You’re happy, in love and thinking about the future – but how do you know if you and your partner are compatible as parents?
It’s hard when you’re dealing with a situation you’ve never been in before, but there are ways of making a fairly accurate guess. And one of the secrets, according to experts, is asking your partner about their childhood.
Dee Holmes, senior counsellor at Relate, says a good childhood might mean your partner wants to copy what their own parents did, whereas unhappy memories could lead to a desire to do things completely differently.
“You’d hope that if you’re getting to the stage of having children, you’ll have some idea as to how the person relates to children,” says Holmes.
“One important way to tell is by asking that person about their childhood and what they’ve taken from that – what do they want to be the same? What do they wish their parents had done differently?”
This discussion should be part of a wider conversation about what you envisage parenthood will be like – and the type of parent you want to be. Some questions can be hypothetical, such as, ‘How would you handle a situation where our child doesn’t want to do their homework?’.
“It’s surprising how few people have that conversation, even when they’re having a child,” Holmes says. “Sometimes people assume they don’t need to have it – they assume they’ll be on the same page and in agreement, or they assume it’ll be fine. Communication about all sorts of things is important.”
Holmes says before people have children, they’re often full of ideas about how they’d raise them – but reality can be very different. “Often, people look at children and say, I wouldn’t let my child do that,” she says. “But when they have a child, everything changes.”
Being on the same page about how you would deal with certain aspects of parenthood is positive, but differences can be beneficial, too. If one parent concentrates on academic success but it isn’t as important to the other – it might make the child more rounded, for example. “It’s how the couple handles those differences [that’s important],” says Holmes.
But, she warns, you mustn’t ignore red flags. If you’re having a discussion with your partner and there’s something you don’t like the sound of, don’t ignore it or think it’s something you’ll be able to change. Speak about it.
So how do you have the conversation? Holmes suggests covering these four questions.
1. What are your views on discipline?
“Your partner’s views on how to discipline a child is important,” she says. “Do they believe in rewarding, positive reinforcement and leading by example? Or does your partner think punishment is better? If so, and you disagree, then you need to look at that and talk about it.” And there are ways to do that.
2. How much time will you spend with our child?
What is your partner’s view on how much time they’re going to spend with the child? Who will go back to work – and how often? Holmes says you need to discuss how much they envisage working and whether they expect you to have a nanny or another form of childcare. “If you expect to be a stay-at-home parent, and your partner expects you to go back to work full-time, you need to talk about it in advance,” she says.
3. How do you imagine life changing?
“We all have a fantasy that we’ll tuck the baby under our arm and carry on as we always have been, but at a certain age they need routine and stability,” she says. “You need to make sure you discuss how life might change, and how you’ll deal with those changes.”
4. How will you support me?
A lot of parenting is down to how well you can support each other. “You’re going to experience stresses – such as sleep deprivation – but communication around it is what’s most important,” says Holmes.
“Don’t expect that you’ll necessarily agree, but you’ve got to start from a point of knowing what the other person’s views are and their rationale.”