Getting married and having children is increasingly becoming a choice and not an obligation in modern day America. As of 2012, less than 20 percent of households in the U.S. consist of married people with children.
While this could mean a lot of things, one interpretation is that marriage and child-rearing is now something individuals and couples approach with more intention, meaning, and choice, not with inherent expectation. Hopefully, this reflects an evolving culture where we honestly communicate more with our partners — and ourselves — about what we want our specific life trajectories to look like.
Marriage and the baby carriage
For those who have chosen marriage or think you might in the future, there’s often a curious post-marriage effect. Once the vendor bills are paid and your wedding dress is zipped back into its elegant garment bag, many couples suddenly find themselves thinking about the next big milestone in life. For some, this means starting a family.
You may find that you and your partner are not the only ones suffering from a sudden bout of baby fever (if you’re even warming up to the idea to begin with). Lots of newlyweds notice that, for the first time, relatives and friends are asking you questions about your plans for parenthood.
Whether the fertility questions are coming from you, your partner, or your mother-in-law, here is some guidance on how to use the post-nuptial period as a time for future planning and reflection, based on my training and experience as an associate marriage and family therapist (AMFT). And even if you’re not on the marriage train, it can be useful to set aside time to thoughtfully consider and plan your future and goals. Ultimately, your timeline is up to you.
Check in with yourself and your partner
Anna Osborn, a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT) who specializes in working with couples says, “Getting married impacts your shared goal setting. Anytime you deepen your commitment to one another, you look more towards the future and create communication around shared goals and plans. Therefore big decisions about becoming parents and planning to start a family together take on a more meaningful and potentially significant role.”
Before taking a more serious step into commitment, the conversation about family planning with your partner often stops at, “Hey, do you want kids?” Early on, this can make a lot of sense. Having some barebone intentions around family may enough to go off of at this point in your relationship. However, when you hit the point where kids might be five years away or less, rather than a distant future thought, just knowing that you both want kids may not feel like detailed enough planning.
If you find that your thoughts about becoming a parent have shifted in intensity after marriage or just generally, this is a great time to check in with your partner about planning for a family.
But before sitting down together, take time to reflect on what’s going on for you. Try to identify how your thoughts and feelings on fertility and family planning have changed through the process of getting married or in recent months. What message do you want your partner to hear when you have this conversation?
For example, perhaps you want to share that you are feeling positive about your decision to try for a kid in three years and not before. Or maybe you’re you’re interested in speeding up your timeline. Do you feel ready or interested to get more information about your fertility? Identifying your goal for this conversation beforehand will help you communicate more clearly when you do sit down with your partner.
Keep in mind, if your thoughts on family planning have changed substantially compared to previous discussions you’ve had, this could come as a shock to your partner. You may be really excited about your new plan or your new timeline, but try to give your partner the space and time to process their feelings and ask more questions. Be honest and clear about your desires. If they don’t respond with the enthusiasm you’d hoped for, find a friend to share your intentions with while you and your partner continue to navigate your expectations.
Learn more about your fertility now
Whether you plan on having kids is one, three, or five years, learning more about your fertility now can help you more confidently approach long-term family planning. However, traditional fertility testing can be costly and can require jumping through lots of medical hoops, when you may not even be ready to start a family. Because of the cost and burden associated with this process, many women only turn to fertility hormone testing when they suspect they may already have a fertility issue. This is where Modern Fertility’s testing kit can be helpful.
Testing your fertility early in an affordable, accessible, and accurate way gives you the time and data you need to make decisions about family planning well in advance. Having this knowledge empowers you to make informed choices about your own fertility, such as prioritizing a conversation about having kids with a partner, thinking about egg freezing, pursuing adoption, or moving up your family planning timeline.
‘So, when will you be having kids?’ Handling inquiries from friends and family
If you’ve just gotten married, you’ll likely experience people asking you when a little one is coming along (and maybe even if you’re not married). This may make you realize you haven’t even had a chance to think about future parenthood yourself.
Gina, a 28-year-old graduate student says, “Getting married suddenly made me feel pressure to have kids. Even though I wasn't sure about whether or not I wanted them, everyone else seemed to assume I did, and that this was one of the main reasons to get married.”
In our culture, marriage has often been used to indicate that a pair are ready to begin a family together. But this isn’t an assumption we can continue to make about modern marriages and unions. You and your partner may be planning for a kid before marriage, immediately afterwards, or you may not intend to have children at all. Marriage may not be something you’re considering at all. Modern marriage and partnership are highly individualized and mean something different to everyone.
So, what’s the right etiquette for fielding both welcome and unwelcome questions about your fertility? Unfortunately, there’s not really a playbook for this sort of thing, but here’s how I would advise my clients.
If someone approaches you with an out-of-the-blue, unwanted question about having kids, it can be helpful to answer politely but firmly in a way that indicates you’re not interested in the discussing it. Then, direct the conversation elsewhere with a question.
Try a line like, “We’re excited for a family in the future, but it’s not something we’re talking about yet. How was your daughter, Alison’s, backpacking trip last weekend?”
Or, “Oh, that’s something that’s not really on my mind right now. I’ve really been focusing on building the clientele at my consulting business. Do you know what a challenge it’s been to target older folks who don’t use tech?”
Osborn says, “I'd encourage a newly married couple to communicate and make a decision on how they want to address these often well-meaning relatives and friends and then tackle it as a team. Whether you as a couple decide to address it head on, laugh it off, or just commiserate together afterwards, remember that the two of you are the actual ones who will be taking on the blessing and the burden of having a family. You two are the ones that will have to emotionally, physically, and financially provide for the child, so be confident in your plan and don't let pressure from the outside dictate what the two of you know is best.”
Follow your north with intention
When a relationship hits a new level of commitment, whether this is marriage or moving across the country to be with your significant other, it can prompt a shift in how you think about family and children. Like we mentioned earlier, marriage doesn’t automatically mean having children anymore, either. Regardless, it’s worthwhile to spend time building a vision of the future you and your partner desire. Doing this can help you to approach this time in your life and relationship, as well as and subjects like fertility and family, with conscientiousness and intention.