The Pros and Cons
from Chapter 3
Just about everything we do has an up side and a down side. Delaying motherhood is no exception.
There are lots of myths associated with becoming a mother later in life; then there are the realities. Let's get the not-so-good ones out of the way first . . . then stay tuned for the plentiful positive aspects of motherhood over thirty-five and forty.
It's the single biggest worry potential mothers in this age group have: "Will I have the energy to keep up with my child?" A decline in energy is a natural part of getting older; after all, we have more years under our belts than our younger counterparts. Motherhood or not, the mere reality of those years translates to more stress on our bodies and accompanying lowered levels of energy. But don't count older mothers out of the game just yet. First of all, as a group we take pretty good care of ourselves. Second, thirty-five and forty are no longer considered "old" by any stretch of the imagination. Mom versus mom, it's not a foregone conclusion that you will have less energy than the twenty-year-old moms in your playgroup. Glance around the next time you go to the park. Plenty of younger mothers look pretty pooped after chasing their toddlers while lots of older ones are energized doing the same thing.
Look on the bright side: As one over-forty mom of a sixteen-month-old explained, "It works out great. My son and I are on the same nap schedule."
The Need for Privacy
Privacy is important for everyone. The fear of loss of privacy is a big issue in any new living-together relationship, be it adult-and-adult or child-and-adult. Women who have waited to become mothers are most likely used to getting a lot of privacy if they've been childless, or if they have older children off doing their own thing.
Getting privacy when there are children in the house is manageable; it just requires some planning. For example, wait till nap time to get privacy for your bubble bath. As your child grows, more can be explained about your (and his or her) need for privacy. Boundaries can be more firmly drawn.
As long as your child is safe and occupied, it is not your responsibility to entertain him or her every waking moment.
Work, Work, Work
Unless you are sitting in the catbird seat when it comes to money, you may wind up having to work at least part- time past the traditional retirement age in order to pay for your child's college and your own "senior citizen" needs.
Mothers who delayed motherhood won't be the only ones working into their later years. Word is our generation will be working well into their seventies, young children at home or not. Even those who can afford to retire won't, say the experts. Because we are living longer in healthier ways, we will want to continue to be active and engage in some style of work; many of us will have at least a small home-based business.
A Loss of Generations
If you wait a long time to become a mother, your child will likely not have the same extended family to grow up with that his classmates with younger parents do. Great-grandparents—and in many cases even grandparents—will not be around for him or her.
Parents in their twenties have typically three or four generations of family members to offer their children; those in their forties typically have one or two (themselves and their own parents). "Many younger parents have their own youngish parents to count on if they need help or want to get away for the weekend without the kids. Our parents were in their late seventies when we finally had Hannah, so we couldn't count on them in the same ways," says one over-forty mother of three children, all under five.
You can fill in the gaps by putting together a strong extended family of friends for your child, which might require a lot of work. Also remind yourself that not all children have large, warm and loving "Norman Rockwell" families, no matter how old their mothers are.
Later Mothers Wrap Themselves Up Too Much in Their Children
Again, this can be true, especially of women who have given up interesting careers to be stay-at-home moms. These are women used to putting their full focus on their careers. Motherhood is now that career. This can turn into a problem when the mother becomes so enmeshed in the child's outcome (how smart, cute, likeable, athletic, etc. he or she is), rather than focusing on the love, fun and growing bond between them.
Are You Part of the "Sandwich Generation"?
Will you care for aging parents while at the same time mothering your own young children and saving for college tuition? Raising children and caring for aging parents are each intense, time-consuming and emotionally draining commitments leaving little free time for the mother/caregiver trapped in the middle. Luckily, today there is a depth of understanding of how hard this situation can be. As a result, a wealth of information and support exists, from books to organizations of kindred spirits offering good advice and more.
These Children Are Advantaged
A 1993 university study found that mothers in this age group are not only more educated as a group, but they "bring a tremendous amount to a child. They have more life experience and therefore can impart more advantages to their children." Furthermore, these women were found to be grateful that they were able to become mothers after delaying motherhood and were very appreciative of their newfound role. As opposed to feeling resentful that they were now "tied down" to family life, these women felt that they were at last on the "inside track."
The study also found that older parents were better at talking to children like they are "real people."
On the flip side, many of these mothers were found to have unrealistic expectations of themselves. After years of having to be a "perfect" employee, they believe they have to be a "perfect" mother.
Ready for It
Few older mothers get pregnant by chance; no one ever adopted by accident. Women who delay motherhood have given it a lot of thought and often go through a lot to get their children—from arduous, expensive and often disappointing infertility treatments to sometimes humiliating adoption procedures. They are not merely appreciative of the gift of motherhood, they are chomping at the bit, rarin' to go in their new role! They've been there, done that—made decisions based solely on their own needs, spent their free time as they saw fit, did likewise with their money. Their emotional, spiritual and sometimes physical health are better than when they were in their twenties.
Less Focus on Self
A surprising by-product of becoming a mother after so many years of being without little ones is that it forces you to stop being the center of your own universe; in other words, to stop being self-centered. Along with the responsibility of mothering comes limited time for indulgences into self-pity or trivial matters. You live a less outwardly-focused life. Many women interviewed for this book said that if they had had a baby earlier on, their children would have lost the fight for who is the most important member of the family: Mom would have won hands down.
Who amongst us hasn't become more tolerant with every passing year? This spills over into mothering in big, important ways. Older mothers have a tendency to be more forgiving, talk things out with their children, brag rather than freak-out when their tiny ones start drawing on the wall. Patience is a requirement in raising an independent child.
Cautious But Not Overly Concerned
A kindred spirit to patience is lessened anxiety. When it comes to allowing their children to take calculated age-appropriate risks, many older mothers find themselves allowing—indeed, encouraging—their children. They often err on the side of cautious permissiveness because they are more relaxed.
This comes from more . . .
. . . Self-Confidence
As someone who brings the wisdom of maturity to mothering, the older mother is more confident in her abilities as a parent. She knows herself better and therefore can raise her child with a steadier hand. She'll also be more likely to fend off unwanted parenting advice and stick to her guns when friends insist she is doing it wrong. This works not only to her advantage, but to her child's benefit: The values she brings are well thought-out.
Don't Have Time to Play Anymore?
You will now. As a matter of fact, both your inner and outer child will be forced to play on a daily basis. Here's a chance to let loose, be goofy, make silly faces, utter ridiculous noises all to very favorable audience review—so go ahead and take advantage.
Motherhood Keeps You Younger
It's a fact that keeping up with your child will keep you young mentally, but now there is proof that older mothers who give birth live longer: A Boston study says that women who have given birth after the age of forty may be four times more likely to outlive their non-childbirthing counterparts. The study concludes that later pregnancies are a sign that the reproductive system is aging more slowly, which could mean a later menopause: Estrogen loss, therefore, is delayed and can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The study warns, however, that you should not conclude that if you have difficulty conceiving past age forty, it signifies an early death.