When I was a tween and teen and young adult, I would imagine where I'd be in the year 2000 – what I'd be doing, who I'd be with, where I'd live, what I'd look like. It was a fascinating mental exercise for me, causing my head to buzz with electricity, my mind awash in endorphins. (One of my good friends in college, who was considered to be somewhat of a clairvoyant and who sadly died from chemotherapy complications a year after we met, claimed that he saw me way in the future with silver hair and a beard, wearing glasses and smoking a pipe while sitting at a big mahogany desk. It was true I wanted to be a psychologist at the time. Sigmund Freud I'm not; a pipe dream is sometimes just a pipe dream. That's why I'm in marketing and PR!)
Daydream time travel has always been escapist therapy for me to "work things out". But unlike when I was younger and time was an open air amphitheater, the starry sky expanding before my eyes, now it's like Alice in Wonderland where time is a shrinking room collapsing around me.
When B turns sweet 16 (or handsome 16), I'll be 58 years old. When B graduates from college (on time of course), I'll be 64. You can see where I'm going with this.
The question is – do Amy and I worry about the fact we're older having children? Not really. I mean, yes, I imagine what it will be like, banking on the fact we'll be in pretty good shape mentally, emotionally and physically – along with having contingencies in place just in case. But no, we're not that worried about it at this point.
We're not the only parents having children at an older age. Most what to complete college and have careers established prior to having children. And then there are those like us who hadn't planned on kids but changed their minds.
Is it fair to B that its parents will be much older maybe than some of its friends' parents (I say "it" because I'm really trying not to be gender specific until we're holding B in our arms!)? Our parents and sisters had their children at half my age. And while I'm not going to discuss the socioeconomic implications of retiring baby boomers, lower birthrates and shrinking tax bases, I will say it's a hefty responsibility to have a child and something we do not take lightly.
According to an article I read recently:
Nationally, the U.S. Census report shows that more American women are skipping motherhood or are waiting longer to have children, a trend already evident in California, where birthrates to women in their 40s have tripled the past two decades.
So we're not alone in this trend. With the exception of an unchecked growing obesity rate in this country, many of my generation and older are healthier than previous generations, thus living longer. (And many may outlive their overweight children – get your butts moving people and get off the high-fructose corn syrup.)
There are a number of positive aspects to having a first child in midlife. There are also some drawbacks. First, the positives:
A new parent who is between 35 and 40 years of age has about 15 to 20 years of adult life experience and so has more inner resources to draw on in times of stress than does a younger parent.
Middle-aged parents are usually at the height of their earning power, so they have more financial stability to support a child.
Having had many experiences, many middle-aged adults are ready to be parents. They have a sense of identity -- the child will not have to provide them with it.
Having a first child in midlife provides a real sense of renewal.
Adults in midlife may have a deeper sense of the value of life itself, and so tend to place high value on the time they can spend with their children.
While many of the positive things about having a baby in midlife involve the joys of raising a small child, the drawbacks have mostly to do with the future and with the parents' concerns about aging:
Older parents may have lower energy levels. They may wonder if they will have the energy to be as active as their child needs them to be.
They wonder if they will live to see their child become an adult. Will they ever see their grandchildren? Will they very quickly become a burden to a child just as he is trying to get on his feet as a young adult?
When the age difference is 40 or more years, quite a schism is created; parents worry whether their values will be at all relevant to their child. The age difference may be particularly apparent when a child becomes a teenager -- a difficult period for even young parents to deal with.