"No one is really ready to have kids," and it's true. People are imperfect, and no matter how much time you've spent with children, parenthood is simultaneously a "known unknown" (you know what's up, but you're uncertain about the details) and an "unknown unknown" (because there's a ton of stuff you don't even know you have to worry about until you're confronted with it). That said, I think there are those out there who take this adage too flippantly. Guys: if you plan on parenting with a partner, don't have a baby until you meet someone with these qualities. Which qualities, you ask? Sit back and I'll tell you in a minute.
Look, I understand babies are amazing. So amazing, in fact, that it seems like they'll be able to fix anything, or enable you to overlook any number of problems you might have with your partner, because baby. Except, no. Babies don't work like that. Whatever problems, recurring issues, and obstacles you and your partner had before you decided to procreate, will absolutely resurface after you have a baby. Moreover, you are going to have less patience for them and less time to work through them.
I'm not saying you have to be completely self-actualized, flawless humans before you create a new one. No one is perfect (except Idris Elba), but I'd say it's important to look at your partner and know they're trying every day to be a little more perfect than they were yesterday. In fact, make sure they keep working towards perfection until they have most of the following skills at an "advanced level," or higher, before you attempt to parent with them. Oh, and the same goes for you. Yes, my dears, you don't get off the hook. You have to work just as hard on the following qualities as you expect your partner to. That's basically how successful relationships work.
The fact that you have the ability (or at least the potential) to clearly and effectively communicate is a huge advantage you and your partner have over your baby, who will be really crappy at communicating for a while. I don't necessarily love framing parenthood as an "us versus them" thing, but sorry not sorry, sometimes it is. Establishing an open and honest line of communication is important before you have a baby, and a crucial component of a harmonious postpartum existence.
First, there's the necessary communication you will need to logistically co-parent. Like, "The baby had a bottle an hour ago, so one of us will have to feed him again in another hour." On top of that, there's no time for the "figure out what I want and need and I'll just sit here sulking until you do" coy, passive aggressive nonsense. If someone needs help, they need to ask for help. If they need a break, they must say so. You need to find someone who is going proactively communicate with you and be receptive to your communication. If you and your partner aren't great at this now, that's OK. After all, it's a constantly developing skill. However, a willingness to really work at it (and the knowledge that you are going to have to) is clutch.
As a parent, one of the most significant challenges I have faced was being used to everything just kind of happening on their own, and regardless of whether or not I actually wanted them to happen in that moment. Babies operate at their own speed on their own timeline. If you're someone like me, the process of accepting that fact is positively maddening.
Remaining patient and having a partner who will do the same is a must. Babies honestly don't care about what you would rather be doing or how over their sh*t you are. They're going to just keep on being a baby, so, for a while, it's up to us to adapt to them. That adaptation will require saint-like patience.
However, compassion in a partner isn't just important for your child. Your partner's sense of compassion must also extend to you. They should be able to look beyond themselves (which sounds basic but can be difficult in the hard days of parenting survival mode) and make sure you're doing OK, too.
(And, of course, as I've highlighted above, these rules apply to everyone in the relationship, so be sure you're doing unto your partner as you would have them do unto you.)
If you don't work well with this person, I strongly recommend having a good long talk before you decide to have children together. There are lots of modes of cooperation that work for different couples, but some level of collaboration is absolutely necessary. Think about the most annoying task your partner doesn't work with you on. Now, multiply that annoyance and frequency by 1,000. Yeah, you're still not close to how annoying it will be with a baby in tow.
A Sense Of Humor
It is very, very easy to be in the weeds of parenthood and think life is never going to be not covered with poop again. In order to survive the tough times, you're going to need to be someone who can revel in the absurdity and see the humor in a given situation.
Moreover, if you're parenting with a partner, you're going to need to be with someone like that, because you're not always going to be able to and you'll need someone to pull you out of your morose funks.
An Iron Stomach
There will be poop everywhere, and that's just the beginning of the struggle. Babies are adorable, but behind closed doors they are gross AF.
You're going to want a partner who is proactive. Because, yes, it's great to have someone who is willing to hop to it when you let them know what needs to be done, but after a while it sort of gets old to have to feel responsible for directing any and all necessary action. Instead, make sure your partner knows to be attentive and on a problem, task, or chore before it becomes an issue or source of resentment.
As in, if you f*ck up, don't be above admitting that you've f*cked up. It's OK because, hey, it happens. Sometimes it happens a lot. The important thing is that you take responsibility for what you've done and try not to do it in the future. The importance of contrition, I feel, is something that can make a huge difference in a relationship that is often overlooked. But, like, real contrition and not an insincere "sorry" to get your partner off your back. The ability to reflect on oneself and one's actions and see where you came up short.
"Isn't that the same as patience, sort of?" you ask. Eh, sort of. I feel like a sense of resolve, or stick-to-itiveness (which is, in fact, a word) indicates, more of a "in-it-for-the-long-haul" perspective that patience doesn't necessarily imply.
For me, the first three months of parenting felt like one very, very, very long day. When you're waking up every two hours, you don't really have a great sense of when one day ends and the other begins. And to be completely honest, that sense sort of permeates parenting in general. You hit the ground running from the moment they're born and it's pretty much nonstop forever. You're going to have to be willing to see this parenting thing through, and so will your partner. Make sure you're with someone who gets that and has demonstrated their ability to hang on even when things get tough.
Everyone involved is going to need to hear (and/or be shown) "I love you," "I'm thankful for all you do," and, "You're the best." Similarly, things will go much better if they can also say, "I'm overwhelmed and frustrated, and here's why," or, "I'm feeling pretty down lately."
This is, like, Varsity level communication, in a way, because talking about emotions and emotional needs can be daunting. However, while putting emotions front and center on a regular basis can be hard, life as a parent is going to be much harder if you don't.
Again, yes, different from a sense of humor. Kids get really silly, and it's important to be able to be silly right back.
In general, it's really important to have your sh*t together, or at least be willing to admit, "You know what, I really don't have my sh*t together, so here are the concrete steps I am going to take to be more responsible."
When I say "responsible" I mean one's ability to manage finances, maintain a healthy lifestyle, keep an eye on the future, and know where their priorities lie. A relationship doesn't work, and isn't healthy, if only one of you is capable of this.
Because parenting will test the limits, strength, and sustainability of your relationship. Sometimes it's going to feel like coming back from something is tough, but the ability to move through and past hardships ultimately strengthens couples and families.