Friday, September 16, 2011

Older Mom (November 2006)

They say there’s no perfect time to have kids, but some times are clearly worse than others: teen pregnancy does no one any favors and women in their 50s and 60s having babies boggles the mind and raises all kinds of questions, (the first being: WHY?). That leaves the two other age groups of new mothers, the young (20s & early 30s) and the older (late 30s and 40s). There are pros and cons to both but I fall into the latter camp so I’m naturally biased.

It might be nice to have had children younger. I could demurely protest when I was mistaken for the sister of the handsome, if surly, teenager at my side. But that youthful dew would surely evaporate in the face of his staggering college bills and I would sag, literally, at the thought that I will have to work for another 25 years to pay for it all. No thank you!

I obviously felt some ambivalence about having children, as I’m sure I could have managed to get pregnant before the ripe old age of 37. But I did the usual things: moved to New York, worked, traveled and dated. After numerous frogs I finally met my prince when I was 29 but it took awhile for him to make the leap across the pond from London. It took even longer for him to pop the question and after we were married, I wanted to enjoy being married for awhile, just the two of us. Besides, we were busy New Yorkers, rushing here and there; going out every night. Who had time for kids?

I like to call myself a late bloomer, but in reality, I am merely the world’s worst procrastinator. And on top of that, I’m not terribly fond of change. But that old biological clock was ticking, not demanding to have a kid, but whispering that I’d regret it if I didn’t. It seemed as good a time as any. On one hand, I was ready for a lifestyle change, yet on the other, I was keenly aware of what I was giving up. This is the biggest difference between older and younger moms. If you have a kid in your 20’s, you haven’t started living your own life yet, so your adulthood becomes defined by parenthood. But see, I had already defined myself, thank you very much, and it wasn’t as a mom.

I don’t think age matters one iota in the first humbling months of new motherhood - sleep deprivation hits us all like a ton of bricks. But as they grow, the advantages of being older become apparent. Your first baby is like having a really ornery boss and since I’ve worked for one or two, I know you have to either anticipate his needs and placate his rages or quit – not an option with a baby. You just have to roll with the punches, hair pulling and howling that is babyhood, and not take it personally.

In some ways, your work experience can, however, work against you: gone is the sense of accomplishment, of starting and completing a single task within a reasonable amount of time. Let alone performing just one task at a time, and with two arms, no less! The only tasks I do get to complete from start to finish (like cleaning the kitchen floor three times a day) are so repetitive that they give me mental carpal tunnel syndrome, but never mind, that could happen to anybody; age is no barrier to boredom.

If I get to sleep no later than 7 at night and drink a vat of coffee, I still have the energy of a 25 year old, and the wisdom (such as it is) that has come with my age makes me a better parent. I’m more relaxed: bad things happen in the world but most kids survive, and when they don’t it’s not because they ate more dirt than vegetables at 19 months. As a new parent everyone throws advice your way, invariably unsolicited, and as an older, more formed person, I feel more adept at discerning what’s useful for me and my parenting style. It’s always helpful to talk to people in the same situation (misery loves company?) and although most of the moms my age in my London neighbourhood are on their third or fourth kid and have neither time nor interest in us newcomers, there are a few of us. We band together to share our secrets, joys, doubts and frustrations - like teenage girls talking about boys (and talking is all they ought to be doing!).

The best advice I have received to date has been to pretend the cameras are rolling and do the best you can. And ultimately, that is all we parents can do, the best we can, young or old. I just hope no one accuses me of being my son’s grandmother!

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