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Are You Ready to be a Parent?

QUESTION: My partner and I are thinking about trying to conceive. He has said that he believes you are ready for a baby when you can take care of yourself and still have more energy and love to give. How can we be sure it's the right time?

ANSWER: Your spouse's definition speaks to an important part of the picture. Certainly, our ability to give to others is based upon what we have inside. The ability to give to a child with some modicum of ease requires that we ourselves are nurtured. However, the fact that this explanation comes from the man who would parent with you is what makes his words much more significant.

Ask your husband to extrapolate on the meaning of his definition. Further explore your own meaning for having a child, what you feel you have to offer what you feel you would enjoy, what would be difficult and what would be easy? How will parenthood change your life, your relationship now and in the years ahead? Are you ready for the changes that would result?

What is your vision of parenthood and child rearing? What is your husband's philosophical views on this matter? How did your respective parents raise children? What did you like about how they did it and what would you change in your own family?

Your relationship is the foundation for your family. Children flourish in an environment in which the love and cooperation between parents is strong. Your readiness for parenthood must include a shared vision for how children should be raised and a workable plan for raising them. Speaking to other parents and discussing how you see others raising their children would also prove enlightening.

Finally, there has to be "heart" to your decision to have children. All of the best "formulas" of experts cannot tell you whether or not you are ready to have a child. This answer requires soul searching.

Parenthood is a matrix for our own as well as our children's development. Your question holds not only practical concerns (which can be addressed through the suggestions above), but implications for that which is truly unknowable. How do we prepare for that which we cannot yet see or feel? How will we answer challenges we have not yet identified?

One of the best preparations I know for becoming a parent is to view it as a deeply spiritual calling. Parents grow through a plerotha of challenges, some known, but many unforeseeable on the family journey. A parent's journey can be a large part of their personal spiritual development. By this I do not mean necessarily a "religious" approach of any particular kind. I mean an understanding that committing yourself to something long term requires that you take responsibility to follow through in the best way possible.

Getting help along the way should be an expected part of the journey, though you do not know exactly what this help will be or what particular form assistance will take. Your character and the kind of person you are is forged through periods that require great faith and dedication. Your marriage is the crucible in which you develop much of yourself and the nature of who you are. The parenthood you share is another vessel which allows for great maturation and depth of character to develop.

Like any endeavor of great magnitude, parenting requires planning and some sense of faith and trust in your ability to handle the unknown. Rest assured that you will give much and you will gain much. Are you ready? Only you can decide!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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