I got an e-mail from a good friend asking for parenting questions she and her husband can discuss as they look toward starting their family. Hmmm....
My daughter is 20 months old. What have I learned in the past 20 months that would have been useful to discuss beforehand?
Conception. How many children will you have? How many months/years do you plan to have between them? Do you want to try for a specific gender? If so, would you be disappointed if a child was not the gender you were hoping for? Do you want to try for a particular time of year to have the baby? If so, would you be disappointed if the child was born another time?
Finances. How will prenatal visits and birth be paid for? Are you willing to choose a health care provider outside of your insurance plan? What health insurance will you have for the baby? Will you purchase life insurance (for yourselves or the child)? Do you have a will? Would a future change in financial circumstances alter your plans for how many children you will have? When you'll plan to have them?
Pregnancy. How will you choose a health care provider? Who will go to prenatal visits? Do you plan to have "all the usual" tests and scans or will you pick and choose what you are willing to do? Will you find out the sex of the baby before birth? If so, will you share that information with friends and family? All of them or just a select few? Do you plan to name the child before birth? If not, what will you call the baby in utero?
Birth. Do you want to have natural childbirth? If so, would you be willing to consider pain meds? Under what circumstances? What about induction? C-section? Pitocin? Do you want to practice a specific method of childbirth? If you don't get the birth experience you were looking for, will a healthy baby be considered a successful outcome of your birth? Are you planning to birth at home or in the hospital? What do you want available to you during labor (e.g., birthing ball, birthing tub, heating pad, food/water)? Who is invited to the birth? Who will catch the baby? Who will cut the cord? Will cord cutting be delayed or immediate? If immediate, will you bank the cord blood (privately or publicly)?
Health. Will your child be vaccinated? If so, will it be immediate or will you delay vax one or more years? Will you decline any standard newborn procedures? If you have a boy, will he be circumcised? Who will your pediatrician be?
Paraphernalia. Do you plan to wear your baby? If so, in what sort of carrier? What is important to you in a carseat? If you plan to use one, what features do you want in a crib? A cradle? A stroller? A play yard? Will you offer your child a pacifier?
Feeding. Will the baby be breastfed or formula fed? If you are planning to breastfeed, what will you do if there are problems (e.g., low milk supply, prescription medication use)? Do you plan to start solid foods at a particular age or are you planning to wait for developmental cues from the baby? Do you have a plan to watch for food allergies while breastfeeding or introducing solids?
Diapers. Will you use cloth or disposable diapers? Would you consider "elimination communication" (a.k.a. diaperless baby)? What sort of diaper pail/trash bin will you use?
Sleep. Where will the baby sleep? If not in your bed, who will get up overnight? Will you rock your child to sleep or practice the Ferber method (or some other version of "crying it out")?
Scheduling. Are you planning to schedule feedings, naps, etc. or will you follow the baby's lead? If you won't be scheduling from the start, would you want to schedule at a later age/stage of development?
Discipline. What is your philosophy of discipline? How do you enforce boundaries? Do you simply tell a child "no" or do you couch no in positive terms? Do you believe in spanking? If so, under what circumstances?
Marital Issues. To what extent will you encourage or limit displays of affection in front of your children? Will you argue with your children present? If so, will you finish the fight/make up in front of them? How familiar are you with each other's moods and behavior when you are exhausted/stressed out/overwhelmed? What is your plan to schedule or continue a regular date night?
Community. Who can you call with questions? In the middle of the night? To help with household chores? When you need a break? What sort of relationship do you want your children to have with your extended family? Your friends? What will they call grandparents? Other adults? Will you schedule regular playdates/playgroup times? Who will be your child's godparents?
Childcare. Who will take care of the baby when you are not there? Will you pay for childcare or arrange swapping with friends/other parents? Will you both be working during the day or will you arrange your schedules to make sure one of you is home? How will you share expectations of routine/philosophy/discipline with other caregivers? What will you do if your expectations are not met?
School. Do you plan to homeschool or will your children attend public or private schools? What will you do to foster your children's faith and religious training?
Unfortunate Circumstances. What would you do in case of miscarriage? Stillbirth? What if your child has a disfiguration or disability? Are you familiar with the symptoms of post-partum depression? Do you have an action plan in case of PPD? Who would take care of the children in case of your untimely demise?
Follow up. At what point will you review your decisions? Which of the above are non-negotiable? How will you deal with family/friends/strangers who disagree with your parenting choices?
Good luck in your discussions! Just as in marriage, much of parenthood is simply on the job training. You can't prepare for all of it. My advice to you is have some firm decisions made, but be aware that your opinions can change as your circumstances do. Keep an open mind to your other options. You have to do what is best for your family.
Oh, and put me on that list for babysitting. We owe you!