We don’t have any friends with babies, so I’ve never had the opportunity to see my boyfriend in action with them. He is kind, nurturing, patient and understanding with me, but how do I know he will act the same with a small child? I grew up with a sister twelve years younger, and I clearly remember how much work my parents went through when she born and how it completely changed our household. Babies create a lot of emotional and financial stress. Even though I feel like we’re a few years off from having a family of our own, I’m afraid my boyfriend will crumble under the pressure. How can I know my boyfriend is the right man to start a family with? — Potential Breadwinning Mom
I’m going to answer your question by turning it back on you: How do you know you’ll be a good mother? Isn’t that a more interesting thought to ponder? After all, it doesn’t matter whom you choose as your co-parent: if you have kids, you’ll always be the mother — that part is a given. So how do you know if you’ll be any good at parenting? You said yourself you don’t have any babies in your life, and even if you did — even if you had a niece or a nephew or a friend or two with kids — it’s not like your experience with them would tell you everything you need to know about motherhood. The truth is, it would tell you very little.
The thing about parenthood is it’s a journey you can’t truly begin to map out until you take your first step, and even then, you can only plan one or two steps in advance. How do you know if you or your partner will be any good at it? You don’t! You don’t truly know until you do it. Becoming a parent is life’s biggest leap of faith. It’s scary and exhilarating and nerve-racking and one of the most joyful (and sometimes heartbreaking) experiences you can imagine and it will knock the breath out of you over and over.
You cannot plan what parenthood will be like or how you — or your partner — will handle it, but you can begin to hone certain necessary skills and look for these skills in a potential co-parent. You’ll want someone who is patient, compassionate, flexible and fun. You’ll want someone whose best traits complement your best traits and who fills some of your gaps. You’ll need someone who is a wonderful communicator and a strong nurturer.
I was lucky to find that in Drew. I knew before we had a baby that he had the traits that make a good parent. It was also a good sign that he actually likes kids and was very committed to the idea of being a father himself. I knew he could be a good caregiver because not only was he caring toward me — especially in my first few months in New York when I was homesick for Chicago and frustrated that I couldn’t find a job — but he also takes wonderful care of his elderly father (who turns 92 this weekend!). Unlike you, I did get to see the potential father of my children interact with his own niece and nephew as well as friends’ kids, and it was clear he had a way with them. He’s funny and charming and sweet — all the traits that (most) kids love.
To be honest, I was more concerned about how I’d fare as a mother than how Drew would do as a dad. I have a tendency to be impatient, short-tempered, and overly critical. I have lots of good traits, too, but those flaws of mine worried me. Plus, I SUCK when I don’t get enough sleep. But I really wanted to have kids, so I chose a mate and co-parent carefully. While I didn’t have a guarantee Drew would be the best dad ever or that I would be an ok mom, I knew we made a good team. I knew his good traits tempered some of my bad ones and vice-versa. There were enough checks in our positive column that I felt the leap of faith into parenthood was worth taking. It’s always going to be a leap of faith, but choosing the right kind of person can make that leap a little less scary.
So, ask yourself if you and your boyfriend make a good team. Ask yourself whether he’s caring and compassionate and, most of all, patient. And when you say you worry he’ll crumble under the pressure of fatherhood, think about what makes you feel that way. If there’s a legitimate concern, don’t ignore it; discuss it. Be open with each other about your worries. That’s another thing good parents need — open communication with each other.
In the end, you won’t truly know what kind of parent either of you will be until you have a baby and begin the parenthood adventure. But paying attention to the kind of people you are and the kind of partner you are for each other will give you a pretty good indication whether you’ll succeed as parents.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow me on Twitter.