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About Last Night: are we ready to become parents?

Q: Sandy (33) and I (35) have always wanted children so we think we’ll start trying. Our concern is about how we’ll cope with the massive changes a baby will bring. How do you know it’s the right time to become parents?

A: Sexual reproduction is a force of nature. It has been said that sexual desire is the song of future generations asking to be born. Before reliable contraceptives, the very fact that you were sexually active meant it was the "right" time to have kids. Today, we have more choice and the illusion that we are in control. Be willing to be disabused of that illusion, and to submit to chaos when you make a baby.

Maureen MatthewsCredit:Simon Schluter

You can never own your children. They are on loan while you support and nurture them until they can leave you.

Parenting is not topiary or bonsai. A young child is like a sapling. You might tether it to a stake, and enclose it with a windbreak while it is most vulnerable, but it must be allowed to outgrow this protection in order to develop resilience and take on its own unique form.

Parenting can be a one-way street. You will give, and give, and there is no guarantee that they will ever give back. The life force is selfish and looks to the future. In a famine, the foetus will drain its mother in the struggle to survive.

Do not have children with the expectation that they will love you, and care for you in your old age. They might, but, equally, they may not. Our nursing homes are full of elderly parents whose children rarely, or never, visit them. Expressing resentment about this, or laying guilt trips on them will only push them away. They will stay in touch if they want to, not because they should.

Your child will not be a "mini-me". Small children believe everything you say, but, by adolescence, they realise you are fallible and are likely to challenge and reject your beliefs, particularly noticing the difference between what you say, and what you do. In adulthood, they will combine the bits of your philosophy that they see working, with the ideas their own experiences have proved to be right for them.

Do not have a baby because, like a puppy, it is cute. It is fun to set up a nursery, and choose baby clothes, but the helpless infant stage only lasts a year and is not a time of unalloyed cuteness.

Almost half of marriages fail to last for better or worse, richer or poorer. Parenthood requires the same commitment, but there is no divorce. Whether you like it or not, you will be a parent for life.

Do not have a baby because of parental, or peer, pressure. Of course, your parents would love to have grandchildren but only have them if you genuinely want to.

Similarly, do not have children so that you can live, vicariously, through them. Expecting them to get the academic results you failed to achieve, have the career you missed out on, or do the travelling you never did can cause them anxiety and guilt.

Children are not fashion accessories or status symbols equivalent to owning a flash car or living in a desirable postcode. You might be able to afford the BMW of strollers, designer clothes, and private education, but if doing this means you are always working, have little time to just be with them, and are always tired and irritable, you are not fulfilling their needs. They would be happier playing with you wearing op-shop clothes, and would be better educated if you read to them and engaged them in conversation.

The best thing you can do for your child costs nothing: love their other parent. If your pursuit of material wealth destroys your core relationship, all the money in the world will not compensate them.

Finally, do not hope to be the perfect parent. You will make mistakes. Offer them unconditional love, and do your best.

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