10 Things To Do Before You Have Kids

10 Things To Do Before You Have Kids

10 Things To Do Before You Have Kids

If you're a year or more away from becoming a parent, what can you do now, to set your life up for parenthood?

I talk to a lot of prospective parents both personally and professionally as a parenthood planner.

Recently, a couple who were thinking about adopting asked me what they should be doing now if they're just at the start of the adoption process and seeing it as a multi-year project.

Although adopting is different from non-adoptive parenthood, a lot of the advice applies to all parents.

Here are my top ten tips for anyone with a bit of time to spare before they have kids, if they want to make their experience of parenthood a good one.

1. Build community links

Build connections in your local community, however small. Lots of us live in neighbourhoods where we don't know many people. Perhaps you commute to your job, and spend most of your free time hanging out with friends who don't live locally.

Invest in connections in your own neighbourhood. Make friends with your neighbours, volunteer locally, and get to know local cafe owners and shop owners. Early parenthood can be lonely for those who don't have connections locally. Knowing friendly faces, and being able to have a chat with the locals, helps enormously when you are out and about with a young child, and you can get a head start on it now.

2. Sort out where you live

Do any big home renovations now, not later. It's unlikely that you'll have the energy and time to do renovations for the first 5 years after becoming a parent, and even if you do, it'll put pressure on you.

If you're thinking of moving house, or moving neighbourhood, do it before kids if you can. You'll have time to build links in your local community, and moving with kids is another complication you can do without.

3. Make career plans

If you're thinking of changing jobs or employers in the next 5 years, or if you aren't sure whether your job or employer will offer the flexibility you need as a parent, address this now.

Audit your workplace to understand what benefits they offer and what kinds of flexibility they will offer in the future.

Think about the flexibility of your work beyond the pre-school years (which, childcare-wise, can be relatively easy). Remember, your school-age children will need looking after before and after school and for the 25% of the year when they're on school holidays.

4. Research local childcare and schools

Research your local childcare options and primary schools.

It may seem early to do this, but some areas have severe childcare availability problems, or the forms of childcare open to you may not suit your working pattern.

And nobody wants to discover they're outside the catchment area of any school they're happy to send their child to. This may apply if you have special preferences for your child's education, like a Catholic school or even a non-religious school.

If you find you need to move house later, this is a big project when you've got kids, and you'll need to put down new roots in a new neighbourhood.

5. Plan your operating model

Every family has an operating model. This is about who does the paid work (and how much, and when?), who does the childcare and who does what at home.

You may have aspirations to share parenting equally, but if so, what would this look like in practice? Would you take turns to work full-time? Think beyond the first year. Once on a certain path, it is hard for many to change course. Many mothers feel trapped into making bigger and longer career sacrifices than they intended, because they started out doing much more of the childcare and domestic work, and didn't have a clear plan to change the model down the line.

Think about how you currently share the domestic load (and the mental load) in your relationship, and then imagine trebling that load. Who will do all the things and how will you divide up responsibilities? Put systems and processes in place now, when it's easier, so you get used to communicating effectively about domestic tasks.

6. Get introspective

Reflect on your own childhoods and share your thoughts with each other. How will you parent differently to your own parents, and what you will do that's the same? What was good and bad about your own childhoods? What are the differences between your experiences, and how will this affect how you will want to be parents? Many couples find that their views of the ideal family life are quite different, but talking about it now can ensure both of you get what you need and understand the other's perspective.

7. Invest in your relationship

Work on any resentments or difficulties in your relationship, before you become parents. Your relationship will be tested to the limit by parenthood.

Use the time before kids as a time to work through problems, but also to develop ways of communicating that will serve you well as parents. Practise working together on a joint project.

If you have aspirations to travel together, do so now. Your money will go a lot further before you are constrained to school holidays.

You may find that less exotic holidays are more realistic when you're parents, and you're more inclined to visit family - not least because they may give you some respite from childcare.

8. Get clear on your motivation

Get as clear as possible on your reasons to become parents. Write down your motivation so you can return to it later when things get difficult. When you're a parent, is easy to lose sight of the end goal and why you're doing this.

While you're at it, set your expectations at a realistic level. Learn enough to avoid idealising or catastrophising about parenthood. Get to know a range of other parents if you can. Expect parenthood to be difficult, and prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best.

9. Ask for help

Build your support network and get used to asking for help, by asking for help now. Find a local parent who could be your informal mentor. Go for coffee with them and listen to their problems as well as asking for their help and advice. No-one will know all about local childcare options like another local parent.

If you're not used to asking for help in life in general, it can be hard to ask when you need it. You'll need lots of help, so seek it out now, and don't be afraid to ask.

Be brave, and ask relatives or close friends how much, and in what ways, they can, and would, support you if you become a parent. You might be surprised that they want to help, but often people feel help is something they shouldn't proactively offer.

Sometimes, grandparents will offer to pay for something specific for your child - from music lessons to private education. Or you may find that someone in your family would be delighted to participate in regular childcare. You don't know unless you ask!

10. Work out the money

Create a financial plan that acknowledges that in the first few years, your income is likely to reduce while your expenditure is likely to increase. This means you're likely to need savings. How much depends on how much time you're likely to take off, and the expense of childcare.

If you can, make sure your planned expenditure doesn't require you both go back to full-time work. The more you can avoid over-stretching yourself financially, the more options you'll have to reduce working hours if your children need it. So often our children need us more than we think they will, and not just at a very young age.

Did you find this useful?

If you found these tips useful, you'll love The Parenthood Planning Journal, which asks these questions and more - all the big questions that you'll need to ask yourself before you become a parent, in fact. It's the best starting point for your parenthood planning journey, and everything else that I provide helps you to fill in the Journal.

The Parenthood Planning Journal

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