Work Before Being Engaged and Married:
If you are planning to get engaged and married, don’t be this couple: “You got married without talking about if you want to have kids?!”
Terry Crews’ character in Brooklyn Nine-Nine says this, and it makes me laugh without fail. Aside from his delivery of the line, it’s a truly comedic situation: two people who got engaged and then married and then nearly a YEAR later, they discover that one of them wants kids and the other doesn’t.
Like, how does that even happen?
Unfortunately, what’s comedic to me is reality to plenty of people. I know people in my who have gotten engaged and married and then learned their spouse was adamantly opposed to having children. It can be surprising what people get blindsided by when they fall in love and decide to get married.
When Joshua and I were dating, a priest at our college gave us some topics he advised talking through when discerning marriage, and there are three conversations I recommend having before you get engaged. If you’re already engaged and haven’t yet talked about these things, maybe do so sooner than later! If you’re already married… sit down.
What are your expectations and ideals for having children?
When you get engaged and married in the Catholic Church, part of your questions of consent will involve openness to life and willingness to raise your children according to Catholic teachings. This is carefully worded because not everyone can have kids. One in seven couples struggle with infertility. Medical science has come a long way in fertility care, but it’s just not always possible.
Openness to life means refusing to directly contradict God’s natural design for our fertility.
You won’t be breaking your marriage vows if you are not blessed with children, However, the misuse of artificial contraception is a direct opposition to the very nature of marriage. Thus, having conversations about your expectations for having children is not just useful for your functioning life together, but for your spiritual health!
Do you expect to use contraception in your marriage? Were you not raised to understand anything else? Have you heard of Natural Family Planning yet? How many kids would you want to have, ideally? Does one of you envision two while the other wants eight? When do you want to have kids? Right away? 1 year in? 2 years in? Are there career or educational factors affecting these decisions?
It can be startling reality when you live a chaste relationship to get married and suddenly realize- we could have a baby! It was a bit of an adjustment for me, mentally, to realize the possibility that I could get pregnant when I had never had to wonder in my life if I was. The realistic possibility of having kids once you start having sex is just too prominent to not talk about these things before you’re married. And, if some of your partner’s answers concern you, it’s always better to go ahead and have those hard talks before there’s a ring in the mix.
What is our family dynamic going to be?
If you do have kids, what’s the plan for taking care of them? Is one of you in school right now and would you drop out? Could your job take you out of the country and you don’t want to move while raising children? Are you open or opposed to daycare/nanny options?
Sure, maybe there’s plenty of time to figure this out after you’re engaged and even married and when you’re expecting a baby. But while 9 months feels like a long time to make a decision, it can be high-pressure to make choices like this while you’re actively growing a baby or caring for a struggling wife. Yes, factors change and we don’t always get our perfect plans, but having some idea of your spouse’s expectations, and realizing your own, for what your family dynamic will be is extremely helpful for dealing with those hard times.
What was important to you when you were growing up? Do you wish anything was different? What life do you want to give your children?
Where do our careers fall in our priorities?
This is why talking about kids and family dynamics comes first. Your career is something you control- pregnancy isn’t, necessarily. So, where do careers fall on your list of priorities? Whose career would you be willing to move or stay for? If you needed or wanted to be a single-income family, who would be the worker and who the caretaker? Does one of you need to put time and study into licensing exams? How many hours a week are you willing to work?
Your ideas of what your life will be are going to change when you get married. Your priorities will change when you have a spouse and a family. Going in blind, having no idea what either of you are expecting, is a perfect storm for unnecessary conflict and heartache. It is always better to have these hard conversations before the commitment between you increases with a ring.