus the CHILDREN. Disagreements must be worked out between the home team members if you are to win against the opponents.
Another way kids can divide Mom and Dad is more dangerous to your child’s emotional health and that is when Mom or Dad use one of the children to meet their adult needs. i.e. Dad gets affection from his child that he really wants from Mom, Mom gets validation from her child that she really wants from Dad. These are codependent patterns that will always rear their ugly heads later when the children grow up and everyone has to deal with the fallout.