What do you wish you knew about your partner before having kids? It’s a good question to ask, especially if you’re just starting to build your family. Posed to those who are knee-deep in parenting, the question reveals insight into areas of contention that might’ve been avoided if conversations were had earlier. And, as it’s easy to assume you know everything about your partner, the question also helps further shade them in. Understanding their thoughts about, say, discipline, family boundaries, and how their specific strengths and weaknesses dovetail with yours might not seem like things Present You need to know. But Future You, who has a couple of kids and loads more experience? He’ll damn well appreciate it.
We asked 12 men, all experienced parents, to reflect on this question. Their answers reflect the subjects that caused some avoidable friction in their marriages as well as those that simply would’ve helped them better complement each other as parents and people. The moral of the story? Asking is crucial. Here are some questions to think about.
1. Why do they want kids?
“Is it because you’re supposed to have kids when you get married? Or is it because you genuinely want to start, build, and care for a family. I thought my wife was the latter, but she was very much the former. I didn’t realize that she felt all this pressure from her friends and family to fall into the role of wife, then mother. I was also eager to start a family, but she later confessed that she wishes we’d waited a few years to grow into her career. These were things we didn’t talk about before having kids that ended up driving some pretty big wedges in our relationship, and I think we could’ve avoided that with more honest, open conversations.” – Alex, 40, Pennsylvania
2. What are their spending habits?
“I wish I’d known that our priorities for spending would be so different when it came to our kids. My wife tends to buy a lot of stuff that I think is frivolous — extra toys, designer clothes, etc. And I prefer spending money on experiences — things like swimming lessons, or gymnastics classes. Even though we’re not struggling financially, there’s only so much money to go around. I don’t know that either of us thought beyond the ‘food, shelter, clothing’ phase of financially planning for a child before we had ours, and I see now why that could’ve been a very valuable conversation to have.” – Ken, 51, Florida
3. What do we need to work on as a couple?
“Nothing prepares you for raising a child, no matter how much you think you know. I remember when our daughter was born, my wife and I would argue quite a bit about almost everything, and it made me question our strength as a couple. It made me wish we’d taken time to really talk about what made us great — and what we needed work on — as a couple. Every parent has rose-colored glasses when their children are born, and then reality hits. We’ve overcome quite a bit raising our kids, which I’m very grateful for. It just makes me wonder how many of those arguments would’ve been necessary if we’d celebrated our strengths as a couple first.” – Kurt, 46, Oregon
4. What does ‘family time’ look like to them?
“My wife and I have always respected each other’s need for alone time. But we never considered how much alone time we’d want to spend with our daughter. It’s a contradiction to the concept of alone time, I know, but we each love her so much that there are times we want to be selfish with her. We want to play with her, take her places, and work on creating our own unique bonds as Mom and as Dad, rather than just parents. It’s honestly a concept that never crossed my mind until we had her, and I think I would’ve felt a little less resentment and confusion if it was something we talked about sooner.” – Ben, 40, Tennessee
5. How do they discipline?
“I was raised with a lot of tough love. My wife was raised in a very caring household. I never knew how we would discipline our child until we actually had to do it, and it turned into a disaster from the start. We were constantly arguing about which approach was best, even though neither of us really knew what we were doing. And looking back, we had so much time to try and create a game plan together while our son was growing up. When it came time for discipline, I wanted to go right, and my wife wanted to go left. If we’d known what each other was thinking, we could’ve done a lot better for our son right out of the gate.” – Cam, 42, Georgia
6. Do they want pets?
“I always imagined our family with a dog, but I never bothered to discuss it with my wife. And it turned into a pretty big deal when we had our first child, and I told her I wanted to get one. She was worried about safety, allergies, and the expense of having a pet as well as a child. Those are definitely valid concerns. But I didn’t expect it to turn into such a big issue. I just assumed she would see a cute puppy and be on board. We ended up getting a dog when our youngest turned 4-years-old. She wanted to wait until the kids were old and aware enough to coexist with an animal in the house. If I would’ve known that, I could’ve started a puppy countdown or something instead of being angry that our family couldn’t have a dog.” – Sean, 45, Ohio
7. What if we can’t get pregnant right away?
“So much planning goes into pregnancy and starting a family that neither of you stop to ask, ‘What if it doesn’t happen?’ Everyone hopes it will be easy, and that you’ll wind up with a beautiful child and a perfect family on the first try. That didn’t happen for us, and we were left reeling by how unprepared we were for that unthinkable scenario. We got into a lot of arguments because neither of us knew where we stood on the topic. Should we keep trying? How many times? It definitely would not have been a fun conversation to have up front, but it would’ve been infinitely better than being blindsided like we were.” – Edward, 41, South Carolina
8. What role will religion play in our family life?
“I’m Catholic and my wife is Jewish. The wedding was fun, but the arguments about how we wanted to teach our kids about faith were not. There were so many that our home just turned into this big melting pot for a while, and we didn’t really have any direction. We both believe that faith is important, but we never bothered to decide how we were going to navigate it as a family. I assumed I knew what my wife would want, and she did the same. It was definitely something we needed to talk about before starting a family because we wanted to do it the best we could. That meant a lot of compromise and soul-searching on my part, and I wish I’d thought to explore that topic much, much sooner.” – Chris, 48, Washington, D.C.
9. How will we set boundaries?
“A lot of parenting is learning on the fly, but one thing I wish I would’ve brought up early on was the concept of boundaries. As our kids grew older, we faced challenges like them wanting to sleep in our bed, and in-laws dropping by constantly. Stuff that doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but can get really exhausting when you constantly argue about it. I don’t think we even examined the concept of boundaries before starting a family, and we absolutely should have. It turned out we were on very opposite ends of the idea, which would have been nice to know.” – David, 40, UK
10. What are their financial goals?
“This is an easy question to misread. We just thought it meant, ‘Do you have enough money to raise a kid?’ Meaning, diapers, food, childcare, and all that. College was part of it, but even that was so far off that it didn’t really even register. What I wish I would have asked had to do more with planning for saving while raising kids, so that we could ensure a stable future for ourselves after they’re gone. How would we handle those types of investments? Would we squirrel money away? Invest in stocks? It was a whole conversation that we ended up having way too late, and almost completely disagreeing about from beginning to end.” – Joseph, 60, California
11. Why will they make a good parent?
“This almost feels like a job interview question, but it’s a really good thing to know in the sense of becoming a team with the common goal of raising and loving a child. I knew my wife would make a good mother. But I didn’t exactly know why. I knew her strengths. But I didn’t know how they would translate to raising a child. Similarly, I knew my strengths and weaknesses but had no idea how they’d translate to my role as a father. We figured it out, but I think a rundown of what we thought would make us each good individual parents — as well as a parenting team — might have set us up for a less bumpy ride when it came to delegating. And it would’ve reinforced the fact that we knew we had each other’s backs no matter what.” – Pete, 46, Toronto
12. How will we keep our relationship strong?
“I don’t think this question needs to be asked in terms of an actual plan, but more of a confirmation that after you’ve started a family, you and your partner need to both be on the same page about whether or not you will prioritize keeping your relationship strong. My wife and I never had that conversation, and our relationship suffered greatly because of the uncertainty. When it came to our relationship, I didn’t know what she needed from me, and vice versa. I think we would’ve eliminated a lot of dissension if we’d both known — rather than assumed — that we were going to work to keep our relationship strong while we raised our family.” – Scott, 44, Michigan