Whether you’re dreaming of cute little fingers and toes or you’re just deciding which birth control method works best for you, family planning conversations are an important part of a long-term relationship.
This is true for those who don’t want children, those who want a houseful, and those who already have children and are deciding if — and when — they want more.
Knowing when to have the baby talk and what questions to ask plays a significant role in how these conversations end up going.
To help kick-start this process, we gathered input from a few experts and parents about how to bring up the subject of family planning and what to do if you and your partner aren’t on the same page.
How you start the conversation is often just as important as what you say. That’s why creating a safe space for honest communication is a critical first step.
“Talking about family planning requires a safe space, where both partners can be heard and understood, even if they’re not on the same page,” says Sarah Hubbell, MAS-MFT, LAMFT, the founder of Central Counseling.
This can be as simple as asking if it’s a good time to discuss something important prior to launching in.
To begin the family planning conversation, Hubbell suggests letting one partner have the floor, so they can share their perspective and needs. (“I” statements are best! Try starting your sentences with phrases like “I feel…” or “I worry…”)
“You can communicate understanding by validating your partner’s perspective, even if it’s not your own,” Hubbell says.
For example, you might say, “It makes sense to me that you would feel that way, because…” Then, switch roles and let the other partner take a turn listening and validating.
If you have a hunch you’re not on the same page as your partner, Hubbell says to set realistic expectations from the start.
“The goal of the conversation should be less about making this big decision right away and more about making sure you and your partner both feel seen and understood,” she says.
Brandon Eddy, PhD, an assistant professor in the Couple and Family Therapy Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says to keep in mind that there are many legitimate reasons for not wanting children or not feeling ready to start a family.
“Many fear they will lose their freedom, others have fears they will not be a good parent, and some may just want more time as a couple before having children,” he explains.
That’s why couples must take the time to listen to one another’s fears about parenthood.
Ideally, Eddy says, family planning should be a conversation as the relationship becomes more serious. “Imagine being in a marriage or long-term relationship, and you bring up the topic of having children only to find out that your partner doesn’t want children.”
Being open and honest early on helps couples stay on the same page as the relationship progresses.
If you’re having trouble with the family planning conversation or navigating the transition to parenthood, Eddy recommends couples counseling.
“This is an exciting but difficult time for couples, and having a therapist guide some of these conversations can be extremely helpful,” he says.
Before sitting down, take some time to brainstorm questions and topics you want to discuss with your partner.
If you’re unsure where to start or what to ask, Meagan Prost, LPCC-S, BC-TMH, the founder of Center for Heart Intelligence, recommends the following questions:
- What are your views about having children?
- How strong is your position about this?
- How much money is “enough” to have a child?
- What feelings do you have about genetic testing, abortion, and birthing techniques?
- What’s important when you consider being a parent? Are there any special moments that would mean a lot to you?
- What aspects of child care are important to you? How about schooling: public, private, or homeschooling?
- How will we keep our romance alive after a baby?
- How will we balance work and life?
- How would you like to handle holidays and other celebrations?
- How would we want to handle religion or spirituality, if at all?
These questions may help open up a conversation about family planning.
And if you decide you’re both committed to having kids, it’s time to take a deep dive into more common topics that surface during these conversations.
Babyproofing your relationship
Before a baby enters the picture, Hubbell recommends discussing strategies to prioritize your relationship amid the changes.
“Couples of young children have to be extra-intentional about setting aside time for each other. Once a cooing little one enters the picture, a lot of attention understandably gets redirected,” she explains.
Creating a shared vision of the future
It might seem like light-years away, but discussing a shared vision for your family’s future is a critical step in the family planning process.
One simple exercise to try: Write a list of the steps you want to take now to prepare for the future you envision.
“Discipline, religion, and child care are all areas that trigger strong emotional responses,” Hubbell says.
To avoid surprises down the road, she says it’s helpful to have these topics on the table from the get-go.
OK, there will definitely be time to discuss all the nitty-gritty details.
But Hubbell says getting on the same page about how household chores will be divvied up once a baby enters the picture can prevent a future of unmet expectations.
One question each partner should ask themselves (and each other) is: “How strong does our relationship feel today?”
Hubbell says couples in crisis sometimes conceive a child in the hopes it will bring them closer together or restore brokenness.
If this is where you’re at in your relationship, Hubbell recommends considering premarital or couples therapy to begin strengthening your bond before starting a family.
“Babies can add fulfillment and joy, but they can also add stress to an already fractured relationship. So you’ll help yourselves if you work to solidify your foundation before bringing home baby,” she adds.
For more questions and topic ideas, Prost suggests using cards from the 52 Questions Before Baby Card Deck from The Gottman Institute.
Sometimes, the family planning conversations that happened before having a child no longer hold the same weight as they did when you’re deep in the parenting trenches.
You may find that you and your partner no longer see eye to eye.
Occasionally, the reality of parenting little ones, working, and tackling all the other responsibilities of adulthood can change one — or both — partners’ thoughts on what the ideal family looks like for them.
If you and your partner are no longer on the same page, what can you do?
Much of the same advice applies. Make an effort to communicate by truly listening to the other person’s feelings. Share your own feelings using “I” statements.
And if the conversation stalls, counseling may help you navigate tricky ground.
Questions to consider when deciding whether to have more children include:
- What are our reasons for having (or not having) another child?
- Are we financially ready for another child?
- How will this impact my career or my partner’s career?
- How will having another child impact our current child(ren)?
- Are there health risks and costs involved in another pregnancy? (This may include things like IVF, adoption, or surrogacy.)
- Are we comfortable with our plans for child care with more children?
- How healthy is our current family dynamic and relationship?
- Is the timing right for our needs?
- Are we not ready now or not ready ever again?
Taking the time to truly listen to one another can help you address the fears, hopes, and feelings that go along with these decisions.
Consider current challenges
Think about the things that are a source of daily challenge right now.
Is there a fair division of responsibility when it comes to chores, child care, emotional labor, and more? Do you agree when it comes to disciplining your toddler? Are you still waiting for your little one to sleep through the night?
Avoid outside pressure
The decision about having more children is personal, but that doesn’t stop others from making their thoughts known.
Whether it’s feeling like the only parent at preschool who isn’t expecting baby number two or dealing with comments about your biological clock, the pressure to make a decision about future children doesn’t stop after having a baby.
When talking about your family, try to remember that what’s right for others, including your in-laws and friends, isn’t necessarily what’s right for you.
Give yourself time
Maybe you always imagined being a young parent, or maybe you’re a few years older and feel like this is your only shot.
Whatever the situation, it can feel like this decision had to happen yesterday, and it can be a source of stress.
Remember that you can make your own timeline. No matter if that means revisiting the topic in a few months or a few years, it’s OK to go with your gut.
If you need time, find a birth control option that works for your timeline, if necessary, and give yourself a break from thinking about babies for a bit.
When you’re exploring new territory, it’s always nice to have advice from parents who’ve been there and done that.
Not only does it help give you perspective on the process, but it also lets you know that you’re not alone.
For Marissa Labuz, a pediatric occupational therapist in New Jersey, the founder of Just Simply Mom, and a parent of two toddlers, the family planning conversation with her spouse was brought up early on in their dating life.
“We started dating around 30 years old, so I felt that it was important to find out if we were both on the same page about our family goals,” Labuz says.
“Luckily, our goals did align. It was something that I was happy we brought up early, so we knew that we could move forward in our relationship,” she adds.
But for couples not on the same page, Labuz feels strongly that family planning is not something that can be forced on one another. “Forcing your partner to align with your family goals is a mistake that will only hurt your relationship,” she says.
It should be an open conversation early on. But if both partners don’t want the same things, Labuz says, it may be a huge obstacle to overcome without someone feeling manipulated.
That’s why it’s critical to talk openly about what you want. The earlier you talk about it, the better.
For Robert Johnson, founder of Sawinery in Connecticut, the conversation he had with his spouse before getting married allowed them to share their thoughts about the pros and cons of family planning.
They tried to cover all the bases, writing down how many children they hoped to have and how they hoped to space them apart.
They also covered the important topic of how to avoid pregnancy during the times when a pregnancy wasn’t desired.
And when their opinions differed, Johnson says they compared notes on the pros and cons and discussed their preferences.
When it came time to start a family, Johnson says the timeline they initially discussed wasn’t followed, which caused severe stress at first. But they learned how to manage it in the long run.
Johnson’s advice for other couples is to be patient with each other.
“Talk about the number of kids you each want to have, how far apart to space them, and birth control methods — which both partners are responsible for,” he says.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. The key is finding common ground with your partner on the right size for your family.
This may involve some challenging conversations. Approaching these talks with an open mind and truly listening to your partner can help you to communicate more effectively.
Whether you can’t wait for a house full of kids or you’re thinking about getting on birth control and revisiting the topic in a few years, talking through your choices with your partner is the first step in planning your future.