In our society, we are given the illusion of control about many things. We can preprogram our coffee makers to have fresh coffee in the morning, watch close to 100 cable channels on TV 24 hours a day, and zap frozen food in the microwave for a 3-minute dinner. We tend to assume that we can apply this control to everything in our lives.
Unfortunately, many things do not work this way. Planning to have a family is one of them. You might have decided to wait two or three years before having a child, but became pregnant even when using birth control. Or you might be trying to become pregnant and are disappointed month after month.
But, within reason, it's important to think through when to start a family. While we hope you find the following ideas helpful, we caution you against thinking you can plan exactly when you will have a child. It's beyond your control!
While your own life does not stop in its tracks when you have children, it does slow down quite a bit. Infants are wonderful and beautiful creatures, but they are incredibly time-consuming. You will be exhausted from lack of sleep for many months. Your life will dramatically shift from going after your own goals to meeting the needs of your baby. By waiting to have children for a year or two, you might be able to complete something important to you and be in a better position to focus on your child.
Don't think there will be a perfect time to have children. Remember that there is no way you can reach all of your personal or financial goals before you start a family!
If you are completing a segment of your education or starting your own business, you might consider giving yourself some time to reach a reasonable goal. For instance, you might decide to get your Bachelor's degree before having children. If you have a vocational goal, such as getting a business off the ground, you might decide you need to be able to hire an employee to help before you have a child.
We are not suggesting that you wait until everything is perfectly settled before you start a family. You'll be waiting forever. But if there is some major, obtainable goal you can reach that won't take longer than a year or two, you might feel much better prepared to make the transition to being a parent.
Raising a child is expensive—from diapers and food to child care and education. If waiting a year would change your financial situation, the two of you might want to consider waiting. Maybe completing a degree in school would allow you to get a higher-paying job. Or maybe paying off your credit cards would let you start your family with money in the bank instead of with loans to pay off. It might allow one of you to stay home with the baby instead of working full-time just to pay your debt and child-care costs.
Don't let finances alone stop you from having children. Concern about finances may be a way for you to avoid the issue, rather than face the real reasons why you may be postponing becoming a parent.
Again, the answer is not to wait until you have a huge amount of money in an investment portfolio. Rather, it's to consider whether the two of you might enjoy a more favorable financial situation in a year or two. It might make the difference between always struggling to meet the monthly bills because you are still paying off your debt, and having a tight but reasonable budget that allows you to save for your future together.
There is, however, one major caveat to waiting for your finances to be settled before you have kids. Very few people ever feel that their finances are settled! Even people who have more money than they used to will find new ways to spend it or worry about how to manage it.
It's very important for the two of you to have a good working relationship before you start a family. Even though you will get a lot of joy from a child, you will also get a lot of new stress. The stronger your relationship with your spouse, the better parents you will be.