Before Valentine's Day, let's talk about sex, baby – and babies
What are you doing for Valentine's Day? Clubbing? Dinner date? Are you among the 40% of couples getting engaged from November to Valentine's Day?
Let's have the talk. About sex. And what can come nine months after Valentine's Day: babies. No, this is not that kind of talk, prevention or abstinence. It's not even about how soon is too soon to have sex when dating someone new. This is about bringing life into the world, and how that life will change your life.
Whether you're in a serious relationship or just exploring people, this is a talk you should be having – not only with the person you're dating but, most important, with yourself.
The question is not just: Do you want children?
I'm a mother of four, and I'm continuously surprised at how little people talk about such a possible life-changing event.
The question is not just do you want kids or are you ready? If you are, how do you want to raise your children? What kind of parent will you be and what do you expect from your partner? How about religion? Race? Politics? Education? If you're not able to have kids, are you willing to risk the pain and the costs of medical assistance? How about adoption, or a surrogate?
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I'm such a mood killer, aren't I? I can hear you now: Hey lady, this is too heavy for Valentine's Day. It's about romance, having fun.
What if you're just having fun and accidents happen? Getting pregnant, yes. But how about falling in love when you weren't looking for a serious relationship at all?
Isn't discussing children way too premature when you're just getting to know people?
But, you say, surely talking about starting a family is way too soon when you're just getting to know people. I say, what better way to get to know people then chatting about parents, siblings, disciplining styles, your past and your future goals?
It doesn't have to be all in one serious dinner. When you're out with co-workers, compare notes. Hooking up at a wedding? Gossip about the newly married and their families; discuss the flower boy and the ring girl.
If you don't know what you want already, talking about kids with others can help you clarify your goals – and why you feel the way you do.
People have all sorts of reasons for whether or not they want children. How they were raised could be an influence. Whether there's divorce in the family. Abuse, emotionally or physically. But it also could be a career. Lifestyle. Health concerns. Family legacy.
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It should be a personal choice. Before you decide, however, you first have to know yourself and what you want. You shouldn't be pressured into having children. But if you love children and find yourself also loving someone determined to be childfree, what you do next is the talk you need to have.
What you don't want is to be surprised by what your partner wants. What you don't want is to be in a happy marriage, then be surprised by suddenly having huge fights over how or how much to discipline your children.
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Be open to changing your mind, and to compromises
I've been married for three decades. We have three children in their 20s already and one still in high school.
Would you believe in my 20s I loved a man so much I decided to forgo having kids? Not that he pressured me. He was just upfront about not wanting to be a parent because of his rough relationship with his father.
Then I met my future husband, at the office. Getting to know this new co-worker made me realize I had been unfair to myself, and to my boyfriend. Who's to say that if we had stayed together, I wouldn't come to resent him and not love him for just being himself?
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Well, the ex and I stayed in touch, and guess what? He married and has a child. Somewhere after me he surprised himself by changing his mind.
As for my parenting partner, we found out early that we had the same goals in mind and how to get there. It hasn't been a cruise, but when we hit rough waves, compromising and focusing on love point us in the right direction.
We wouldn't have learned any of that if we first didn't have the talk.
Thuan Le Elston, a member of USA TODAY's Editorial Board, is the author of "Rendezvous at the Altar: From Vietnam to Virginia." Follow her on Twitter: @thuanelston
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Are you ready for a baby? How to talk about having kids.