Things to do before you have kids

Start taking prenatal vitamins, cut back on caffeine, stop drinking alcohol.  We’ve all heard it: the things you should do before you get pregnant.  It’s true, of course, but it’s not particularly helpful or realistic in terms of the transition between adult life and life with kids.

Because here’s the thing (in case no one has warned you about this yet): life with kids is different.  Really, really different.  It’s amazing and beautiful and the best thing that ever happened to you.  But it’s also the worst thing that ever happened to the person you used to be.  The transition will be hard no matter what, but if you’ve thought through it and done all the things you really want to do, it will at least be easier.

So here’s my list of the things you should actually do before you even think about having kids.

1. Do all the awesome travel that you’ve been dying to do. Because let me tell you: travel with a baby/toddler isn’t the same.  Sure, there are enjoyable aspects of it.  I mean, a few anyways.  But it’s definitely not relaxing, it’s not romantic, and you’re not going to be spending hours over an amazing meal and fantastic wine.  You’ll be leaving the obligatory “kid” tip as you hurry out of the restaurant and try not to think about the chaos you left behind at your table. You won’t be

But more importantly, most of your trips after a kid will be to see family.  Which makes sense because unlike before you had kids when you were the main attraction and nobody really cared, people actually want to see your baby.  And if you keep the baby away for too long, you start to feel guilty.  Your travel plans are not just about you anymore.  Your baby is a communal family object and everyone needs a turn.  All of which leaves you little time (or money) for “real” vacations.

Even if you do have some extra time for a vacation, you’re probably going to at least hesitate before taking your kid to some exotic destination.  And you certainly couldn’t go hike the Inca Trail or climb Mount Kilimanjaro with a baby in tow.

So make a list of all the travel you want to do and cross off as many things as you can before you get pregnant.

2. Figure out what you want to do with your life.  OK, maybe you can’t get it completely figured out, but at least give it some serious thought.  Think about your career: what will you do when the baby comes and where do you want to be five years from now?  Try to be honest with yourself about how you’ll feel going back to work (or not) and how that will change as baby gets older.  Try to have at least some kind of plan.  Because thinking about all that on interrupted sleep and baby brain can be a real challenge.

Also, think about where you want to live.  If you want to be in a better school district, try to make the move before you get pregnant.  And if you’re going to move across the country, definitely do it before you get pregnant. Moving with a baby is really hard.

3. Be sure that your relationship with your partner is rock-solid. I can never understand when people say that they’re going to have a baby to make their relationship better. Here’s a tip: having a baby will be a huge strain on your relationship.  My husband and I have what I consider to be an excellent relationship.  We’re incredibly open with each other, we are always truthful, we trust each other implicitly, we never fight, we agree on pretty much everything.  He is, without a doubt, my soul mate.  But good lord, this year has been hard.

For the first time, we yelled at each other.  I screamed at him and slammed doors.  We talked less.  We were so exhausted at the end of the day that we got into bed and fell right to sleep, without cuddling or sometimes even touching.  Our daughter came between us, figuratively and sometimes quite literally.  We’re doing pretty well these days, but if our relationship had been weaker, it might have broken.  You need to be strong together.

That strength will only get you so far, though.  You need to be prepared for your relationship to take a backseat for the first few months of your baby’s life.   After spending all day holding and rocking and nursing and soothing a baby, the only thing you want to do with your few spare minutes is to have a little alone time. As you start to settle into your new life as a family you can focus on your relationship again.  But it will never look the same.

4. Prepare to make all new friends.  As in, friends with kids.  You’ll want to have non-kids friends, but it’s hard.  They want to do fun things like go out to dinner and go to concerts and parties.  But that means you have to get a babysitter and pay for the babysitter and probably leave early anyways because you have to get enough sleep so that you can get up bright and early with your little monster the next morning. And to be honest, when your baby is little you just won’t really want to leave her very often anyways.

So you’ll end up making lots of new friends.  Fellow parents that will understand when you have to leave early to put the baby to bed, or who think that going out to lunch instead of dinner is still pretty awesome, or who can commiserate with all your baby drama.  And yet, deep down, you’ll long for the non-kid friends.

5. Prepare for your life to change. Irrevocably and Completely.  When I was about six months pregnant a woman that we worked with told my husband and I that our lives would change completely when we had the baby.  She went on to imply that we shouldn’t have gotten pregnant.  Thanks lady, a little late there, ok?  We just shrugged it off and assumed that we would handle the transition to parenthood better than she had.

Riiiiiiiight.  Parenthood hit me like a 45-foot-high, national-disaster-style tsunami wave.  And when the initial wave went out to sea, what was left behind was just the broken remnants of the structures that had once made up my life.  Now don’t get me wrong.  Like any made-for-tv movie, I can tell you the part about how the disaster gave me a chance to rebuild something better and more beautiful than what was there before.  And that would be true.  But still.  Tsunami people.  Tsunami.