That’s the question someone asked me recently. My answer is:
START A FAMILY BEFORE…
1. Your eggs get rusty. This happens sooner than most women realize. At age 20, most women who have sex every other day can easily get knocked up within a year’s time, if not sooner. By age 30, only 63 percent of women are so lucky. By age 35, the pregnancy rate drops to one in two. By age 40, only a third of women can get pregnant (without professional help). Your risk of having a complication—Down syndrome, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, C-section, fetal distress—also rise with age, especially after age 35.
2. You lose your energy. Most babies will cry for food roughly once every two hours for their first six weeks of life, if not much longer. My daughter did not sleep through the night until long after her first birthday and she never napped longer than 20 minutes. You will pull many all-nighters as a parent, but they won’t be as fun as the all-nighters you pulled in high school or in college. You’ll spend these all nighters cleaning up throw up and rocking a feverish, crying kid.
3. Your parents are too old to baby sit and enjoy their grandchildren, assuming they are in the area. Grandparents are every parent’s mental and physical lifesavers. Try not to wait so long that you become sandwiched between caring for your kids and caring for your elderly parents.
START A FAMILY AFTER…
1. Your career is firmly established. You won’t be quite yourself again for about a year after having a baby. More important, daycare centers are germ petri dishes. Your kid is going to catch every single illness ever invented during his or her first few years of life. Because daycare centers send kids home when they have fevers, diarrhea, pink eye, and more, you’re going to miss lots of workdays to tend to your sick kid and then tend to yourself once you catch the same germ.
2. You have some money saved. It costs somewhere between $125,000 and $250,000 to raise a kid from babyhood to age 18—and that doesn’t even include the price of a college education. In just one year, a baby will run you between $9,000 and $11,000 for diapers, formula, furniture, clothes, gear and more. Breast-feeding, cloth diapers, and hand-me-downs will lower those costs somewhat, but a baby will still double your health insurance premiums. Full time childcare will run you somewhere between $3000 and $8500 a year.
3. You’ve gotten the wanderlust out of your system. Sure some people still travel and live it up after parenthood, but they usually have trust funds. Make sure you are ready to embrace amusement parks, family style restaurants, G-rated movies, and Disney on Ice as your primary forms of entertainment.
4. You’ve solved your marital problems. Repeat after me: A baby will not fix your marriage. It will not bring you closer. It will not give you something in common. It’s the opposite. A baby will stress the best of marriages and will end the worst of them. Most couples experience a drop in marital satisfaction after baby. Before you get pregnant, learn how to communicate, solve problems and manage conflict.
Having a baby isn’t for everyone. Raising a child will be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. It will tax your energy, your brainpower, your bank account, your sanity, your marriage, your furniture, your carpeting, your sex life, your career, your car upholstery and more. At the same time, you’ll experience the priceless joys of watching another human grow up. And your child will teach you many important lessons about wonder, fun, and life in general.
When is the best time to have a child? What are some reasons to start a family? What are some reasons not to? Leave a comment.
A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.