10 Things You Must Do Before You Have Children

There are things you owe it to yourself, not to mention to your marriage, to do before you have children.

4. Grow Up!

Evans and his wife waited seven years before having children. "We figured it was very important to get our own maturing needs squared away and get the bugs out of our relationship before bringing kids into the picture," he says. Of course, not all couples need to wait that long before having children, but regardless of how long you've known one another, it helps to have a sense of stability in your relationship — and in other aspects of your life — before starting a family. Katrina Blauvelt and her husband, David, also chose to wait seven years before having a child. Now in their thirties, the couple traveled, got their careers established and remodeled their old farmhouse in Marietta, Georgia, before trying to conceive. The proud parents of a four-month-old daughter, the Blauvelts are glad they can spend time with their baby — instead of retiling their bathroom.

5. Get Kid-Friendly Jobs

When she interviewed for her job as director of corporate communications at Philips Electronics, Blauvelt made sure she'd be traveling less than she did for her previous job. Smart move. Although most working parents manage to balance career and family, the reality is that climbing the corporate ladder often clashes with caring for a baby. Couples need to plan their careers so that during their children's early years at least one parent has some schedule flexibility and a job that does not routinely require lots of travel or 14-hour days.

Evans suggests exploring your company's family-friendly policies before you try to get pregnant. Find out about maternity and/or paternity leave, flex-time, and on-site day care, and whether the company is receptive to the needs of working mothers. Do the parents in your workplace get flack if they have to dash out for a soccer game or doctor appointment? Does the culture at your company truly place value on balancing work with childrearing, or do they only pay lip service to being family-friendly? If it's the latter, maybe it's time to start looking for a new job.

Think about your individual career priorities and goals, says Evans. "If you need to put career first right now, if family and children won't rate at the top once you become a parent, then maybe you're not really ready."

6. Agree on Your Parenting Philosophy

Trust me, the time to decide on your approach to discipline is not when you have a screaming toddler flailing about on the floor of the supermarket. Before you have a child, the two of you should talk about discipline, religion, values and other issues that involve the daily realities of raising children. For couples who wait a few years before having children, these issues often come up naturally, as you spend time with nieces and nephews or when you share stories about your own childhoods. But couples who plan to have children shortly after marriage might need to address the issues more formally, by reading parenting books or attending parenting classes.

"Better to talk about it than to learn, when your child misbehaves, that your spouse believes in spanking and you don't," says Evans.

7. Work Out Your Couple Conflicts

Nearly every couple quarrels, and everyone has bad days. But if the bad days outnumber the good, or there are major unresolved issues in your relationship, having a child will not improve the situation. Quite the contrary: The added stress and demands of parenthood will only magnify existing problems.

Children rarely "solve" problems between parents, says Tessina. "No relationship is perfect, but you need to be able to work things out as grownups, not as two kids fighting in a sandbox." Couples grappling with issues such as lack of trust, irresponsibility, rage, or alcohol or drug problems need to seek counseling before they consider bringing a child into the world, she says.

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