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Many couples make the decision to have children based on a timeline, an overwhelming onset of the "cluckys" or because it’s the obvious next milestone. The decision is not made because their relationship has matured to a stage where it feels strong enough to bring children into the world. Yet the research shows that the quality of one’s relationship is one of the best predictors of parenting.
One such study by Fishman and Meyers in the Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy1 analysed data from 1101 participants and found that children’s psychological adjustment was significantly association with their parent’s reports of relationship satisfaction. Mothers who experienced less satisfaction in their relationships reported being less involved with their kids, and this in turn led to greater psychological problems for their kids.
Now it may sound a little idealistic for everyone to wait to have kids until their relationship is solid and sound, but with a little bit of effort, self-reflection and knowledge ahead of time the result can be a much happier family down the track. So what can you do to child-ready your relationship? Below are 10 ideas.
1. Balance "me" and "we" time
One of the best remedies for a happy family is one where family members have time for each other and time for themselves. Do you have your own downtime separate from your partner to do special "me" time activities? Make it a part of your regular routine now before kids enter the picture so that it is a natural part of your weekly life.
2. Reflect on why you really want kids
It’s time to be honest here. Do you want kids because each of your sisters have happy little families, or because you can’t wait to buy those cute little baby clothes, or is there a deeper meaning? Some couples carry the myth that having children will bring them closer together or will fix their relationship problems. Don’t kid yourself!! Make sure that the reason both of you want kids comes from a grounded desire to rear children for the next 20 years of their lives; to educate, nurture and support them into independence.
3. Discuss parenting styles
How we parent is often a reflection of how we were parented ourselves. So it’s important to start discussing this as a couple in order to understand what type of parenting style you are likely to bring to the relationship. In particular, consistent parenting is important when it comes to disciplining children. How do you desire to discipline your kids at different ages in their lives; what do you believe is too harsh or too soft? How will you back each other up?
4. De-stress your life
If either of you live high stress lifestyles it’s time to start looking after yourselves before another stress is added to the pot. Exercise regularly, meditate, engage in yoga, become an effective delegator, strengthen your resilience and practice positive thinking.
5. Strengthen your support network
The quality (not quantity) of our support networks is key to health and happiness, particularly in stressful times. Now is the time to strengthen your network. Don’t wait until you’re exhausted and isolated before you start to wonder who in the world can help. Put the time and energy into rekindling relationships that have drifted, reconnect with family and build connections within your local community.
6. Improve your communication
Conflict resolution plays a crucial role in relationship satisfaction. Can you tell your partner how you feel, kiss and make up easily after a disagreement, and problem solve in a mature way? If not it may be time to get some counselling because having children will only exacerbate this problem.
7. Deal with mental illness
Your mental health has a significant impact on your children’s mental health and wellbeing. If you suffer depression it will impact your ability to be present and responsive with your child. Does this mean you shouldn’t have kids? Of course not! Rather, it highlights the importance of learning the strategies now to deal with the mental illness so that you are aware of how to manage more effectively when going through a difficult patch.
8. Create a budget
Many couples find it helpful to create a budget for their new lifestyle with kids. This enables them to sit down and evaluate where they currently spend their money, so that choices can be made about where to cut back if necessary. This can also be a good reality check about what is involved in having a family. Get help from a financial planner or even chat with a friend who has kids of their own about what expenses are involved and what to save for.
9. Rekindle the romance
Yes you heard me, focus on strengthening the intimacy in your relationship. Many couples have been in a relationship for quite some time when they start a family so the romance has already subsided. Kids are only going to put further strain in this department so work on it now. Go back to date nights, get creative in the bedroom and do things that make you feel emotionally re-connected.
10. Set realistic expectations!
Although incredibly satisfying, child rearing is hard work. Be realistic about what you will be able to do in your life and career while your children are young. Make life as easy for yourself as you can at this time rather than expecting yourself to be superwoman or Mr Perfect.
Last week: Seven facts about stress
Author of De-stress Your Success: Get More of What You Want with Less Time, Stress and Effort, Sacha Crouch is a business, executive and life coach who helps people create the work and lives they love. For other free lifestyle resources visit www.activ8change.com.au.