In the never-ending Mommy Wars of our time, one ongoing battle is the ideal age of motherhood. The shots are usually lobbed at older moms. They put off having babies because they wanted to focus on their careers, goes the assumption, and now they’re “granny-moms” who lack the energy to deal with children.
Holly Finn had a piece in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday firing in the other direction. She argues that being an older mother is better than being a young mother, despite the fact that she is indeed sometimes mistaken for her child’s grandmother. Tongue-in-cheek, Finn calls older, or “geriatric” mothers, “Gerries” and says they’re better than younger mothers because they’re tanned, rested, and ready for motherhood in a way younger mothers just aren’t.
“What about the stamina needed to keep up with a child, you ask? But we Gerries have the advantage of not being regularly hung over from youthful self-indulgence. We have only three apps on our iPhones. And we waited a long time for children. We’re energized, focused and almost always happy to see our kids. Also, we have watched younger folks make mistakes and learned how to conserve energy. ”
I have no quarrel with people who have kids later in life. I myself am what has long been considered an “older mother.” Though as the average age of motherhood moves ever upward my age of 32, 35, and 38 at the time of the births of my children don’t seem quite so ancient.
But if there were a way to redo everything, my ideal would be to have children much earlier. My husband and I knew each other for a decade before we started dating. He was the Jerry to my Elaine, minus the romantic beginning. We were best friends, together all the time, platonically. In my rewrite of this history, we get together in our 20s and are raising teenagers right now. Older parenthood is hard — even with, as Finn notes, fewer hangovers.
Older parenthood takes its toll in so many ways. It’s harder to lose the baby weight. You don’t look a little tired when you don’t get enough sleep, you look like the crypt-keeper. It’s harder to chase around babies intent on plunging head-first into everything.
“I just want to live my life first, explore the world, do things” goes the lament from a young person putting off parenthood. The shocking truth that’s unknown to 20-somethings, including myself at that age, is that there really is no time when you don’t want to “live your life.” I’m turning 40 next year and still want to do all those things that people consider “living your life.” I want to go out to dinner, meet new people, travel. The only problem is, whoops, I still have a baby in diapers. My husband and I are incredibly lucky that our children have involved grandparents. But let’s face it. If we’re old, they’re old. So it’s harder to drop the kids off with their grandparents and go away for the weekend to “live my life” than it would have been 10 years ago. We have an amazing situation that we get to do that at all. The older you are when you have your kids, the older your parents are and the less ability they will have to help.
The other problem with putting off parenthood is that baby-making is more art than science. In general, a lot has to go right for a baby to be produced. You have to meet the right person. You have to be fertile. They have to be fertile. And even then, there’s no guarantee everything will work as it should.
Putting off having kids because you haven’t met the right person makes sense. Putting off it off because being an older parent is “better” is foolishness.