One things that many women who experience infertility find is that their entry into parenting is delayed...often by several years. Such was the case with me. Despite all my efforts to the contrary, I have found myself in the older mother camp, having my last child at age 42. (With lots of help, of course. Let's be real here.) My parents and grandparents both had their children in their early twenties, so it's kind of mind boggling to me that I can remember when my grandmother had her forty-fifth birthday!
People have lots of opinions on what age someone should be when they have a child, and particularly about entering into parenthood in the forth decade and beyond. I can't tell you the number of times I have heard women tell me that they never wanted to be "old parents". I hear them often express a fear that it will not be fair to the child to have older parents, and that it somehow isn't "right" or "natural" to have a baby later in life. And yet, like me, they find themselves in that very situation.
The impact of having older parents on a child is an important issue. Like so many things in life, there are no clearcut answers about the effect having older parents may have on a child. It is true that the child may have less time with their parents, although there is never a guarantee of longevity no matter when a person begins to parent. On the other hand, older parents are usually more financially stable and emotionally ready to take on the exhaustive and difficult task of parenting. I think the main thing is to recognize that there are really no ideal situations for children. Every child will receive blessings and face challenges based on their circumstances. The most important thing is to try to help a child cope with and work around the limitations of their situation. For example, if you are worried that your child will be alone later in life, you could make the effort now to ensure that there will be other supportive adults available to them.
As for the actual experience of parenting after forty, I would say that I have noticed I have felt out of sync with my peers. Some of my high school classmates have grandchildren the same age as my youngest child! As their children are older, they are getting back into the swing of adult life--focusing more on careers, and having a more active social life. Meanwhile, I'm still sleep deprived and changing diapers. Sometimes I feel a bit envious of their relative freedom, but then again, I still have a lot more of my parenting journey to anticipate. Many of my friends have noted some envy of me, as they miss the baby stage and the cute entertainment small children can sometimes provide. Perhaps in the end it all balances out?
I also have noticed that many of the parents of my children's friends are quite a bit younger than I am, and that we don't perhaps have as much in common. The older parents I know tend to congregate towards one another with a sense of relief, perhaps feeling that another older parent will better understand their experiences. But I think this may be our own insecurity, as I've never had a younger parent say or do anything that would indicate criticism or a lack of acceptance.
For me, I think the most challenging part has been the physically grueling nature of parenting a young child. My husband and I both agree that the sleep deprivation after our youngest child was born was devastating, more so than with our oldest daughter a decade earlier. I think we were so sleep deprived that we couldn't even realize that we needed help. Thus, I highly recommend night nurses, grandparents, friends, or anyone you can get to help you at night. You can fake a lot of things over forty, but dealing with lack of sleep isn't one of them!
As for the rest of the physical demands, I've had to make sure that I exercise consistently in order to be able to keep up with my children. I think that base level of fitness keeps me feeling and acting younger, which I need because my son is at a stage where he enjoys running away and hiding...and I need to keep up with him. Exercising also helps me feel like I am doing something to increase my chances of living a long life, so I will be around for all of my children's milestones. I also see my doctors for my annual checkups religiously, try to eat a balanced diet, and do whatever else I can to reduce my risk factors for early morbidity. Although we cannot see what the future holds for us, trying to live a healthy lifestyle reduces some of my anxiety around leaving my children too soon.
I haven't yet had the experience of being mistaken for my child's grandmother, mostly because I keep a hairstylist in business trying to get all my grey hairs hidden from sight, but I feel that may be coming soon. I don't suppose there is much any of us can do about that one. After all, throughout my journey to parenthood, I have endured many tactless comments, and I guess it only makes sense that it would continue.
For many more thoughts on parenting after forty, I recommend this blog A Child after Forty, which has lots of great stories and resources.
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