Reflections from an Older Mom
Something has dramatically changed in the appearance of parents from the 1960s and the parents of children in the 21st century. Looking around at the adults with kids at schools, parks and ballgames, I can't help but think, "Gee, is that the parent or the grandparent?" Most of the time, it is the parent. The older parent (gray-haired, donned in Dockers, holding a cup of Starbucks coffee) who is holding hands with a fourth grader or pushing a stroller seems to be the norm these days at least in the Bay Area.. Perhaps I am more aware of this phenomenon because I am one of these older parents. But I have an unusual perspective because I was also a "young mom" in 1969 when I had my first child, a daughter. There is a 26-year time lapse between my two children, as my son was born in 1995. My daughter is 35 and my son is 9. I feel distinctly qualified to give one perspective on being an older mother.
Most medical journals and lay articles regarding older mothers (defined as over 35!) address conception and childbirth. We know about the aging ovary, increase in multiple births and c-section rates. That's all well and good, but what about the lifetime that occurs after the baby is born?
I listen to questions from my female patients who are in their late 30s or 40s and want to get pregnant but have concerns and fears. Since I've experienced childrearing at both ends of the reproductive spectrum, I thought it might be helpful to address common myths and urban legends about older parenting.
Myth #1 - The older mom won't have the energy or patience for childrearing. The sleepless nights during the first few months and sleep deprivation while waiting for your teen to come home are just as difficult whether you gave birth at 20 or 45. There is no proven data that "energy" declines with age, and in fact, an older, wiser parent might focus and conserve her energy better than a young mom. The wisdom that comes with life experience lends itself to more patience and acceptance, not less.
Myth #2 - The older mom will be less playful and more rigid. Of course this depends on the personality more than the age, but many older moms are highly educated, have an understanding of childhood development and are more willing to participate in their child's growth stages. I spend more time building Legos, playing Stratego and reading with my son as an older mom than I did with my daughter as a young mother.
Myth #3 - The older mom will miss her "me time" because she is more used to being with adult friends. Not true. Older moms have already traveled, stayed out late, and hung out with friends and they are often ready to be less selfish and focus time on a child. Also, the older mom is more likely to have better finances so she can afford more child care and assistance than the younger parent. I have many more options now and much better help than I did when my daughter was young.
Myth #4 - The older mom will be a more anxious mom. The older mother probably has a more realistic view of life based on the experiences of her 20s and 30s. She knows what can go wrong, but she also has the experience of how to deal with challenges. She may well be less anxious than a young mom who is distracted by competing issues.
Myth #5 - The older mom may have health problems that interfere. There is no evidence that older parents' age-related health issues interfere with their parenting in comparison to young parents. Many older moms are more health conscious and knowledgeable about diet and exercise and have already stopped practices that incur harmful health risks. I have no data, but I bet older moms use seat belts and floss more regularly than younger moms.
There are hundreds of variables that combine to make a "good parent," and age is low on the list. As an older mother, I am more focused, aware and emotionally present than I was in my 20s. My actions now are more deliberate and I have many more resources at my disposal. I don't feel alone because in the Bay Area so many parents look my age. I think I'm a better parent now than I was 26 years ago and the joy I experience has been enhanced, not diminished, with age.