As with many newlyweds, my husband and I have been asked too many times: “So when are you having children?”
The truth is, my husband and I have dated for almost 10 years before getting hitched last year. Despite our years of experience dealing with each other, married life has proved to be a totally different ball game. Five months into our marriage, we are still learning to adjust to our brand new roles as husband and wife – with the shared responsibility of taking care of each other, our parents and families, as well as the HDB apartment we live in.
Add long hours at work and job-related stress, and you get a fair idea of why we hardly have time to think about parenthood.
It’s not that we are ruling out having children; it’s just a matter of readiness. Now, one may argue, “You are never ready for parenthood – you just learn on the job.” That’s true to a certain extent. Afterall, our parents certainly did not pick up their parenting skills off some dad-and-mum guidebook. They simply plunged into their roles, learnt from their mistakes and adjusted along the way.
While on-the-job training may have worked well for our parents, “trial-and-error” may not be the best way to go when it comes to bringing up children.
We were lucky to have been raised by our mothers, who were full-time homemakers. They had plenty of time to watch us grow and play with us. They could also test their parenting techniques on us and refine the processes as they went along.
Unfortunately, for many working couples like us who married in their thirties, time is not on our side.
For one, we have a much narrower probability of conceiving as compared to younger couples in their twenties, so we would need to put in more effort (and possibly money) to prepare for conception and pregnancy.
Second, we have less time to spend with our children as many of us are in more senior positions which often mean longer working hours.
Third, and most importantly, try as we might, we simply have less stamina to chase after our kids as compared to the twenty-something mums and dads, which means we need to work twice as hard to keep up with our children.
But is it all lost for couples in their thirties who want to have children? Not quite. We simply have to make a conscious choice to get ourselves ready for parenthood.
1) Prepare your body
A healthy baby starts with a healthy mum. Many working women, myself included, have neglected exercising and proper diet due to lack of time, or simply, procrastination.
Ensuring that your body is fit before and during conception will increase your chances of conceiving a healthy baby. And continuing with a regular exercise regime and balanced diet after delivery will give you more energy to care for your child.
2) Prepare your mind
Crossing the ravine from couplehood to parenthood is daunting for swinging thirties like us who are used to our freedom: to dine at our favourite restaurants, to go travelling as and when we felt like it; and catch a midnight movie on a whim.
The thought of being tied to babies and baby strollers everywhere we go is enough to scare many of us into retreating back to our couple zone. It’s not that we don’t want to be mums and dads; we just need to be mentally prepared to become parents.
More often than not, our imagination is worse than reality. Talk to working mums and dads, read up on parenting, and if you prefer to learn from experts, a parenthood preparation course or seminar may put your mind more at ease.
But most important of all, couples should discuss concerns and resolve issues early on, because parenting is a joint effort, not a competition to see who does a better job.
3) Prepare your finances
Raising a child is expensive business. From diapers to milk powder, from baby wear to baby food; the shopping list is endless. Learning to budget wisely and being a smart shopper are lessons we should master before we decide to do our bit for national productivity.
More often than not, the actual cost of living is the result of our own purchasing decisions, rather than the state of the economy.
Instead of buying coffee from the café near your office, why not get your regular cuppa from the kopi-tiam downstairs? You get your caffeine fix and save money. Instead of buying designer baby wear, why not get something that’s cheaper but just as comfortable for your little one?
Small lifestyle changes can go a long way to help prepare couples financially to cope with an additional member of the family.
4) Prepare your support
If only we could have more family time and shorter working hours, many of us would immediately start our own families.
Of course, the reality is that most couples work long hours and find themselves with little time for their children and worse, hardly any time for themselves.
With a good support network, couples can juggle both work and parenthood effectively, and still have time for themselves.
For a start, the support network should include caregivers who can take care of the baby when both parents are working.
Grandparents, domestic helpers, infant or childcare centres are some candidates for consideration.
Next, the support network should also include employers and colleagues. It is important that bosses and supervisors, as well as co-workers are aware that you are serious about being a good employee, and a good parent as well.
This means that you need to behave as a professional should: be on time, be responsible and deliver.
Once you are able to show that you can handle your work well, getting your employers’ and colleagues’ support and understanding when you really need to take time off to care for your family will become much easier.
By Lee Shou Yin