They say no one is ever really ready to become a parent, yet 80% of women will become mothers by the time they reach the age of 44, and as people are becoming more open and honest about the challenges of parenthood, I do think we can (and should) help future parents prepare for the road that lies ahead.
First, the stats speak volumes: 60% of couples with newborns will experience a dramatic drop in satisfaction with their partners. This is not surprising when you take into account the raging hormones involved for a woman, coupled with sleep deprivation for both, a complete upheaval to your family’s schedule and finances, as well as major changes to each person’s identity, the mom’s body, and the desire to be intimate. Simply stated, that first year can be overwhelming, and if you allow yourselves to become two ships passing in the night, don’t be surprised when someone ultimately decides to ship out.
Second, again relying on stats we see that 60% of children in the U.S. are now being born out of wedlock. While that does not necessarily mean that the parents are not together, they are certainly not bound by marital vows that provide married parents with varous legal protections and a little extra incentive to prevent things from unraveling when the going gets tough. Parents that ultimately wind up in separate homes are going to have to make a concerted effort to share time and shield their children from conflict. They will also have to bear the brunt of extra commuting and financial challenges that ultimately should be spelled out in a legal document to ensure the child’s welfare is protected.
Third, the average cost of raising a child in the U.S. through age 18 for a medium income house is now $245,000, not including college. That is pretty close to the average price of a house. There really is no sugar-coating this fact- kids are expensive, and as a result responsible parents need to be able to manage their finances carefully. You cannot provide a stable home without a stable financial picture, and if you want to teach kids about financial responsibility, you need to be able to practice what you preach.
Fourth, these are challenging times with very little guarantees in life. You have to be able to keep up with the changing times and be okay with change, so that you can teach your kids to adapt. The more you can roll with unexpected events, like a kid getting sick at the last minute or school being canceled, the more you can show your child that a key life skill is to embrace the unpredictable nature of life.
Fifth, how clear are you about your own mission, vision and values? As a parent, you will have to face your own past and decide what you want to replicate versus what you want to do differently for your own children. As you take on the mission of raising a child, you will be forced to think about the values you want to impart on them. The more insight you have into yourself, your values, what makes you tick, the more prepared you will be as those tough questions start to come up.
It may seem overwhelming to think this is what it takes to be a parent, but the reality is none of us have it all worked out when we take that plunge. You learn as you go, and along the way you somehow develop the ability to not worry too much about the long-term future and instead focus on enjoying each little milestone and celebrating each achievement as it happens. Miraculously, you come to truly appreciate that self-sacrifice is an integral part of love, and that perhaps the best rewards are not in fact tangible or public, but rather something as simple as the knowledge that today you made a child’s life just a little bit easier or more enjoyable.
In my own case, I made the decision to end my first marriage shortly after my son’s first birthday. As a result, I have had to share custody the last 10 years and suffer the consequence of not seeing him every day or being there for every night that the Tooth Fairy, Santa or the Easter Bunny came to visit. Being a single mom has proven to be very difficult at times both financially and emotionally, especially in the DC Area which is a very expensive city full of career-driven people that do not necessarily value work-life balance. Many here live to work, some just work to live, but either way balance is rarely part of the equation. It takes a real effort to not make that your reality, but in the end I think most parents will find the effort is all worth it when you consider the immense joy, wisdom, and above all unconditional love children bring to our lives.
Parenthood is certainly not for the faint of heart, but it is by far the most rewarding experience life has to offer. The key question is how badly do you want it, because there is no point in making a half-hearted attempt. You are either all in or not. After you have that answer, you can figure out the rest as you go along just as all our ancestors have done since the beginning of mankind.
By Regina A. DeMeo