When's the Best Time to Start a Family?

By

When's the Best Time to Start a Family?
Figuring out when to have kids. Inside are the biological myths and realities about conception.

Kim had always wanted kids, and "slowly Michael started saying he could see himself having them," she recalls, "but he wanted us to be financially stable and have the time to devote to them." Now Kim, a 36-year-old lawyer, is the one who is stalling: "I'm so wrapped up in building my business that I think I'd have a nervous breakdown if I became pregnant." Michael expects they'll try in a year or two. He prefers "visions of attending my child’s college graduation standing up, not sitting in a wheelchair." But, he adds, "I've seen countless friends with children in two-career homes. It isn’t pretty, and neither are the parents after a while. I believe a married couple should enjoy their marriage first."

Dory Hottensen, a clinical social worker who teaches a seminar entitled "Deciding to Have a Baby—or Not" at the 92nd Street YMHA in Manhattan, reports a trend away from the classic she’s-ready-he's-not scenario. "Usually it's the woman who is ambivalent and the man who is all for it," Hottensen says of her seminar attendees. "Women are concerned with the physical aspects of pregnancy, self-image, and the effect on their careers. They're feeling pressure to 'do it all' and they aren't sure they can. Men take more responsibility in childcare than in times past, but ultimately most of it falls on the woman." Hottensen's course covers the concrete issues—finances, living situations, support—and deeper psychological issues, such as fears about parenting that stem from childhood. "Couples need to explore all the pros and cons as deeply and completely as they can and understand that some ambivalence is normal," she says.

And Diane Sollee, who as Director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education sees many couples debating when to start a family, believes a little mutual soul-searching, and even conflict, now can reap benefits down the line. "The research is clear: It's never the issue but how you handle it that is key," she says. "There will be many intense issues about little Johnny besides when to have him. This is a good issue around which to hone couples skills so Johnny will grow up with two happily married parents."