Sometimes I feel like I cheated the system when I married my best friend. Because we'd spent time getting to know each other before we ever got romantically involved, we had a lot of information about each other that helped assisted us once we decided to start a family. Still, as the kind of person who likes to unpack and analyze everything, I also made sure we asked (and continue to ask) each other the kinds of questions every parenting couple should ask themselves. I know it's easy — especially when you love and get along well with someone — to just assume that they see things the way you do. I also know that assuming leads to unspoken expectations, and unspoken expectations frequently lead to disappointment (or worse).
Nothing can ever make being in any kind relationship totally problem-free. Relationships are crucial for our well-being but they require effort, and there will always be some conflicts and other challenges. Thankfully, being clear and upfront about what matters to both of you can help immensely. Knowing where you and your partner stand on key questions about your family life can help you avoid unpleasant surprises, and can help you both be intentional and proactive about how you choose to parent and how you go about creating the kind of environment you want for your kids. All of that can help you head off the kinds of toxic (as opposed to productive) conflicts that can stress families to the breaking point.
It's great — maybe even ideal, to start having these kinds of conversations before becoming parents together — but these should be ongoing conversations, too. Life changes after your actual kids arrive, and the way you answer some of these questions will probably change, too. They may change even more as your kids grow up, or as your circumstances, views, beliefs, and knowledge shift. These certainly aren't the only questions folks can or should ask themselves, but hopefully they can be a handy place to start.
"What Are Our Values?"
It's easy to assume we know what our own or our partner's answers to a question like this would be, but we often aren't as clear about this as we think. Taking time to think and talk through what kinds of people you both try to be, and what kinds of examples you'd like to set for your kids, is really useful to spell out as clearly as possible.
"What Values Do We Want To Make Sure We Instill In Our Kids?"
Once you know your own values, it's a bit easier to decide what your goals are for your kids, values-wise, and then to start thinking about what actions you can take to help them reach those goals.
For example, if you want them to be hardworking, making sure that you model hard work and set clear expectations about household chores and contributions might become a priority for both of you.
"What Does 'Discipline' Mean To Us?"
Do you believe discipline is about teaching? Or about punishment? Discipline can be a really fraught issue among parents, so it's a good idea to make sure you and your partner both have the same ideas, versus being surprised when one of you wants to take more of a RIE approach to setting limits, while the other plans to enact a three-strikes policy for what they see as misbehavior.
"What Did We Love As Kids, And Want To Recreate For Our Own?"
One of the best parts of parenting is getting to share the things you loved as a child with your own children. Finding out your partner's favorite childhood memories, traditions, and experiences is also a really fun thing to get to know about them. It's also a perfect jumping off point for creating new traditions together as a family.
"What Did We Hate As Kids, And Want To Avoid Repeating?"
Did the phrase, "Because I said so!" make you see red? Did you seethe every time an adult dismissed your fears, sadness or disappointment by saying, "It's OK," or yelling at you to "fix your attitude?" Did you grow up with a toxic parent, and fear recreating those dynamics for your own family? Sharing the things that hurt you as a child with your partner can help you both avoid defaulting to problematic habits that many of us had to deal with as kids.
"What Traditions Matter To Us?"
Do you want to raise your children in a certain faith community? Is hosting a huge Thanksgiving feast an absolute must for you every year? Do you want to tweak or skip the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus stories? All great stuff to consider together.
"What Are Our Priorities?"
There are only so many hours in a day, only so much money in your account, and so much energy before you all need to sleep. Being clear about what's worth spending those resources on is very important, especially since family battles over things like homework, extracurricular activities, athletics, quality time together, and more can really shape a family's day to day quality of life.
"What Division Of Labor Feels Fair To Us?"
Parents have a lot of responsibilities to balance, from the professional work that keeps the bills paid, to the household and care work that keeps everyone alive and well. Figuring out what split makes the most sense for your particular family is crucial, for big things (like managing household finances), and for seemingly small things (like avoiding the same frustrating fight about who's going to do the dishes or pick the kids up after school).
"How Can We Make Life In Our Home Feel Warm And Fun For All Of Us?"
Parenting is hard, and so is adulting more generally. However, no one — not kids or adults — benefits from living in a home where everyone is stressed out and grumpy all the time. So talk about how to cultivate warmth and joy in your home. What makes you all laugh? How do you both defuse tension during hard times or conflicts? What little rituals or habits help you and your kids feel loved?
"How Will We Protect Our Relationship From The Demands Of Parenting?"
Sometimes, keeping your relationship together can be harder than parenting. And more often than not, raising kids can make it much harder to focus on each other as a couple and as partners. Talking about what you both need in order to feel loved and stay connected is crucial, as is figuring out what boundaries you need to put on your time and space so you can reliably have kid-free time to enjoy each other's company.