Decision Making

Parenting Potential

How do I know whether I’d be a good parent?

Most people ask themselves this before having children. What’s often behind this question is the fear or worry of not being a good parent. It’s natural to have some concerns or worries about becoming a parent. Maybe you don’t feel especially paternal or maternal and worry that this will make you a “bad” parent. Or maybe you didn’t experience great parenting when you were growing up, and you wonder if you’ll be able to do a better job with your kids than you feel your parents did raising you.

The reality is that we all bring to parenting our baggage and assumptions from our own childhoods. But we’ve also learned a lot along the road of life that has shaped our parenting potential. It isn’t possible to know in advance with any certainty whether you’ll make a good or even great parent.

But you certainly can consider what you think makes for a good parent, then consider whether you are up to that task – and if not, what you need to change or learn to meet the demands of this role – or whether you really aren’t cut out for the responsibility of being a parent.

Ask yourself what qualities you think are important in a parent. Look at your own parents, your friends and family members who are parents. What qualities do you see in them, that you feel makes them a good parent? Write down a list of these qualities. Maybe they are patient, loving, nurturing, easy-going, or adaptable. Next, write down your personal qualities that you could bring to parenting. Look at the two lists. Do m/any of these qualities that you have match those that you’ve identified as making for a good parent? If there are qualities on the good parenting list that you don’t have on your list, perhaps you can nurture and develop some of these qualities in yourself. For example, you may be a fairly high-strung person and believe that you need to be calmer and more easy-going to be able to cope with the demands of raising a child. So you might decide to add yoga and meditation to your life, as a way of de-stressing and getting more grounded. Or you may be fairly impatient by nature. And yet many people say that they became more patient after they became a parent. Or perhaps there are qualities you believe are essential for good parenting, that you don’t have and don’t believe you can develop – or that you don’t feel you would want to change – in which case, maybe parenthood is not the best role for you.

Before having kids, some people elect to get and nurture a pet. While this isn’t exactly the same as taking care of a child, it helps people try out their nurturing potential and ability to be responsible for another living thing.

If you are asking yourself whether or not you’d be a good parent, this is already a good sign – it demonstrates that you are taking the responsibility seriously and that you want to be the best parent possible.

The good news is that even parents who don’t immediately feel paternal/maternal towards their child, usually end up developing these feelings as they get to know their child and become more comfortable in the parenting role. It is also important to remember that there is no such thing as a “perfect” parent. Everyone makes mistakes. Fortunately, most often these aren’t life-altering mistakes. And children are amazingly adaptive and resilient.

How do I know if my partner would be a good parent?

As in the earlier question “How do I know whether I’d be a good parent”, consider the list of qualities that you think are important in a parent. Then make a list of your partner’s qualities. Do any of the qualities show up on both lists? Sometimes when becoming parents in a partnership, you can both bring different qualities that together will provide your child with a balanced and loving environment. For example, maybe your partner is very spontaneous whereas you like to plan ahead. Both of these qualities can be valuable in a parent.

On the other hand, you may have some concerns about your partner’s parenting potential. Perhaps s/he grew up in an abusive family and has a very short fuse – being quick to lash out verbally or even physically. Or perhaps your concerns are more subtle. Having watched your partner with other people’s children or with pets, you may question whether s/he has the necessary patience, or flexibility, or nurturing capacity that you feel is necessary for good parenting.

This brings up some tough choices. If you believe your partner will not be a good parent, you need to give serious consideration about having a child together. When you have a child with another person, your lives become entwined, whether or not your relationship survives. Choose carefully and consider whether this partner is someone with whom you can see yourself sharing parental duties with over the next 20+ years – whether or not you are still together. Sometimes it’s scary to think of doing it on your own, but it’s less scary than having a child with a partner who you feel isn’t going to be a good, loving, and involved parent.

And don’t kid yourself. Although having a child will bring change to your lives, people don’t fundamentally change. And parenthood is stressful and demanding. That means that your partner isn’t likely to suddenly become a kind, loving, generous parent, if he or she isn’t already that kind of person and partner.

How do I know if our relationship is strong enough to bring a child into our lives?

This is a good question to ask before having a baby. Sometimes couples think that having a baby can solve their problems. However, the demands of parenthood, particularly in the early years, inevitably put more stress on a relationship. The transition to parenthood is considered one of the most stressful times in a couple’s relationship. You are both thrust into roles that you are more or less unprepared for. Your child requires 24/7 attention and care. You will be sleep deprived. Your child may be ill or colicky. You will have much less time as a couple, and all aspects of your home life will be affected by this new addition to your lives. Your work life schedules and availability to travel or stay late for meetings, will also be affected.

That said, having a strong foundation in your relationship is key when considering bringing a child into your lives. Ask yourself:

· How do you both handle stress – do you bicker, or take it out on each other, or are you able to support each other during times of stress?

· How did you handle the adjustment of moving in with each other? Did you find it difficult to make the transition from being on your own to living under the same roof?

· What issues might be challenging for your relationship as you make the transition from partners to parents?

· Do you feel loved and supported by each other?

· Do you trust and respect each other?

· Are you both committed to becoming parents and making the changes and sacrifices that will be necessary to accommodate this new person and role in your lives?

If you feel good about your relationship and the answers to these questions are positive, then it might be time to consider parenthood.

However, if a number of these areas are of concern for you, you should consider working on your relationship before having a child. You have the option of seeing a couple’s counsellor to help you work through these issues. Certainly, if there is any abuse going on in your relationship (physical, emotional, sexual), this is not a good situation to bring a child into. In fact, physical and verbal abuse tends to escalate with the pressures and demands of parenthood. You need to focus on getting help and support for yourself first before considering having a child. Consider whether you’d be better having a child on your own, rather than exposing a child to the risk of witnessing or being a victim of violence.

I don’t think my partner would be a very good father. Can I do this on my own?

We started to address this issue in the question above “How do I know if my partner will be a good parent”. If you come to the realization that your current partner will not be a good parent, you are left with some big decisions to make. The biggest question is, can I do this on my own? And related to that, will it be easier to do it on my own than with a partner who won’t be a good parent?

Our website has a number of sections on single/sole support parenting which might be helpful here. See the section on Sole Support Parenthood and look above to the question in this section about the Pros and Cons of Sole Support Parenting . These sections will help you start the process of considering whether single parenthood is for you.

It may also be helpful to connect with other single parents you know and with single parent support groups in your area. Many men and women are parenting on their own – with success. Ask yourself what is more important to you? Are you willing to give up parenthood if you remain with this partner? Or are you willing to tie yourself to this partner by having a child with him? Or would it be better for you and your potential child to do this on your own? If you’re considering leaving your current partner and becoming a single parent, you may want to speak with a counsellor who is familiar with the available fertility options and issues, and who can help you decide if this is the right choice for you.