In the five years my partner and I dated before we got married, we traveled annually. Each overseas trip lasted at least a week and we were together day and night. Between my rudimentary understanding of a few romance languages and his impeccable sense of direction, we were able to get the most out of our excursions. Surviving trips together felt like passing a compatibility test, because surely we were marriage material. However, I soon learned there were way more things my partner and I should be able to do together, other than international travel, before we decided to take our relationship to the next level have a baby.
While nothing truly prepares you for parenthood, I feel there are certain indicators of how my partner and I would fare with raising kids together. Did we respect one another’s choices, even if we didn’t always agree with them? Sure. Did we have the same outlook on finances and saving? Basically, yes. Could we agree on baby names? Absolutely.
However, I don't think that was necessarily enough. We had to have some life experiences, together. Only in hindsight do I realize how crucial it was for us to have lived through some things as partners if we were going to be able to count on one another in the gladiator ring of parenthood, where it often is “us” against “them.”
If you can pull this off, you’ll know what it means to have “quality time.” Once we had a baby, my husband and I couldn’t count on us being able to have dinner at the same time, except maybe in the very short window between me nursing our newborn and me passing out before I switched boobs.
Parenthood is dirty business, especially in those first few months. At any given time, the baby, my husband, or me was caked with some kind of bodily fluid (not often our own). So take your tolerance of nastiness for a test drive. If you can reach the 72 hour mark, you’ll be able to handle a baby just fine.
Bonus: you might also make it as a contestant on Survivor.
Sorry, pets don’t count. You need to be able to get in, get down, and get out without waking a potential newborn. Practice makes perfect.
The thing about having a baby is that the baby often grows up to be a child who will perform, willingly or not, in school concerts or dance recitals (or if you’re really lucky, talent shows doing magic tricks, because one can only hope). While you may get off missing some of these momentous events due to business trips or general malaise you can pass off as a stomach flu, you need to plan to be supportive together. Watching terrible stand-up will help build your tolerance.
My husband and I haven’t taken it to this level, but consider the option of you both attending the child’s performance, and taking turns napping or “running out to take a call” so that, between the two of you, you won’t miss a note of your pumpkin’s rendition of Memories on the recorder.
Master this and you can rely on your handy teamwork to get an unwilling child into her winter gear and out the door to preschool in the dead of February. To up the difficulty factor, attempt this feat before having any caffeine.
Sometimes my husband and I have to “talk” to each other but we don’t want the kids to know what we’re saying. And now that both of them are readers, we can’t write signs or spell words to send secret messages. Find a method of communicating that can’t be ciphered by your future little spies.
I made a lot of pilgrimages to Ikea pre-children. In my single 20s, it was the only place I could afford to buy furniture that was flat enough for me to lug up my three floor walk-up to my apartment. When my partner and I got married, we had to update our furnishings, to accommodate the combination of our stuff, so we continued our trips there. It would get dicey, especially when it came time for the jigsaw puzzle of fitting our oversized packages into a borrowed car. We’d leave fuming at each other (hey, I was just trying to be helpful so it’s not my fault he couldn’t follow my hand signals in the rain when I tried to direct him out of a parking spot with our packages obstructing all his mirrors). We’d be grouchy, starving, damp with sweat, and in no mood to start assembling that crap.
However, if we were going to have kids, and kids’ furniture we could afford, we had to find a way to deal with each other in a maze of Swedish surroundings.
Your child-free dinner parties or game nights have given you a false sense of confidence in thinking you could pull off a toddler play date at your house. Where you once had “guests,” you will now have tyrants, foiling any sense of beatific harmony you and your partner have worked hard to cultivate in your home. If you can survive an invasion of untrained pets together, you can make it through one rainy afternoon with your toddler and her BFF in the near future. Put down newspaper in both scenarios.
It’s way too much effort to actually agree on most things, so what I found to be a better indicator of our co-parenting success was our ability to at least act like we got along. While we do have occasional spats in front of the kids, we save our intense conversations for after their bedtime. No matter how annoyed we may be at each other, we want our children to feel safe and to not worry about how their parents not getting along may affect them.
So, before you think you’re ready to have kid, test drive your skill for appearing harmonious, even if you don’t agree on something. If you fake it, you can make it.
A cake. A birdhouse. An Excel spreadsheet. Push slightly out of your areas of expertise and embark on a project, together. My husband and I purchased our first apartment together before I got pregnant. The path to home ownership was infinitely harder to navigate than the path to parenthood.
Until I was married for a few years, I thought love was the driving force in a lasting relationship. Nope. You need to know you can be around your partner but not be involved in the same activities. You have to be able to tolerate each other’s presence and suppress any criticism on how the other person is behaving at that moment. You have to simply be together, without the pressure to be engaged with one another.
At the end of our days, my husband and I are spent. We both work full-time and even though we don’t spend many hours with our kids on weekdays, those hours are intense. They are during the most stressful parts of the day: getting them ready for school and getting them ready for bed. So, after the children are tucked in, my partner and I often just want to be left alone, albeit together. We don’t want to be solitary in those moments, we just don’t want to deal with another person’s thoughts or noises or needs. Learning to be alone, together, is not indicative of a marriage’s sad decline. I actually think it’s the most evolved state of partnership. If you can preserve a sense of self in an intimate relationship, you're winning. It’s not sexy, but it’s sustainable.