I am what is often defined as a mature mother. My husband, Leon, and I met when I was 25 and he was 31, plenty young right?? But we took 6 years to walk down the aisle and then another 2 before we found ourselves in the delivery room of our local hospital pushing out our first child, a baby boy. Why the delay? It was complicated or at least it seemed complicated. Leon was in the middle of a divorce when I met him, I did not want to be that rebound person so I was in no rush. Our lackadaisical approach to commitment was exacerbated by the fact that I had no desire to have kids. I did not hear the tick, tick, ticking of the biological clock that might have pushed me to push him. Additionally we skied every weekend in the winter and golfed every weekend in the summer and took trips in between, why end that? We were both young and working, had the money we needed to do what we wanted and failed to see the years slipping by. Friends and family were eager to remind us every chance they got that we were wasting time but we pooh poohed their warnings.
I know I indicated that I did not want kids so how did I make that leap from being a non-wanter to delivery room pusher? Leon. He wanted kids more than I didn’t want kids so I threw away the contraceptives and then fairly quickly said hello to our 7 lb 11 oz baby boy. I confess after they handed me that first swaddled tiny bundle I knew I wanted more. I did not think about my age, or Leon’s age, I just thought about babies, and apparently Leon wasn’t thinking long term either because he was more than happy to continue reproducing. So number one came when I was 32, number 2 at 35, number 3 at 37 and we lost number 4 when I was 39, meanwhile Leon was 38, 41 and 43 respectively. By anyone’s standards we were older parents by a lot of others we were just old.
When my children were younger I rarely thought about the age gap that separated me from many of their playmates’ parents. I was too busy changing them, feeding them, chasing them and cleaning up after them to really sit down and think about it. In fact it was not until this year that I became fully cognizant of just how much older I was than many of the other parents I was surrounded by at every school function. My youngest, who definitely and obviously got the ‘oldest’ parents came home a few weeks ago and told me that she was invited to her best friend’s mother’s ( who shall be called Heather) surprise birthday party. I called to follow up on the invite and almost fell to my knees when I was told that yes my daughter was invited and that the party was indeed to be a surprise, and could my daughter please wear black because, here is the giggler, they were all teasing the birthday girl because she was turning 30. For the love of God – THIRTY?? My daughter was in school with someone whose mother was 18 years younger than me – I could be Heather’s mother. In fact just to make sure that my wounds were thoroughly salted, I met Heather’s mother Susan and quickly realized that Susan had graduated from high school only 3 years before I did. I know this is an extreme case. This is a family where Susan had her first child, Heather, at 19 and that Heather had her first child at 18. Would I have wanted that for myself when I was that age? Hell no, but I am 100% jealous of their youth now.
I would like to stipulate here that we have always lived in small towns, and though I have no data to back up this theory I stand behind my assertion that younger parents far outnumber the mature variety in more rural communities whereas in the bigger, urban areas I think there is more of a balance. Ever since that party I have been what iffing and if onlying, as in If only we had started 4 years earlier or what if we had met when we were younger?? I have become hyper observant of the parents I am regularly surrounded by. It was getting ridiculous so I finally asked Leon, who is 6 years older than me, if he ever regretted waiting and his prompt and decisive response was no. When I pushed him to elaborate he simply said, we have it good now and we had it good then. He also said that if we had started sooner we would have just had more kids, and I know in my heart that that is true. To this day I have always regretted that losing our fourth, a baby girl, signaled the end of our childbearing years. I let my grief and fear of losing another one make the decision for me. But even though I know that Leon is right I feel that his reasons are far too simplistic to satisfy my doubts. SO I asked myself some questions that made me debate whether my regrets were shallow and vanity based or if I was truly sorry that we did not have children when we were younger.
Con: I will never be the hot mom. My children will never have friends who have a crush on me because to them I am ancient. We all know those other moms, in fact Heather is one of those moms. She works at Harley Davidson, struts around in stiletto boots and can shop at teen stores and not look silly wearing clothes that are meant for juniors. She is THAT mom – the mom that when she walks down the hall at school draws the eye of all of the little boys who don’t even realize they are gawking. I am not THAT mom, I might not have ever been THAT mom, but by waiting until I was older to have kids I denied myself every opportunity to be crush material. Instead I am hoping that I can still be the funny mom. I want to be the mom who the kids don’t mind having around because I make them laugh, keep my kitchen supplied with the good stuff and know when to clear out when the kids need some space.
Pro: I totally and completely got my partying out of my system before any kids came on the scene. I was a 1980’s party girl living in Boston with big hair wearing neon clothes and smoking Marlboro Lights when I drank too much and I ALWAYS drank too much. I had a ball and would not change one moment of those post college years. But by the time Leon and I got married I was ready to hang up my beer stein and go out for a nice meal instead of finding one more club that was still open. I was with a friend who had kids at 21 and I don’t feel she had that chance. On one occasion where I was once again the designated driver her son, who was 12, came up to ask her a question and upon seeing his mother muttered, “never mind you are drunk again”- my children will NEVER have the occasion to utter those words to me. So yes with age came some maturity that I would not have had if I had been a childbearing 20 something.
Con: I am tired A LOT!! My energy levels have definitely waned as I have aged. I blame myself for most of it. I always took for granted that I could take months off from exercising but then pop right back into my fitness routine, and until the last three years I could but now I can’t. But the flip side is I would still be this tired even if I had older kids but now I am forced to set aside the fatigue and put on my game face rather than listen to my son tease and taunt for being unable to keep up. This is when my husband claims that having kids when you are older keeps you young.
Pro: I am much happier now with myself than I was back in my 20 something days. I really and truly don’t worry about what other people think about me, about how I look or about how I act. I know that this self acceptance is a valuable gift that I can share with my kids as they face the hyper critical and super sensitive teen years. I hope that they can spare themselves the insecurities that haunted me for so many years. I hope that even though they get embarrassed by me, my frank words and seemingly foolish antics they might be able to embrace their true selves a bit quicker than I did. My mother always talked about walking the walk – I finally get it.
Con: I am experiencing perimenopause as my girls are experiencing puberty – THAT is a formula for disaster as hormonal tidal waves crash through our house.
Pro: I am so much calmer than I used to be fluctuating hormones and all. I have always heard about older parents being more patient and I think we generally are. We have learned not to sweat the small stuff and with kids there is always small stuff. Our state of zen is also helped by the fact that we generally were better established financially when we started having kids so we have a little bit more breathing room now. I know many of our generation are back to living paycheck to paycheck because of this horrible economy, but most of us are still in pretty good shape.
Con: We are occasionally mistaken for our kids grandparents. That has happened to Leon a couple of times, although in his defense his hair started turning white when he was in his twenties, but it has only happened to me once. There is no way around it, it was mind blowingly awful and it haunted me for a few weeks but then I went out and bought some makeup and started brushing my hair and it hasn’t happened since. I have chosen to live by the you are only as old as you feel adage and that helps!
Pro: Our kids DO NOT care. We are the only parents they have ever known and even when they hate us they love us. So for anyone out there who is wondering if you are too old to take the plunge and worry about how your future kids will handle it – that should be the least of your worries. I think the only time this comes into play is if you know that you will be one of those helicopter parents who could not possibly let anything mar the perfect life that you envision for your future Johnny or Janie, whether you have kids when you are young or when you are older shit happens BUT I think you handle that shit better when you have a little bit of life experience under your belt.
So the long and the short of it is that in my most humble of opinions although there are some serious cons to waiting to have children there are also some serious pros that make it all worthwhile.
photo by Vlado