My mom had me when she was 40, when she already had a nine-year-old daughter and eighteen-year-old son. I was, as you can imagine, not planned.
Of course, it was the 1960s then, and having babies at 40 wasn’t the “done” thing. My mom liked (once she got over the rage) to tell the story of the time she took infant me shopping in my stroller and a store clerk complimented her on her “beautiful grandson.”
It’s more socially acceptable now to have kids later – in your mid-thirties and beyond. But “acceptable” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.” Cyma Shapiro of Mothering in the Middle joined us today in The Motherhood to talk about the good and bad of midlife mothering. She was joined by panelists Leigh of Hines-Sight Blog, Theresa of Faith and Family Reviews, and Laurie of Guessing All the Way.
There are many reasons women come to midlife motherhood. Some don’t have (or realize they have) the desire to become parents when they’re younger. Laurie said, ” I never knew I wanted children until I was 30. That is when my nephew was born and I fell in love!” Some have children younger, in a first marriage, and then have more kids later, in a subsequent marriage. Some are “bonus mothers” to stepchildren years before adopting or giving birth themselves. Some struggle with infertility before giving birth or adopting. And some begin having children in their twenties and just keep going through their thirties! However you come to mothering in midlife, there are challenges and gifts inherent in this role.
One of the challenges Cyma pointed out was a constant awareness of her own mortality: “I measure EVERYTHING against my kid’s milestones – how old will I be when they: graduate; go to college; get married; have kids, etc. etc. I wish I had the luxury of just living my life without that constant comparison.” Theresa agreed, and said, “Since our oldest daughter has agreed she’d be guardian for our younger children should anything happen to my husband and I, I find myself wanting to have things in order financially etc. since we are getting older.”
Another difficulty with midlife mothering can be finding support from other women walking the same road. Laurie observed, “I guess I don’t have a lot of support. Most of the people I know had children when they were younger. My son started kindergarten this year and I think I am the oldest mom in his class.” This feeling, that all the other moms are younger, was echoed by a number of the moms who commented. And as Leigh pointed out, becoming a parent when you’re a little older means that your parents will be older, too, and often less able to help out.
Cyma also notes that “by the time I felt ready (for motherhood),” nature wouldn’t allow me to do this naturally.”The reality of biology is that once we make up our minds to become mothers, our bodies often don’t, or can’t, cooperate.”
And, of course, there are the kids themselves: blessings, for sure, but, as Leigh points out, “My kids demand “more attention” and that can be tiring. Some mornings, I just want to be left alone, be on the computer, and not be bugged.”
Those are some of the hard things about midlife mothering. But there are so many good things, too.
Leigh likes how her kids “keep her young.” She also said that being older affords her the ability to provide more for her kids. Some moms (like, I admit, myself) lacked the patience and maturity in their 20s to be the moms they want to be. Laurie affirmed, “You know yourself best. If you are waiting, there is a reason. For me, I wasn’t mature enough, unselfish enough to think about being a mom in my 20’s…You will know when you are ready. The good thing is that your kids will be so glad you did, because you will be better with them as well.”
All agreed that it’s something of a trade-off: sure, younger moms may have more energy. But most women who become mothers later come to motherhood with a sense of intention–it’s truly chosen, not something just fallen into. They’ve had the chance to pursue their own interests, develop relationships with their partners outside of being someone’s parents. Moms in midlife have acquired wisdom, experience, and patience. They may be more financially stable. They have more to offer their children, and not just in the sense of material goods.
What advice would our panelists give to a woman who’s thinking about putting off motherhood until well into her thirties? Be aware that your body may not do your bidding, for one thing. As Laurie said, “Sometimes it takes longer than you think to get pregnant…Leave room in your waiting for things that you may not be expecting.” And savor the time with your partner or husband pre-kids; as Leigh says of being a mom, ” It’s the best thing in the world, and there is nothing like it, but you do have to be ready because it is an EYE-OPENING change in lifestyle.”
It’s so true. My dad told me years after my mom passed away that she had really struggled with the idea of being pregnant at 40. But he also told me, as she herself did when she was alive, that having me when she did kept her young, and she never had a regret once she held me in her arms. As for me, I never remember wishing that I had a younger mom. The one I had, with all she knew, and all she had done, and all she had to teach me, was just perfect in my eyes.