Expectant parents have a million tasks on their to-do lists. Enrolling in childbirth classes, furnishing the nursery, lining up help for those first post-partum weeks…there’s always something new to add, right? Here’s another item that you will want to include on that ever-lengthening list: Discussing and designing a parenting plan.
What is a parenting plan?
Simply put, a parenting plan is a document that outlines how new parents will approach large and small issues as they apply to child-rearing. The advantage of drawing up a parenting plan as opposed to just “winging it” is that it gives you both a chance to discuss and come to agreed-upon decisions on how significant aspects of your future child’s life will be handled.
Important points to include in a parenting plan
You can include whatever you decide is important. You will not come up with all the relevant points in one discussion; in fact, you will likely hold several discussions over the span of the pregnancy (and after the baby arrives) as you think of things that you want to add (and delete) from your parenting plan. Think of the plan as a document in perpetual “edit mode” because that is precisely what it is. (You will find that parenting is a lot like that, too, necessitating changes of direction as you learn who your child is and what your best parenting style is.)
Your parenting plan can be divided into life stages, for example, Newborn Needs, 3 – 12 month needs, 12 – 24 month needs, etc.
For the newborn plan, you might want to discuss
If the baby is a boy, will he be circumcised? This would also be a good time to talk about the role of religion in your child’s upbringing. If you and your spouse have different religions, how will you share your individual beliefs with your child?
2. Division of labor
How will baby’s caregiving duties be divided? Is the father going back to work right after the baby is born? If so, how can he contribute to the caregiving duties?
Does your budget allow for an in-home nanny or baby nurse? If not, will the family be available to come and help while mom recovers from childbirth?
4. Feeding the baby
Do either of you feel strongly about breast- vs. bottle-feeding? If your opinions differ, are you comfortable with the mom making the ultimate decision?
5. Sleeping arrangements
If mom is breastfeeding, can dad take charge of bringing the baby to mom, especially during night feedings? What about sleep arrangements? Are you planning to all sleep in a family bed, or do you feel strongly that baby should sleep in his own room, providing the parents with a little privacy and better sleep?
Disposable or cloth? If you are planning on having more children, you will get your money’s worth out of the initial purchase. Disposable diapers are easier to contend with, however, with no need to keep up on the cleaning and laundering of them. They aren’t as planet-friendly, though.
7. When baby cries
Are you more “let him cry it out” or “pick the baby up every time” parents?
For the 3 – 12 month plan, you might want to discuss:
8. Getting the baby to sleep
Are you open to researching different methods?
If breastfeeding, do you have an idea of when you would likely wean your baby?
Feeding solid food: at what age do you want to introduce baby to solid food? Will you be making your own or purchasing pre-made baby food? If you are vegetarians or vegans, will you be sharing that diet with your baby? How do you see balancing breastfeeding with the introduction to solid food? (Remember to consult with your pediatrician on all these points.)
After the first year and beyond
What your discussions and parenting plan should focus on:
What was your own parents’ approach to discipline when you were growing up? Do you want to repeat that model? Do you and your spouse agree on discipline details, such as time-outs, spanking, ignoring bad behavior, rewarding good behavior? Can you come up with specific examples of behaviors and how you would react, for example, “If our daughter has a meltdown at the supermarket, I think we should leave immediately even if we haven’t yet finished shopping.” Or “If our son hits a friend on a playdate, he should be given a timeout for 5 minutes and then allowed to come back to play after apologizing to his friend.”
What if one of you is a strict disciplinarian and advocates spanking, and the other doesn’t? That’s something you will have to keep discussing until you both arrive at a disciplinary tactic that you can agree on.
Pre-school or stay at home until kindergarten? Is it better to socialize young children early, or have them stay at home with mom so they can feel strongly attached to the family unit? If childcare is necessary because both parents work, discuss the type of childcare you feel is best: collective childcare, or in-home nanny or grandparent.
3. Television and other media exposure
How much time should your child be allowed to spend in front of the television, computer, tablet or other electronic devices? Should it be on a reward-only basis, or part of his daily routine?
4. Physical activity
Is it important to you that your child participate in organized sports? How young is too young to play toddler soccer or take ballet classes? If your child expresses a dislike for the activity you have chosen for him, what would be your reaction? Make him “stick it out”? Or respect his wishes to stop?
These are just a few points you can begin to base your parenting plan on. You will no doubt have many more areas that you will want to discuss and define. Remember: you will be editing and re-editing your parenting plan as you see what works and what doesn’t with your child. The important thing is that you and your spouse agree on what is in the parenting plan, and you present a united front as you take on the most important job in life: raising your child.