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It's hard to imagine a more difficult life decision than deciding to be a parent.

How do you know if you're ready to be a parent?

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I vote to close this question. It is way too broad and way too subjective. The question can be answered in too many ways: biologically capable, physically capable, financially ready, intellectually capable, socially prepared, etc. Even then, each of those could have several interpretations and subjective answers based on the individual, culture, age, etc. On top of that, a meaningful answer would have to respond to too many situations such as multiples (twins/triplets), mental retardation, autism, child genius, etc. –  Javid Jamae Apr 11 '11 at 2:15
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@javid I tend to agree but the responses so far are reasonable. Let's make it all community wiki from inception and monitor it. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 11 '11 at 5:46
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I believe the fact that your are asking is grounds enough to say you are ready. Consider the millions who do not consider if they are ready to have kids and leave the rest of us wishing they had. –  Michael Eakins May 18 '11 at 19:52
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I'm surprised few people have mentioned finances. That's one of the biggest reasons I am waiting. Babies (of all ages) are expensive! –  Christine Gordon Nov 22 '12 at 16:55
    
I've removed the Community Wiki status from this post, and all answers. This does not fit the mold for what Community Wiki posts should represent, and therefore was a broken window. –  Beofett Jul 5 '13 at 13:49
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14 Answers

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Well, I usually say this:

  • Do you want to have kids?
  • Have you found someone to have them with?

Then go for it. Ready or not.

When it comes to knowing if you are ready I think that may be very personal. If you take, personality wise, after your mom or dad, ask them. As a generic list I'd have the following points, but I'm not that sure they really are universal:

  • Do you feel like turning your life completely upside down? It's not turning a new leaf, it's a completely new book.
  • Are you OK with giving up the wild partying? (You can still do some non-wild partying, there are baby-sitters and family reunions.)
  • Can you keep yourself at least somewhat together even when you haven't slept properly for days?
  • Are you OK with exchanging your freedom and ego for smiles and hugs?
  • Are you OK to always worry, day and night, for the rest of your life?
  • Can you reach a state of Zen-like tranquility and patience while having blaring sirens in your ear and people bopping you on the head with toys? Or at least abstain from screaming and hitting someone?

Then you are more then ready. And if you aren't, you will be quite quickly.

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great questions :) –  leora Apr 10 '11 at 15:06
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+1, good answer. I'd suggest adding: "Are you prepared to put the welfare of someone too small and helpless to contribute back to the welfare of the family ahead of your own, no matter what happens?" and "are you prepared to be an unwavering source of love and stability, regardless of what is going on in your life?" -- These are where I see people most often fall down; it's easy enough to be a good parent when you have enough food on the table, you like your boss, and you haven't argued with your spouse in a while -- the real measure of a parent is what they do when things are otherwise. –  HedgeMage Apr 12 '11 at 15:02
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Also, not included in that list is "can you afford to pay $Y hundred/thousand per month for daycare?" Find out how much daycare costs, and try to fit that into your budget. If you want more than one child, multiply that by two - by the time the 3rd kid is ready for daycare, your first is likely to be in school. –  Ernie May 17 '11 at 20:02
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Nobody is ever really ready to become a parent, even when they become one.

That being said, there are any number of criteria that people use to weigh in the decision of whether they want to have a child. Financial, religious, emotional, mental and many other considerations need to be part of the decision to start trying to have a baby.

Having a baby is not something to be taken lightly. It's possibly the hardest, yet at the same time most rewarding thing I've ever done. But if you feel that you're ready to add a new dynamic to your life, if you enjoy being around children, and you want the ultimate in creating something that will take life beyond your own, then you may be as ready as you'll ever get until the baby comes.

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I propose that nature takes the "choice" of having a baby pretty darn lightly. In our society that makes it increasingly difficult to support children (through real estate costs, for example) however, the more successful parents are typically those with fewer children. –  Ernie May 17 '11 at 23:36
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Actually, there is a formal process which attempts to answer this question objectively.

When you wish to adopt (and especially if you don't yet have any children) your adoption social worker will spend about six months with you and will try to measure how ready you are to take the leap into parenthood. This list might prove useful even to those planning their own children naturally.

He or she will explore:

  • The strength and duration of your relationship (assuming you are a couple) and whether or not you can show that you have survived tough times and worked together to overcome setbacks

  • To what extent there are children in your life already, friends' children, nieces, nephews, and whether you already willingly spend time with those children

  • How good your support network is, friends, family etc. You are going to need that support network!

  • If you both work, er, what you plan to do about that, when junior appears

  • If your house or flat is suitable for children

  • Your health (and age) - you should be able to show that there's a good prospect you will not be too ill or too dead to parent them through 18 years

  • They will ask what your experiences of being parented were, and what you might plan to do the same as your parents, and what you might do differently

  • They will ask at least two of your friends (confidentially, and without you present) how ready they think you are

Obviously this is quite a demanding list, but rightly so! Parenting is a hard old thing to do. Also, you are not expected to demonstrate you can satisfy every requirement to the absolute maximum, but it's a good set of questions to consider.

There are other issues he or she will explore with you concerning adoption itself which I haven't listed, because they're not relevant to this question. Also, the process may vary in other countries. This is based on the UK adoption process.

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When you start asking yourself questions like "Am I ready to be a parent?", then you probably are ready to be a parent, or at least, as ready as any other first time parent. Having kids is really, really weird. Seriously, its not like anything you've ever done before. So it's not something you can get ready for, emotionally.

Do your books, though, and check your insurance out. You can sort of prepare practically. People will give you a lot of the stuff you need (clothes and what not) but formula, bottles, diapers... that all adds up. But people do pay for it. So as long as you are solvent and feel comfortable with your employment situation, you're probably as ready as you're going to get financially as well.

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+1 for good advice, though I do not think that one cannot get ready for it emotionally. Having a very good imagination, keenly observing other new parents, and having experience with considerably younger people (e.g. younger siblings, babysitting for friends, etc.) all can help considerably. One should, however, be prepared to feel emotionally unprepared, given how many people report feeling unprepared. –  Rex Kerr Apr 11 '11 at 3:31
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When the pregnancy test comes back positive?

If, on the other hand, you've been actively and successfully avoiding parenthood until now, you're ready to have children when (in order of importance):

  1. You're in a stable relationship that doesn't involve copious and regular screaming and throwing of things. Social and sexual compatibility are likewise extremely important.

  2. You're not taking any drugs for any mental disorder, especially but not exclusively depression. Being bipolar is likewise really not good when having kids. Post-partum depression can affect both mom and dad, so be aware of this problem with both parents.

  3. You're not living in a 600 square foot open-concept apartment (no, really. Bad idea). Likewise, you're not moving out of one within weeks of your due date (figured this one out the hard way). Move, then get pregnant. You won't miss that level of stress.

  4. You can afford both daycare and groceries. Go ahead and find out how much that costs now. Don't worry, I'll wait. Shocking, isn't it?

  5. You don't mind losing half your friends and 3/4 of your social life. This one is optional (I mean, you can still mind losing them), but will happen anyway.

If you qualify on all five points, then you're almost ready to be thrown to the shark tank and may even be likely to survive the first three years or so. After that, it's almost easy.

People have also been known to survive when they don't qualify for two or more items, as long as they aren't both of the first two. Those sometimes (possibly even often) end in murder-suicide and newspaper stories that include the question "How could anyone kill a little baby?" Divorce before children is a much better option, believe me.

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I like your writing style. To your point 1) I would add that the relationship should share the same financial philosophy. It doesn't matter if both are savers or both are spenders, as long as they agree with each other. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 18 '11 at 19:08
    
@torbengb: That causes regular screaming and throwing things too, doesn't it? –  Ernie May 18 '11 at 23:33
    
I guess that depends on how the involved parties handle the conflict. Here is a resource that discusses this. That blog touches on the subject regularly; see also here and here. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 19 '11 at 5:55
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This is a really hard question to answer because the answer is somewhat subjective, and ultimately does not determine whether someone becomes a parent or not. A lot of people don't know whether they're ready or not, and then they just go and have kids anyway. If you want to become a parent in a conscious way, I think you evaluate your financial status, your emotional readiness, and your relationship with your partner, assuming you have one.

Ideally, you have run some numbers on whether you can afford to take care of a child (it's not cheap). Also, you have a reasonable belief that you're a pretty emotionally secure person: as a parent, you're going to have to neglect yourself for a few years. Finally, it's a lot easier to become a parent with a committed partner who will support you than it is to do so alone.

All that being said, at some point, if you want to become a parent, you just have to take a leap of faith and go for it. The experience is so profound that it changes you as a person. You will probably find out that parenting is both harder and more rewarding than you expected. The most important part of being a parent is loving, sheltering, and caring for a small human until he or she grows up.

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You don't know. You'll never know. No matter how much you prepare yourself, no matter what books you've read, no matter how much you've talked about, no matter how much you've prepared, nothing will ever be the same again. Everything changes, everything.

If you can borrow some for a week, or more, do so. A day is nothing, 3 days is getting there, but you'll only ever really know how much work they are, if you get some for at least a week. It is, without doubt, the best thing that has ever happened to my life, but you will really never know if you are ready, if you haven't seen how it is.

So either offer to look after your brothers/sisters/best friends young kids for a fortnight or so, or just have them. You'll never look back you'll also quickly forget what life was like before them. You will work so hard.

I have controlled 9 digit budgets, and never felt the pressure I do, to make sure my kids are raised properly; nothing will keep me awake more at night wondering if I have made the right decision for them; nothing dents my emotions more than knowing I have been too hard on them, and nothing, nothing in the world will ever mess with your emotions more. I cried once, in front of my eldest's teacher when she praised her very, very highly as a person; it really does mess with you.

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Borrowing a kid is an interesting idea. I think even a week is not enough though to really understand the responsibility, the investment, and the "returns" on that investment :-) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 22 '12 at 15:31
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I very much like Lennart Regebro's answer.

There is also a consideration as to whether you and your partner would prefer to have your child early, or later in life. Of course, this consideration may be moot depending upon when you and your partner find each other; my wife and I didn't marry until our late 30's, so obviously having a child together in our 20's was not an option, but this will be an option for many other people.

Choosing to have a child early (typically somewhere in the 20's or early 30's) has the potential advantages of finding more new parents in your age range (for example, in the U.S., in 2008, the average age of first-time mothers was 25.1. Being closer to the average age range for parents means that as your child grows, you have an increased chance of finding that your child's friends have parents of similar ages to your own. For some, this may make it easier to find social opportunities with other parents that facilitate "playdates".

Surprisingly, having a child early doesn't necessarily mean that there's a reduced risk of complications. Mothers in their 20's, 30's, and 40's all have their own potential complications, ranging from a higher incidence of low birth-weight with younger mothers, to higher incidences of chromosomal abnormalities and miscarriages with older mothers.

Having a child later may mean you bring a certain amount of increased maturity and experience to the table, which can be hard to quantify, but can certainly be of great benefit, both to your child and your own peace of mind!.

I recently read a personal finance blog entry that reminded me of this question, and which addresses an aspect of the decision making process that I don't feel is adequately represented by any of the other answers.

In addition to the personal responsibility and maturity that should be essential criteria for parenting (second in importance only to a strong desire to become utterly responsible for a new life!), financial responsibility is an important consideration.

Raising children is not cheap.

In most cases, you are either going to have to sacrifice the income of one person, or pay for daycare, for at least a few years. You may even wind up with a combination of both.

In addition to the solid advice of "Don't have children unless you're [both] absolutely sure about it", the blog advises two main financial criteria to consider:

I would use your debt situation as a primary factor in figuring out when to have children. The larger your debt load is, the harder it’s going to be to manage the expenses of having a child, because that child is likely going to introduce a new large monthly bill (child care) and add to your other expenses as well (diapers, clothing, etc.).

How much debt is too much debt for this? You’re likely to hear all kinds of arguments, but I would be wary about having a child if my monthly housing bill is more than 30% of my income and if my other debts take up more than 10% of my monthly income.

If you’re dropping more than 40% of your income into housing (whether renting or a mortgage payment) and other debts, you’re walking a financial tightrope, one that is going to be made far more treacherous with a child involved.

and secondly:

Perhaps even more important than the debt load is your own ability to spend less than you earn.

The debt load is a major concern because it might put you in a difficult position if your job situation changes. On the other hand, if you’re currently struggling to spend less than you earn without a child, it will be far more of a struggle with a child because you’re adding a lot of expenses and stress.

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If you have reached puberty, have a willing partner of the opposite sex ( I'm assuming you are trying to conceive), you have an adequate supply of clean running water, enough food during all seasons, are able to make a fire to keep warm in winter, have a shelter that will protect you from the elements and are confident that as a family have a good chance to protect your new family member from predatory or dangerous animals, you are ready.

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Do you like playing with kids? Do think about parenthood and you like it?

IF both answers are "yes" - you're ready.

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When you are ready to start devoting the time to learning how to be a good parent. Parenting is a hard job. Hard in both senses of the word. It is both tiring physically as well as difficult mentally and emotionally. A lot of people put forth no effort to read or learn anything about being a parent and just do what their parents did, even though most of us have at least some issues (if not whole subscriptions) with the way our parents raised us. So my advice to you is this: If you want to know if you are ready to be a parent, start reading books on parenting. Then you will know, or at least have some idea, of whether or not you are up to the task of being a good parent.

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When I decided to have a child, I was already old enough to handle the responsibility. I was 28 when I had my baby, and at that age, I felt that I am financially prepared to support my child. I was also emotionally and mentally prepared for parenthood, as well. I did enjoy my single life, and the time comes when I felt that I want to settle and have a family.

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  1. Have kids.
  2. Get to know if you're ready as the kids grow.
  3. Don't wait to become a wise sage before have kids, because you probably won't.
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-1 for immoral advice: if the answer to 2 is "no", you could end up doing a horrible disservice to those kids. A parent ought to do better than that. –  Rex Kerr Apr 11 '11 at 3:24
    
I completely agree with Rex Kerr. –  Beofett Apr 11 '11 at 14:06
    
If in doubt (which the question somewhat implies), then there might be a good and valid reason for that doubt. Having kids might not be the wisest tool for finding and solving those reasons. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 12 '11 at 9:03
    
@Rex Kerr: Considering that item 1 in this list is what happens at least 50% of the time anyway, even in our western culture with birth control and other methods of actually making the bearing of children a choice at all, I would say that the advice isn't necessarily immoral, and that doing a horrible disservice to your children happens anyway. –  Ernie May 17 '11 at 23:32
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@Ernie - Something may be common and yet still be immoral. –  Rex Kerr May 18 '11 at 1:30
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When you really want to have kids and have much money and time to spend on them, then you are ready.

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