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Are You Ready for Pregnancy

Prenatal experts offer advice to parents-to-be on emotionally preparing for a baby.

Not as Easy as It Looks continued...

"No matter how much progress we've made, we still grow up with the message that the only legitimate lifestyle is to grow up, get married and have children. As long as there's that message, we don't actually stop and think about whether that's the way we want to live our lives or not," says Randi Wolfe, assistant professor in early childhood education at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, who holds parenting workshops and has created a parent support and education program called "Listening to Children."

Wolfe believes the pressures to jump into parenthood are harder on women. "A man could decide not to get married or not to have children and while eyebrows might be raised, people wouldn't think it's a terrible loss to humanity. But if a woman simply says she doesn't think she wants to have children, it's a really big statement, and there's no one who's going to say, 'Good for you,' " says Wolfe.

Belsky's research also indicates that even though many couples nowadays expect that household and child-care duties will be shared 50-50 or even 60-40, those proportions are rarely realized. "So there's greater opportunity for disagreement and resentment and misunderstanding, and it just gradually erodes trust and confidence and feelings."

Prepare to Be Surprised

No matter how hard you prepare and discuss ahead of time, there will still be surprises. Parenthood doesn't come with any guarantees about a baby's temperament, for instance, or how parents will react to all these new situations.

Beth Graue, associate professor in early childhood at University of Wisconsin at Madison, was accustomed to being organized and prepared. In fact, people who didn't have control over their lives baffled her -- until she had kids, that is. Now her children, 5 and 2, get sick, the babysitter cancels and she's not the woman she used to be. "People talk about getting to know your baby, but more importantly I think you have to get to know yourself as a mother, and you're meeting a whole new person."

That's why the more issues you can agree on beforehand, the better, says Susan Spaeth Cherry, a poet and journalist from Evanston, Ill., with two daughters, 16 and 11. "The truth of the matter is that most of the things that come up during parenting can't be anticipated, and it's because of those many, many things that it's even more important to talk about the things you do have some control over -- religion is a big one -- so that you're not overwhelmed with everything."

Even negotiating a resolution doesn't mean smooth sailing. Cherry and her husband Dale agreed that it was important for their children to have a stay-at-home parent. Since his job selling municipal bonds earned more money than hers, they decided that Cherry would free-lance from home, and when one of their daughters, now 16 and 11, was sick, she would be the one to adjust her schedule. "Even though we had decided beforehand, sometimes I still resented it because while my job was more flexible, my deadline was still there and I would just have to deal with it."

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