“Are we ready for a baby?” is an age-old question nearly all couples ask each other. While there are countless parenting books, seminars, classes and more available to help prepare you to take the parenting plunge, experts agree that there’s really no way to truly comprehend what being a mom or dad will be like until you’re in the thick of caring for a newborn—and even then, you might feel like you don’t know what the heck you’re doing.
“There truly is no way to be really ready because there are life lessons you need to learn that you can only begin to fathom as a parent,” says Stephanie O’Leary, Psy.D., NYS clinical psychologist, parenting expert and author of Parenting in the Real World. “No one can prepare for the tremendous love you you’ll feel that will make you doubt previous life decisions, the anxiety of realizing your child is completely dependent on you (even though you're not always sure what's best), and there's no way to bank hours of sleep to prepare for nighttime feedings and early morning cuddle sessions.”
While parenting is always a work-in-progress, there are some important things you can do to help determine if you’re as ready as you’ll ever be to welcome a new addition to your family.
Here, parenting experts share some factors to pay attention to as you decide if you’re ready for a baby.
Your physical health is on track
Are you sleeping well? Exercising? Maintaining a well-balanced diet. Not only is this important for your health, but if you’re preparing to carry a baby for nine months, your body will need to be equipped with the proper vitamins and nutrients a fetus requires. “If you can't take care of you, you are going to have trouble taking care of little ones,” says Monique Prince, clinical social worker and a parenting expert. “This is a matter of self-worth and recognizing that you are important and deserve to be cared for. If you can care well for you, then you can care well for others.”
Your mental health is in check
Welcoming a child into the world is nothing short of an amazing experience, but it is also a stressful, mentally - and emotionally-draining one too. “There are hormonal shifts, sleep disruption and a total shift in priorities and expectations,” warns Dr. O’Leary. For this reason, it's important to take good care of yourself as a person so you can take good care of your child in the future.” Seeking therapy, joining support groups, and reaching out to your friends and family to make sure you have a solid network are fantastic ways to ensure that you are indeed ready for a baby.”
You’re emotionally ready
“Biological readiness is not sufficient for becoming a parent,” says Laurie Zelinger, PhD, board-certified psychologist and parenting expert. “Self-control, empathy, the ability to plan and organize, ability to put another individual’s needs before your own, partnership and cooperation with your spouse and the ability to commit to a child for a lifetime are just some of the emotional questions that should be considered before deciding if you’re ready for a baby.”
Part of knowing whether or not you have all of these emotional qualifications is feeling content enough to settle down. “If you feel like you haven’t finished all the wild and crazy things you want to do, then you will resent being tied down to a child and feel like they are cramping your style,” says Carole Lieberman, MD, psychiatrist and author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My!. “Wait until you are sure you are ready to trade in the excitement of 'wild and crazy' for the calmer fulfillment of raising a child.”
Your job or career is on solid footing
As any parent will tell you, having a child is a serious expense. In fact, most parents wind up shelling out close to one million dollars on a child by the time he or she is 18. “If you are living from paycheck to paycheck, you won’t be able to afford an extra mouth to feed, clothes or provide other necessities for a child, not to mention emergencies that come up,” says Dr. Lieberman. While money is certainly not the end all be all of deciding if you’re ready for a baby, it does go a long way in creating the stability a child and growing family needs. “You don’t have to be perfect in what you provide, but you do have to be adequate,” adds Dr. Zelinger.
You can ask for help—and accept it
The old saying, “it takes a village,” which refers to raising children, still holds a great deal of meaning today. “In our modern world, the full weight of raising a child falls on the parents' shoulders and it can be overwhelming,” explains Dr. O’Leary. “Being able to ask for help, unapologetically, and accept it when it is offered will set you and your baby up for success.” If you struggle with this or associate asking for help with being needy or inadequate, she recommends practicing by asking for support at home, at work or in your relationships and trying your best to respond by saying “thank you” rather than “I'm sorry,” since needing support is nothing to apologize for.
You’re able to go with the flow
Remember that a baby doesn’t understand the difference between morning and nighttime—or 5 PM versus 5 AM. This means you’ll have to adapt to a constantly changing routine—or lack thereof. “If you're at a point in your life where you're able to let go of your best laid plans and accept that things may go awry, you'll have an easier time stepping into parenthood,” says Dr. O’Leary. “If this is a growing edge for you, try trading your schedules for routines and practice rearranging your daily commitments to see if you can cope.” If you're a morning workout person, for example, she recommends swapping your morning run for an evening exercise class.
You've accepted that you're not perfect
No one wants to feel like a failure, but Dr. O’Leary notes that setting the bar at perfection is not only unrealistic, but can lead to just as much heartache and drama. “If you're able to accept that you will make mistakes, you'll be better equipped to cope with the stress of parenting,” she says. “Babies do not come with manuals and you will mess up. You may miss your baby's first fever only to discover at the pediatrician's office that she's been cranky due to illness.”