I’m seeing pregnant bellies everywhere.
It’s likely not statistically significant. Truth is, I’m navigating my first Fall without a child at home – and I’m missing them. My self-prescribed antidote is to smile broadly at pregnant women I pass on the street and happily greet stroller-bound children at coffee shops. When my enthusiasm began to straddle the line between uber-friendly and creepy, I knew I needed another remedy.
So I turned my attention to all the folks on the very-front-end of the parenting journey and how they must be feeling.
Twenty-three years ago, when the nurses told me I could bring my first son home from the hospital, I distinctly remember thinking they were nuts. Why would they send this helpless infant home with us? Where was the instruction booklet? I sat in the back and gripped the car seat as my husband drove well under the speed limit. I trembled most of the way home.
Mine remains a fairly common experience. Most new parents feel some measure of anxiety, overwhelm and bewilderment. And it’s not all self-induced. New parents are inundated with parenting information (often contradictory), well-meaning advice (always unsolicited) — and even public admonition (never welcomed).
The best way to stay parenting-steady no matter who’s offering “help” is to establish your own values to parent by. To do this, you and your partner will need to have a conversation – most likely a series of them — on the values that will govern how you raise your kids.
Here’s an analogy: If you were married within any kind of religious tradition, you likely had to meet with a spiritual advisor to be sure you and your partner were aligned on the core values that impact marriage. You likely covered topics like religion, sex, money, kids, personal ambitions and goals. After all, who wants to find out after you’re married that you and your spouse have radically opposing expectations you can’t possibly reconcile?
Aligning around parenting values takes a similar approach. By reflecting on and discussing your core parenting values in key areas, you’ll have a baseline for a crucial discussion and, eventually, a blueprint by which you can raise your family.
Of course, aligning your parenting values isn’t foolproof – nor will you and your co-parent be in lock-step on every issue. Parenting is a joint responsibility, and each parent has different tolerances. But when it comes to the big issues – as the buckets below suggest – you at least need to be walking within the same guardrails.
Principles of healthy parenting have long been studied by psychologists and academicians, and much sound advice can be found online and in books. Doing a little research and reading might be helpful. But remember – this is your family, and so it is your opinions that count.
Caution: As you and your co-parent navigate the values conversation, be aware of your experiences as children. The natural default is to want to parent exactly like or nothing like the way you were raised. Be mindful of what you want to bring forward – and the issues you’ll likely need support around.
Here are some key values buckets and thought-starter questions to jumpstart this critical conversation.
Pregnancy and birth plan
· What if you discover your child has special needs in utero?
· How do you envision the birth process? Do you have a birth plan?
· Whose decision reigns if the birth mother changes her mind about the birth plan during labor? And who will advocate for her?
· In what ways will you prioritize the needs of your new family?
· Will in-laws have open-access to your home immediately after the birth and forever more?
· If you plan to use parents and relatives as babysitters, are there boundaries and rules they must agree to?
· Do your kids have to kiss or hug relatives if they aren’t comfortable?
· How will you respond to and support one another around family-of-origin triggers?
· What is your plan for handling divisive or intrusive complaints and/or recommendations by outsiders?
· Will you argue in front of the kids?
· How will you handle disagreements about parenting decisions?
· How will you decide on the division of household and childcare labor?
· Is there a parenting style you can both align on?
· What are your respective views on spanking?
· Are there cultural considerations to discuss?
Health / Lifestyle
· Breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding? How do you feel about formula?
· What are your positions on vaccinations?
· Will you feed your children only organic food?
· How much screen time is OK?
· What about digital safety and exposure? Will you freely post photos online?
· Do you have a position about gender-neutral clothing and toys?
· Does it matter to both of you? Neither of you?
· If only one parent cares to pass on a religious tradition, must the other parent be involved or at least outwardly supportive?
· Is religious education important?
· Public or private?
· If private, what financial plans do you need to make to secure that?
· Is it important that your children interact with kids of diverse cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds?
It’s a lot to consider, I know. And clearly this is not an exhaustive list. Yet for thoughtful and intentional parents like you…these are questions worth talking about to begin the dialogue to coalesce the couple as parents. Parents who will be sharing the most important job they will ever have.
This conversation will be dynamic and ongoing. You can’t know how you will react to the challenges that lie ahead, but if you start working now on being intentional parents governed by agreed-upon values you will be better prepared!