Seven years ago, I was 36, my partner was 49, and our first daughter was one. As happens from time to time, regular as the tides, there was some flurry in the mainstream press about the evils of selfish feminists waiting too long to become parents, much to the detriment of their children, and society at large.
I wrote something about it at the time, which I recently unearthed and reconsidered from here at 43, with a 56-year old partner and two kids under nine. And I can say that for the most part, I still stand by it. Of course there are down sides to being an older parent, but those get 99.9% of the press. Here are some of the good things about it:
1. Having children for me, was an afterthought. I had decided first in my babylusty 20s and then in my coming-out early 30s to have and then to not have them. I had settled quite happily on not having them and changing my mind was a matter of happy surprise. The effect of this approach to children, for me, has been an attitude most often of gratitude and enjoyment rather than resentment of how hard parenting is. I didn’t “have to” do it. No one particularly expected me to, including me. I did it for fun and it has been mostly fun.
Edited from the present to add that besides being “fun,” parenting for the last eight+ years has been the most fulfilling growth opportunity of my life. I am a vastly better person now than I was before I had kids.
2. Cole is at a very high and stable point in her career. Becoming a mother at her age will not take the kind of toll on her career or lifetime earning potential that it typically takes on of a professional woman in the U.S.
Edited from the present to add that, fingers crossed, Cole will be able to retire before the kids leave the nest. My freelance career is flexible in terms of time and location, so we may well be able to do quite a bit of adventuring as a family when the kids are in their teens.
3. Cole’s career position also frees us financially so that we can have me at home, making up a new freelance career as I go along, with little profits for a while. If I wanted to, I could get a full-time Outside-The-Home job with pay that just breaks even with high quality childcare expenses, but I don’t want to, right now anyway. Cole’s age makes this an option for us. If we were both just out of grad school struggling to make ends meet, get jobs and then tenure somewhere? Life would be far less relaxed.
Edited from the present to say that we are now home schooling, another option we would not have if we both had to bring in a full-time salary.
4. We have both been through enough major life changes at this point that we know who we are and have stable identities that are not easily threatened by the role shift of becoming parents. The change in role, lifestyle and identity is more of an adventure for our core selves than a scary upheaval of who we thought we were.
Edited from the present to add that we have seen an awful lot of younger parents than ourselves divorce after having kids. We credit our relationship experience prior to settling down at least partly with giving us the perspective we need to stick it out when life is temporarily just no fun.
5. We have wiped enough snotty noses, bandaged enough skinned knees and rolled our eyes at enough tantrums of other people’s children by now that we aren’t all that freaked out as these things happen to Nat for the first time. We have enough confidence in our wisdom about life that we feel comfortably competent as parents most of the time.
6. Two or three years of sleeplessness and even 18-21 years of whatever daily energy and stress kids will require just doesn’t seem like a very long time anymore. It seems like a fair investment for the possible (though not guaranteed) return of a good relationship with adult children and maybe even their children, etc. Having this longer view of things takes day-to-day anxiety out of parenting in many ways.
Now, I realize that plenty of older parents are totally immature and incompetent and plenty of 21 year-old moms of three are brilliant and easy-going, happy, healthy moms. But for us, a lot of benefits have come with our age.
Are you an older parent? A younger parent? Something in-between? How do you think your age plays into your family dynamics?