Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mike asks: How do you know you're ready for kids?

Mike asks:

I'm just curious about how you knew you were ready to have a child, both mentally and financially?  I'm really worried that it will be a financial strain on us because I have absolutely no idea how much it costs per month to raise child.  I'm just completely lost (and frankly scared out of my mind) because it's not the type of decision you can call a mulligan on once it's happened.  My wife is less of a worrier and says, "We'll find a way," or, "We'll figure it out as we go," but I like to have as many of my ducks in a row as possible before going ahead with something so life changing.
Anyway, any details you can give about your experiences before and after Claire was born would be a big help.
I don't know if anyone ever truly knows that they are ready. And, no matter how much planning and preparing you do (which is all good and definitely useful), I think it really comes down to "We'll figure it out as we go". I think this is especially for people in academia, or anyone who has a high likelihood of moving for their job often. 

Regarding the financial concerns, you are right, childcare can be crazy expensive. Options range from an in-home, full-time nanny (which will be on the high end), to a large daycare, to in-home daycares, to nanny shares, to being a stay-at-home mom/dad. In any financial situation, you will be able to find childcare options that fit your budget. Now, they might not be your ideal childcare options, but your baby will be taken care of, by you, by family, or by an individual/group you pay. Did we know we were financially ready? Yes and no. We knew we had savings that we could use in a worst-case-scenario. When we found out we were pregnant, though, we didn't have long-term plans, neither of us had accepted postdoc positions, and we didn't know where in the world we would be moving after I defended. We knew that we both had health insurance, and that we could get additional coverage for the baby. We accepted positions at UC Berkeley just a few weeks after our daughter was born, and had no idea what sort of childcare arrangements we would have when we moved. 

I was fortunate in that I did computational work, and was able to work from home part-time when our daughter was first born. We found a babysitter (a Masters student in early childhood education) who came and babysat for us half-days, three-days a week). It worked out perfectly for us. Then, when we moved to Berkeley, when baby girl was 5 months old, we budgeted so that I could take another month off to help us get settled and to find a childcare situation we would all be happy with, and could afford. Nannies can be upwards of $25-$30 an hour (ouch!), and even the University-affiliated daycare here at UCB is ~$2200 per month for infants. There are nanny-shares that are $8-10 per hour, or even co-op daycares, where each parent helps out one day a week, and can be a fraction of the cost. We had to budget to balance our living (rent/utilities/driving) expenses with childcare, and eventually found options for everything that worked with our postdoc budgets. Friends of ours have family that assist with daycare several times a week, or stagger hours (which we do sometimes also). There are lots of options for making it all work out. We can talk about the process of identifying childcare options later, if you'd like.

Now, how did we know we were mentally ready to have a child. That's harder, and a lot more personal. It is so scary thinking about being solely responsible for EVERYTHING for a tiny, breathing, growing, learning, being. I still go in and check periodically just to make sure our daughter is still breathing. More than anything, I guess just thinking about whether you're mentally ready is one of the largest steps to being ready. It means you're assessing yourself critically, and realizing where you might need some help as a new parent, and where you will likely excel. I think part of being mentally ready is putting safety nets in place, and realizing during the hard times, you have an outlet (or many outlets). It is also good to talk about all your concerns with your partner, so that you can assuage each other's concerns, and provide additional support. When talking about mental health, I also want to mention that prenatal depression is as common as postpartum depression, but is more taboo to speak about because it is generally assumed that pregnant women should be "glowing" and happy. Also, many people develop pre/postpartum depression who had never experienced depression prior to becoming pregnant so may not know what the signs/symptoms are. 

In case it helps, I'll let you know that after we decided we were ready, and then found out we were pregnant, we both (at least I know I did) went through waves of being so excited I couldn't stand it, to being terrified I would mess everything up. So far, our baby girl is happy, healthy, and friendly. She loves books, and giraffes, and cheese. I constantly reassess how I can be the best parent to her, but the sound of her laughter, watching her imagination work, and her little monkey hugs remind me that doing my best is working out pretty well so far. 

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