A friend recently asked me when do you know you are ready to have a baby, and my advice at the time was that there is likely no absolute 'right' time to have children, and that you sometimes just have to go for it, if it's something that you and your partner both want.
However, since then, I've thought about general readiness for babies, and whilst I still believe that there's no magic checklist that will tell you whether you are ready to have a child, there are likely a few things that you could consider.
Lots to plan for
1. Are you happy? I know that happiness exists in different shades, and it's not a pre-requisite to happy parenthood, however, if you're not currently happy in your life, then having a baby to fill the void or cover over holes in a relationship isn't a great idea. Babies, whilst beautiful little bundles of cuteness, can actually bring with them a world of stress, sleepless nights and unease. To undertake becoming a parent when you're already feeling below par, isn't for the fainthearted.
2. Stability Similar to the happiness debate, the need for stability of some nature can help swing it if you're contemplating starting a family. Is your relationship stable? Do you love your partner? Do you enjoy spending time with your partner sans kids? If the answer is no to any of these questions, you might want to question how bringing a child into the world will help or hinder your situation. Babies are wonderous things, but relationship savers they are not. If your relationship is on it's way downhill, then a baby may expedite its demise.
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3. Finances I saw a woman ask on a forum how much money you need to save up in order to have a baby, and the answers were far ranging. The fact is some couples have babies who have saved for years to ensure financial stability, and some couples decide to have babies who still have student loans, car loans and other debts. You just make it work, and you learn to live on more limited incomes. It is a prudent idea to save for a baby, and certainly if one or other of the parents intends to take a step away from their career, it is useful to have some money to fall back on. Budget planning can be a handy undertaking if you have concerns on how you'll survive on one income, where you can look for ways to cut back and save money.
4. Joint Decision Is the decision to start a family a joint one; a conclusion that both partners have committed to? If you're planning on starting a family, make sure you've thoroughly talked over the appropriate timing for both of you. If one partner would like to spend a further year working on getting a promotion, or finishing off studies, see if your timescale can be adjusted. Planning to have a family should be a joint decision and not one where one partner resents the new life being created.
5. Do you have the right skills to be a parent? It really doesn't matter whether you think you'll be a good mum or a good dad, as when the baby comes along, you just 'do'. Thankfully this is one occupation where on the job training comes in abundance, and you (and your baby) can learn as you go, through trial and (messy) errors. The best bit about learning the ropes on the fly as a parent is that your baby still thinks you are doing an awesome job and they'll give you lots of smiles and kisses in encouragement.