6 difficult conversations every couple should have before having children
From child-care to religion and sexuality
You do all the research and stock up on the best pregnancy books. Meditate in the mornings, practice a pregnancy-safe workout in the evenings and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles for the delivery. Supplements cover your countertop and you discuss every detail of the many delivery options with your doctor. But sometimes, forgotten in all your preparations is an actual discussion with your partner about what’s going to come after. The conversations you should be having before having children.
Are you both on the same page about who is going to care for the baby? What about when you want to get back to work? Is circumcision off the table?
Many aspects of parenting are things you learn along the way. There’s no manual in the bookshop called ‘how to be the best parent in the world’. “Before talking about becoming parents, you need to consider if you’re ready to be parents together,” says psychologist Payal Vohra.
There are some big picture topics that a couple needs to be on the same page about. “Becoming a parent is a major milestone. It can completely change your life and your relationship. From the get-go you need to be a team, get into the nitty-gritty of equal partnership, finances and parenting styles. No question should be off the table,” adds Vohra.
Having these sometimes uncomfortable and difficult conversations before having children ensures you’re both on the same side of the fence, ready to battle whatever may be thrown your way – baby, barf et al.
6 difficult topics to address before having children
Before you create a little one, discuss your own upbringing. Vohra explains, “How we have been raised moulds how we plan to raise our children. It’s not about emulating your own parents’ techniques, but highlighting what you definitely don’t want to do too.” These extend to questions about gender roles and expectations, to how you plan to discipline your child and the activities you do together.
“My sister and I weren’t allowed to wear shorts when we were younger because we were girls, but our brother would practically run around in his chaddis and that was fine,” says Neha Anand*. “But when it came to disciplining, he had it a lot worse than us, getting a chamaat whereas our dad would never hit us girls.”
Both parents need to be on the same page about how they tackle moments of crisis, decision-making and more. “Playing good cop-bad cop works sometimes but in the long run can make the child disgruntled towards one parent,” adds Vohra.
Discovering each other’s strengths and weaknesses in advance can help you work better as a team.
We were all yelled at as kids, how do you feel about doing it to your own children? Bedtime, after-school activities vs free play time; how will we approach punishments for big mistakes?
Do we want our child to be raised in a certain religion? You’re a vegetarian, do you want our child to follow the same dietary restrictions? What about circumcision?
It’s a win-win if both parents practice the same faith — or you could raise the child without any particular religious training. Certain rituals are practised after a baby is born, and to mark milestones of growing up — they’re worth discussing, even if it’s just to please your more traditional parents.
It can be quite a topic of debate. “My husband’s an atheist, Hindu by birth, I’m a Christian by birth,” says Cara S. They had a small court marriage and religion wasn’t really discussed in their house. Until the topic of baptism was brought up by her parents. “Both our parents are very traditional, in their own ways. He didn’t want to go ahead with it, his parents definitely didn’t want to either. They were upset enough as it is that he married out of their faith,” she says.
In our country religion is an intrinsic part of our lives. From our names and upbringing to the festivals we celebrate.
“I’ve observed the pressure coming more from people’s parents than the actual couple, in an interfaith marriage on how to bring up a child,” adds Vohra. “Being on the same page is important to maintain peace among in-laws, but also something to think through when it comes to permanent changes for the baby, like male circumcision.”
Cara and her husband were a team when they faced their parents together and decided to keep matters of religion aside until their child was old enough to decide on their own.
You can choose to observe both your religions equally, celebrate all festivals with as much glee. If one partner is rooted in their faith, then the other may need to step back and allow them to teach them their religion.
“I’m not religious at all and don’t really follow Islam, but my wife follows many Hindu traditions that she wants to teach our son. We plan to teach him about both our faiths and be open-minded that he may want to follow one, or none at all once he is older,” says Sahir*.
Vohra says that no matter what plan you follow, it’s important to teach your child by your own actions that you can respect each other’s beliefs, especially when they are different. The more challenging aspect may be to get your parents on board.
Division of labour
Parenting roles can be a contentious matter to discuss. It isn’t just about who is going to change diapers, tuck them in at night, get messy during bath time and take them to school.
Discussing the division of labour before having children needs to include the ‘smaller’ questions as well, according to Vohra. By smaller, she means the more specific details.
You need to discuss who is going to do what once the baby arrives – one can change diapers and the other takes care of feeding, or alternate – to prevent burnout and meltdowns later. Dive into aspects of night-time duties when your little one starts wailing at 3 am, keeping track of and managing household finances and budgeting, as well as taking leave from — and going back to — work.
“I wanted to get back to work after having a child, but for women, that’s usually looked down upon by more traditional households. My husband’s family was like that,” says Sanaya Tikku. It was easier for her husband, a designer, to work from home while she went back to the office. “She had the bigger income, so it made sense that she returned to work full-time after giving birth while I manage the home. A lot of people didn’t understand this decision, but it worked for us and that’s what’s important,” he says.
Family members would brush it off, saying they should just take it as it comes, why decide things now? “But it was pretty obvious what they meant by that,” laughs Sanaya.
You may be wondering why your child’s education is something you need to discuss before they even come of age. But in the Indian context, it makes sense.
Do you want your child to go to boarding school or day-boarding? Are you willing to spend the money to send them abroad for higher education or prefer a university within the country?
A lot of these things do depend on what your child wants to do when they grow up. But worth discussing before having children is how far you want them to go with their studies.
“I went to boarding school in Ajmer and college in Bombay, but I’m from Amritsar. My family is very traditional,” says Shreya*. Halfway through her first year at college, family members started pressuring her to get married. Aunts and uncles would pass comments to her parents – “I was a girl, after all, I was done with school, why did I need to waste time with college when I was just going to get married anyway?”
Her mother stood by her to keep up with her course while her father tried to talk her into meeting boys “on the side. He didn’t outright tell me to drop out but I could tell he was under a lot of pressure from his family.” Her mother fended off judgement on Shreya’s behalf. She cleared college, her Master’s and is now happily working in Bengaluru.
It took a lot of pleading with her father, she says, to get this far. “From experience, I can say that both parents need to agree on this and be headstrong in supporting each other (and their kid) through the backlash. Especially if you have a girl child.”
Gender and sexuality
A child coming out to their parents can be one of the hardest things they can do. We often hear inspiring stories of support, warmth and acceptance from the LGBTQIA+ community. Whether it’s a child coming out as transgender, non-binary or asexual – a parent’s reaction has an immense impact on how their child sees and feels about themselves.
We live in a world that’s a lot more open-minded than before. With access to all kinds of communities online, young people have the chance to question and explore their sexuality like never before. While our country may have decriminalised homosexuality, we still have a long way to go with a change in our mindset.
Before having children you need to talk about the possibility of a child identifying as LGBTQIA+. Is this something you both can accept? How would you react? What would you do to prepare them to face a world that may not be accepting?
“These are things we definitely need to talk about. We all like to believe we are very accepting until things happen closer to home. Parents need to create a safe environment at home where different kinds of expressions are accepted,” says Vohra.
Be prepared to answer tough questions about sexuality – starting with the birds and the bees, and good touch-bad touch – as well as the right kind of sex education that keeps them safe and healthy for when they become sexually active.
Mental and physical health
It’s far too common for Indian parents to dismiss their children when they open up about their poor mental health. It’s easily dismissed as just ‘stress’, hormones, a ‘part of growing up’ or swept under the rug if you do seek professional help.
The mental health taboo is very real, and it takes a certain kind of vigilance to keep an eye out for possible symptoms that your child could be showing.
For physical health too, most doctors recommend getting health screenings and tests before couples try to conceive, says paediatrician Dr Rakhee Kakkar. “The couple needs to consider their family medical histories to see for possible genetic conditions that can be passed on. While some ailments are manageable, others can get quite dire,” she adds.
This way you’re also more likely to be prepared for what to expect in your child’s future. Creating a healthy diet and lifestyle from a young age to ensure they can live their best life.
“One question we need to address but don’t, because of fear and stigma is – what if the child is born with a disability?” says Kakkar. It’s a challenging situation that can put any couple through the wringer. It can bring them closer together to care for their young, but Vohra says it can also tear people apart. “Some parents feel they may not be able to properly care for their child and abandon them, it is a sad reality.”
*Names changed upon contributor’s request