Parenting can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. And just because your pregnancy wasn’t planned doesn’t mean you can’t be an awesome parent. It’s also a really big commitment, so it’s good to put some thought into whether having a baby now is the right thing for you and your family. If you know you want to have a baby but just weren’t trying to have one right now, take some time to think about whether and how you might make it work.
types of parenting
With a partner
If you’re married or live with your partner, you can share responsibility for daily duties and expenses like food, housing, diapers, clothing, and childcare. Every couple divides things up differently—the important thing is to work as a team and support each other as parents and partners.
If you aren’t living together or in a romantic relationship, you can still share parenting responsibilities with your child’s other parent. Typically co-parents will each spend some time with the child, contribute to expenses, and have input on decisions about school, medical care, etc. Whatever the relationship is between you and the other parent, you can try to work together to do what’s best for your child.
You can parent on your own, handling childcare and expenses with little or no support from the other parent. Being a single parent can be seriously challenging. As your child gets older, the challenges change, but whether you’re changing diapers or meeting with teachers, it’s always your turn. On the positive side, you can decide how you want to raise your child without having to compromise with anyone else.
No matter what your situation is with your child’s other parent, it can make a big difference to have support from other adults. You might live with or near parents, grandparents, or other family members who can help provide financial or emotional support for you and your child. If you have a friend who’s also a single parent, you could consider living together to share expenses and childcare responsibilities.
For many people, being a parent is the best thing ever. It’s also serious business.
There are so many decisions to make as a parent, and they start even before the baby is born. There’s no magic formula that’s right for everyone, but there are a few things it’s good to consider:
If you’re considering parenting or adoption, the first order of business is to find a health care provider for prenatal visits. Even if you’re not 100% sure what you want to do yet, it’s a good idea to take care of yourself.
You’ll want to make a plan for where and how you want to give birth and who you might want to have involved in the birth. Talk to your provider if you’re not sure about the options.
Make a plan (and be prepared to let it go)
Start thinking about some of the things you’ll need to figure out right after the baby is born, like breastfeeding/chestfeeding or formula feeding, cloth or disposable diapers, what birth control you’ll use after the birth, and where the baby will sleep. Taking care of a newborn can be overwhelming and exhausting, so it’s good to try to make some plans beforehand. That said, you can’t always predict what will work best for you and baby, so it’s also good to have a backup plan and a flexible attitude in case your first plan doesn’t work out.
Before parenting, there’s the whole pregnancy and birth part
Before you become a parent, you’ll be pregnant. For about 9 months. Everyone has different experiences of pregnancy, and even different experiences during the same pregnancy. There’s usually some combination of joy, nervousness, feeling overwhelmed, feeling excited, and at times feeling really freaking uncomfortable.
Depending on where you live, you may have options for giving birth in a hospital, birthing center, or at home. Your prenatal provider can help you explore the options and think about what’s best for you. It can be helpful to take some childbirth and infant care classes, and/or think about finding a doula.
It’s also important to know that people have lots of different experiences right after giving birth. There will be some serious hormonal shifting going on in your body, so it’s common to feel like you don’t recognize your own emotions during this time. Up to one in five moms are depressed after giving birth, and it’s important to talk to your provider if you feel this way.
Because the time right before and after giving birth can be unpredictable, it’s helpful to figure out how you will take a break from whatever else is going on in your life when the baby arrives. That could mean putting work, school, or taking care of others on hold for a while. If you’re working, you may be able to get some financial support when the baby arrives—talk to your employer to find out if they offer any family leave benefits.
But most of parenting comes after that
Becoming a parent isn’t just about having a baby. Parenting is a lifelong commitment to raising an infant to a child to a teenager to an adult. Babies are adorable; they are also super demanding. A cranky toddler or a talkative pre-teen can make you want to laugh and cry at the same time. The point is, parenting is a marathon—not a sprint—and at every stage the rewards and challenges will be different.
Common perks of parenting include: sharing an out-of-this-world bond of love with your child, being amazed by and proud of the little (or eventually not so little) person you are raising, having an excuse to have fun and play, and enjoying lots of little things adults sometimes don’t pay enough attention to.
Common challenges of parenting include: not getting enough sleep, not having time for yourself, worrying about your kid and about whether you are doing a good job as a parent, and just generally feeling pulled in a million directions as you try to raise your child while navigating your other responsibilities and needs.
It’s totally normal to feel unprepared
In some ways, you may never feel totally ready to be a parent. But there are things you can do to feel more prepared. Take some time to reflect on how you were raised and what you want to do the same or differently when you are a parent.
Thinking about where you’ll live, how you’ll support yourself financially and emotionally, and what kind of child care needs you’ll have, for example, can help you decide if you’re ready to become a parent now and, if so, what kind of support you’ll need in the coming years. Check out our resources tab for some ways to get support now and down the line.
There’s no question that parenting is expensive. Even before the baby arrives, there are costs that come with pregnancy and birth. You might have to spend more on health insurance, and the prenatal and birth options you want may not be covered or could have higher co-pays. You’ll probably need to get some new clothes, especially toward the end of the pregnancy. It may be important to you to eat healthier. All of this can be an added expense.
After your child is born, you’ll have to pay for food, clothing, and health care for your baby, in addition to your own needs. You may also need to pay for childcare—even when your child is old enough to go to school (think summers, holidays, and early mornings or afternoons when school is out). You might want to find a bigger place to live, especially as your child gets older.
Some families have plenty of money and others make do with very little. How you were raised and where you live probably influences how much money you feel like you need to raise a child. It’s good to be honest with yourself about your income and where you might find financial support if you need it going forward.
The United States offers less support to families than many other countries with similar resources. Still, if you don’t have much money, there are programs that can help, like Medicaid for health care, WIC and food stamps for meals, diaper banks, and low cost preschool and childcare. Eligibility varies by immigration status but some programs may still be available to your child regardless of immigration status. The National Immigrant Law Center has excellent resources on eligibility for federal programs. These programs often vary by state and county, so it’s important to look at what’s available in your area.
If you are a single parent seeking child support, consult the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.
Only you can decide what’s best for you—and you deserve to have all the support you need in thinking about your options!
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has a resource that covers all the options called “Pregnancy Choices: Raising the Baby, Adoption, and Abortion.”
All-Options provides support for people through all their decisions, feelings, and experiences with pregnancy, parenting, adoption, and abortion, at 1-888-493-0092.
The Pregnancy Options Workbook has questions and exercises to help you think about the way you feel about pregnancy, parenting, adoption, and abortion.
For support during pregnancy and beyond, check out:
HealthCare.gov. (Also available in Spanish.) Pregnancy is considered a life-changing event, which means even if it’s not open enrollment time, you may be able to sign up for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. The website of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has a map you can click on to get information about home visiting programs in your state. Home visits are when a trained professional provides in-home coaching or support for soon-to-be or new parents.
Medicaid. If your income is below a certain level, you may qualify for Medicaid health care coverage.
National Diaper Bank Network. By focusing on diaper need, the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN) works to meet the basic needs of all American children and families.
Office of Child Support Enforcement. Information for single parents on getting child support.
WIC. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (also available in Spanish) helps low-income women and children up to age 5 with food, health care, and nutrition education.
Becoming a parent is an incredibly personal decision—and the only right choice is the one that feels right to you. Here are some questions to think about as you’re making the decision. It might help to write down your answers in a journal. It may also help to discuss the questions with people you care about or someone who can offer impartial support.
When you think about parenting, what comes up for you?
How does the idea of having a baby right now make you feel? If you are already a parent, how do you feel about adding another child to the mix?
What have you thought about parenting in the past? Is having a(nother) child something you want to do someday?
What kind of support system do you have? Will your partner, family, friends, or community resources be available to help out?
If you want to be a parent (now or someday), what does it look like when you picture yourself parenting? Have you envisioned yourself being a certain age, or having a certain kind of relationship? Are there things you had hoped to do before having a kid?
How does your current situation compare to the picture of ideal parenthood that’s been in your mind? If it’s very different, how do you feel about those differences? Are they deal breakers or things you might be able to overcome or adapt to?
Do you feel like you have what you need to have a baby and parent right now? Do you think you’ll feel better prepared in the future?
What’s your relationship with the other person involved in the pregnancy? Do you know how they feel about these questions? How would you want them to be involved in parenting? How would you deal with them wanting to be more or less involved than you’d like?
What are your values when it comes to parenting, adoption, and abortion? If you’re religious, are there resources (teachings or people) you think could be helpful in considering your options?
What kind of emotional and practical support do you need for making this decision? Where can you find the support you need?