Care and Feeding

How Can You Tell When You’re Ready to Have Children?

I know that my girlfriend and I need to have a financial plan. But what else?

Two women looking at each other, one holding a sleeping baby in her arms.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by SanneBerg/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Rayes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a 23-year-old in a yearlong relationship that’s been very close, and in which we moved VERY quickly. We ended up moving in with each other after dating for only three months because my girlfriend’s father told her with no notice that they were getting evicted.

I want to have children with this woman. I want to marry her. I love her very much. I also know that I’m a 23-year-old one year into a relationship. How can you tell when you’re ready for children? I know we aren’t prepared financially, but I have a good handle on that aspect and a three- to five-year career plan that should get us in better shape as far as that goes. But once we can afford a child, how will we know we’re ready? I’ve been thinking about parenting a lot lately, and we’ve been talking about it together. We’ve rushed into making decisions before, and it worked out, but I know it worked out by chance rather than it being a good call.

—Waiting in Washington

Dear WiW,

You can feel wholly unprepared for parenthood, end up having a child, and rise to the occasion, creating a life that works out beautifully for all involved. You can also plan out every step of your journey toward having a kid, only to find that your relationship, mental health, financial well-being, or some other critical aspect of your life is devastated by your new normal. There is no way to guarantee that you are, or are not, ready for kids. Also, no one is every truly “ready for kids,” believe me.

That aside, it’s wise to identify things you wish to do before having a child (both in preparation for parenthood and independent of it) and what sort of circumstances under which you’d want to welcome a child. Financial fitness is great, but it doesn’t mean you’re “ready” to be a parent—it just means you can afford to be one. Do you wish to travel internationally before having kids? Is there a particular city or neighborhood that you want to live in when you raise a family? Might there be any academic goals you’ve set for yourself? Are you ready to live with your current girlfriend indefinitely?

You and your girlfriend moved in together very early in the relationship out of necessity. It’s great that you were able to be there for her during her time of need and that you are still going strong months later. However, you should still take time to ensure that you’ve selected the right person with whom you wish to start a family and be confident and enthusiastic about doing so. Twenty-three is still pretty young by most folks’ standards, and while you are old enough to do whatever you want, you should at least consider that you and your partner needn’t be in any sort of rush.

Talk to your girlfriend about what it is you desire from a family, and what that may look like in terms of timing, logistics, etc. Hear her own feelings about the matter, and proceed with reason and with the knowledge that you have plenty of time.