What makes the perfect parent? Is there a recipe or a list of ingredients you can follow to become a person capable of raising a child? What do you need to have to be an outstanding mum or dad?
Is money required to become a parent? Kids are expensive; anyone can tell you that. In fact, according to a report released in 2013 by AMP and the University of Canberra, it costs a middle-income Australian family $812,000 to raise two kids. That figure rises for higher income families.
If you split that out over an 18-year period, that's $22,555 per year per child. Quite the investment. So anybody considering adding parenting to their resume should take that into account before they commit.
Money isn't everything, though. You'll often hear stories about families with very little money raising amazing children, and you'll hear the opposite too, families with vast amounts of wealth struggling to raise kids.
Ultimately, there are essentials that children need -- food, shelter, heat, light, clothes, nappies, entertainment, medical care, education, insurance -- and then there are those unexpected costs -- school trips, designer clothing, clubs, social activities.
Some of those costs can be mitigated through sacrifice and shopping around; others you have to purchase regardless. Whatever your budget, it's possible to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate a child but you have to understand that going in and be prepared to change your spending habits.
This seems like an obvious one, but for a lot of parents finding the time to raise children is the hardest thing to do. We're all busy these days. It's a feature of modern life to be constantly on the go, constantly connected, always trying to do hundreds of things at the same time.
Chances are you're reading this on your mobile phone. You've probably already checked your emails a few times today, and you've just finished browsing through your Facebook feed or your Twitter account, silently judging the garish pictures your friend from school has just uploaded.
The time it takes to check your profile and send a few messages might seem like a trivial thing, but as a parent, this little act will become a luxury, one that will make you feel so guilty you'll convince yourself you're a terrible person for wasting time on social media.
Remember that after-work beer you used to have with your mates? Remember going to the gym three times a week? Remember sitting on the toilet uninterrupted while you read the news? Those days are over as soon as you become a parent. If you're unfortunate enough to already work full time, when you have a baby you automatically get given another full-time job.
Your unburdened friends will slowly stop inviting you out as you become a slave to your two jobs. You have to learn to make the most of the time you have, try and incorporate the things you enjoy into your new life and be aware that your child doesn't care how many hours a week you work; when they need you, they need you -- and you have to be there for them.
A Conventional Marriage
Do you need to be married to have a child? There obviously has to be some interaction between man parts and lady parts at some point for a child to be created, but does that matter once the child is born?
If you're conservative, you probably believe that only a married man and woman are capable of raising a child. You're also definitely wrong. No doubt having a partner can make childcare easier, but it's certainly possible to do it alone, or to take on the challenge if you're in a same-sex relationship, or a gender-neutral relationship, or, in fact, any relationship or none at all.
The thing is, your kid doesn't care about that when they're young, and if you raise them to be open and accepting of others, it shouldn't matter to them when they get older either.
If you're single and considering becoming a parent, great. No doubt it's going to be a challenge, and sometimes you may want to throw in the towel, but guess what... every parent does at some point, whether they're in a relationship or not. You're going to have to be the mum and the dad. It's possible, and you're not alone. In fact, in Australia, around 22 percent of families are one-parent families.
It's going to be tough, but parenting is tough; so like everybody else who decides to have kids, you're going to have to weigh up whether you're up to the challenge, and if you are then your relationship status shouldn't make one iota of difference.
How old do you have to be to be a parent? 18? 25? 40? Is 50 too old? Age is one of the more subjective and somewhat controversial subjects about parenthood. There's a biological deadline for women to have children, although science can help extend that with in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). So if we take that limitation away, is there any ideal age to have children?
Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare tells us that mothers are waiting longer to have children these days than they did at the start of the 21st century. The average age of first-time mothers has risen from 27.5 in 2001 to 28 in 2010. Certainly there are increased health risks with pregnancy and childbirth, as well as with the development of the child, the older the parent is when they conceive.
But does an older parent make a better parent? There are assumptions to be made about parents who are more advanced in years, whether those assumptions are right or not. Older parents are often assumed to be more financially stable than their younger counterparts, they're assumed to have a permanent residence, and they're assumed to be more mature and thus more capable of handling the emotional instability that comes with the birth of a child. However, these assumptions are just that, assumptions.
You might be a 22-year-old with a high income and a house who is more than capable of looking after another person. You might also be a 42-year-old living hand to mouth, struggling to get by on a low income, barely capable of looking after yourself. Looking after a child requires stamina, but that's rarely dependent on age and is more down to lifestyle. If you weren't living an active lifestyle before you had kids, you certainly would be afterward.
If we assume that through some clever science, a more mature couple decides to have a child, there's no data to suggest that the child will have a worse upbringing than any other. A younger person may not have the emotional maturity needed to raise a child, but this isn't always the case.
The data does tell us that teen mums are more likely to drop out of high school and live of welfare. These statistics don't suggest poor parenting; they merely indicate a lower level of income which, as we have discussed, doesn't necessarily determine the upbringing of the child. The data also shows a decline in teen pregnancies since the 1940s.
So if we add it all together, there is, in fact, no recipe for the ideal parent. You knew that all along though, didn't you? It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, young or old, fat or thin, married, single or other, you have the potential to be an excellent parent. You also have the ability to be a terrible mother or father.
The things that separate the two are intentions, love and commitment. If your intentions are good, that will be reflected in your parenting and your child will prosper. If you can love something more than you love yourself, you'll be rewarded in kind. If you're prepared to give up the only lifestyle you've ever known and commit to ensuring you care for, protect and nurture your child then you're the best mum or dad any child could ever need.
If you're not ready to do those things then maybe you should wait for a while before you bring a life into the world, but that's okay too, and making the decision to wait shows you are emotionally mature enough to handle it when you do decide to become a parent.
Find out more at www.unpreparenting.com.au