Parenting in the Fabulous Forties 6

In response to a recent article regretful of having children in her 40’s, I wanted to share an alternative viewpoint. Parenting is hard at any age, but in some ways it can be better as we get older. I’m not here to suggest you play fertility bingo. We read every day of women crushed that they couldn’t get pregnant in their 40’s. But let’s say you arrive at this age, is it a mistake to have a child?

Vicky with her childrenI always knew I wanted children. I expected, or more accurately, hoped that I would first meet someone, fall in love, get married and then have a child. Life didn’t work out that way. Perhaps, I focused too much on my career. Perhaps, it was something else.  But I wasn’t ready to break that vision until I turned forty. At that point, egg freezing techniques were still new and not reliable.  Fertility data becomes bleak on average as the 40’s progress. I decided that I would rather risk a man walking away from me *because* of my children than risk not having children at all. I was lucky. First try, no drugs, pregnant with my now five year old son. Some will tell you the risks of pregnancy over 40, but this is just an average number. Yet we all know women who accidentally became pregnant at 45 or 46. If you’re lucky enough to conceive, will you regret it?

Parenting an infant is hard work. If you’re breastfeeding, the milk takes about a week to come in with your firstborn. In the beginning, a newborn will breastfeed every two to three hours around the clock. What no one discusses; this is from start-to-start.  Many newborns take 45 minutes to nurse, and so you could have only an hour in between feeds. I belong to a local mom’s group of 4,000 members; new moms of every age write how hard this stage is. Sure, I probably had more energy in my 20’s, but the newborn stage is temporary and not easy for anyone.

Parenting a toddler is also hard work, but now it’s a matter of patience rather than endurance. Your two year old might throw a tantrum because you put on the peanut butter before the jelly instead of after or cut the sandwich into squares instead of triangles. Every toddler has temper tantrums; it’s a rocky road from dependent infant to independent adult. Here’s where forty somethings hold an advantage. As I’ve aged, I’ve become much more patient. When I was in my 20’s, the world revolved around my perspective; I definitely had a temper. During my adult life, I’ve experienced difficult periods, no different than anyone else.  I’ve been ill, been laid off from jobs, lost a parent, and seen family members seriously ill. One of these difficult periods led me to yoga. I began to look at the world through other’s eyes; I began to realize that most people are doing their best and have good intentions. Sometimes these actions hurt others, but they are rarely intentional. This perspective is invaluable when handling a tiny dictator. Our preschool director constantly reminds me to show my children empathy when reining in their options. “I know you’d love to play outside all night and eat ice cream for dinner, but we need to go home and eat something healthy” is so much easier for me to say now, in my 40’s than it would have been ten or twenty years ago.

In the game of potty training and healthy eating, battles are definitely won with patience and creativity. Anyone whose potty trained their child can vouch for the lack of control over another’s bodily function.

My children are now two and five, but watching my nephews grow up has shown me the need for even more patience and empathy as our children become preteens and teens. How will we react if our preteen grows a mustache or our teen returns home drunk? How will we convince our teens to act responsibly, to not drink and drive or become pregnant? The mother of one of my friends tells of returning home to a sea of motorcycles on her front lawn. Teenagers can test anyone’s patience and require even more calm discussions when your heart will start to race. Our job is to teach them to make the right decisions and to grow into responsible adults. The more life we have individually experienced, the more we can pass on to our children.

Children also require cash, whether to pay for college or the prerequisite activities. In my case, my former career required tremendous business travel, which isn’t compatible with single parenthood. Fortunately, during my thirties, I built a small nest egg, which I used to start my own company and create a new career for myself. I can’t even imagine searching for a professional job with family restrictions when I first completed undergrad or trying to go to graduate school with young children. Yes, people do this every day, but it’s hard, perhaps just as hard as parenting an infant in your forties.

Do I wish that I could be young enough to live to see my grandchildren grow up? Certainly. Could I use more energy? Absolutely.  But do I regret having children in my forties? No.


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6 thoughts on “Parenting in the Fabulous Forties

  • Heidi

    Well said!

    I had children in my late 30’s . Raising them through my 40’s has been wonderful. No regrets on having kids but yes it is hard.

    Thank you!


  • Elijah Shannon Selby

    I gave birth to my son one month away from turning 43 (conceived naturally through changing my nutrition and dealing with my stress–and I now help other women do the same with my nutrition business). I don’t even know if I could say I had more energy in my 20s–I don’t remember, LOL! I have pretty good energy now but you’re right–the newborn stage is HARD–NO MATTER WHAT! And yes, now it is all about patience and creativity.

    If I had had a child in my 20s there is no doubt I would have been able to be the parent I am today. That is not to say I wouldn’t have been a good parent or that it would have been wrong–but for ME it is a blessing. I had a lot of growing up to do in my 20s. A LOT. My husband has said, “I wish we met when we were younger,” and I let him know, “Hon, if we had met when we were younger we would either be divorced by now or I simply wouldn’t have been interested in you because you’re actually a good guy who is available!”

    I have incredibly patience now AND I’m just nonplussed by stuff that totally got under my skin when I was younger. It is harder to push my buttons now. When my almost three year old throws a tantrum, I empathize and validate his feelings then I let him throw his tantrum. I know it will end at some point and I don’t think it is helpful to either one of us to squash his feelings being let out! As you say, it is a complicated process this growing up business!

    To add to your point: I had imagined having children younger for sure but it just didn’t happen. I wasn’t in a position to be a single mom and I hadn’t met anyone. That’s life–I’ve learned it rarely goes according to plan! And I wouldn’t trade my little guy for anything in the world…clearly it has all happened perfectly 🙂

    P.S. Don’t even get me started on the fertility industry in the US and the negative things I heard from doctors and NPs when I told them I was trying to get pregnant at 40…grrrrrrr….

  • Amy K.

    I hear you, sister. I’m in better shape physically than I was in my 20s and 30s. As for mentally and emotionally, woe betide any child born to my earlier selves. This was the perfect time for me to become a mom, and my kids are benefiting from that. Screw anyone who refuses to accept that.

  • Stephanie

    I was nearly 40 when I had my boys. I was a active member of a Mom’s group with moms spanning 20’s-40’s, the exhaustion and frustration seemed universal.
    I do find I recover from the sleep deprivation much more slowly than I might have a decade ago. But the patience I have now is well worth it.

    I think the huffington post article’s discussion on being more honest about how much life changes is accurate at any age. The difference at 40 is that I have observed or experienced many examples of how choices change the path of one’s life. In my 20’s I was more myopic and invincible. Now I believe every choice has tradeoffs. We all do the best we
    can. The loss of personal time, the isolation, the constant demands are real. And for me, totally worth it. My boys are the most fascinating people I have ever known. They force me to examine my beliefs and my behaviors every day.
    Do I wish I had them sooner? Sometimes. I did it when it worked for me. If they had arrived sooner, I would have made that work too. We can’t optimize everything. I am the best mom I can manage.

  • Clementine Moss

    I enjoyed & valued your story about mothering at an “advanced age” (the term makes cringe…I don’t have another description at the moment). I so wished I had taken a serious look at my family plans when I was in my 20s or even 30s. I didn’t. I was having a marvelous time indulging myself and I don’t think I would have been a very attentive mother. I am now 45 and have spent the last two years trying to conceive, naturally at first, before quickly realizing I would require the assistance of a reproductive specialist. Today the woman who runs the egg donor program at my clinic called to say that they woman I’d picked as my #1 choice had come in and was a very good match for me and they wanted to begin immediately. The life of my potential child flashed through my eyes. I was unable to commit on the phone. I put a $1K deposit down to “hold” my egg donor and now have a week to make a decision. Personally, I had found the woman’s article on Huffington Post [“Fortyhood: Why You’re Too Old to Have a Baby After Forty”] very helpful. I was not offended by it nor did I get the impression that she was saying that it shouldn’t be done. It was just her opinion, and for me, at this incredible moment in my life, it was helpful to read. What I struggle with is the “Whys” of having a child at this point. Each reason I produce points back to my own satisfaction and gratification. None of them explain how this child would deal with older parents (my husband is 10 years older than I!) or the lack of a sibling, dealing with death of family members at a young age and quite possibly being left on this planet without any immediate family in his mid-20s. My heart literally aches at the thought of this. I’ve also suffered from chronic depression and would not wish the experience of being around it on any child, as I was in the same boat with my own mother. I am coming to the very painful conclusion that there is very little I can guarantee for my potential baby, and that this is just not fair to him or her. What is it I want? I want to be a mother, I want to love a child unconditionally, I want to offer them some of the wonderful parts of growing up that I have experienced. I do not want he or she to deal with parental death in their 20s or 30s. My father died in my 40s and it was almost more than I could bear. And I have a huge extended family surrounding me. I have to call the clinic next week. I already know in my heart I am going to do what I feel is right for my potential child and choose to remain childless. It is a heart-wrenching decision based on all of the above reasons and an intuitive feeling that I might deal with depression during and after pregnancy. Yet there are children to love and experience joy with out there. They belong to my family and friends, and are willingly shared. Perhaps that will be enough: it will have to be enough. My lesson learned from this is to consider – if at all possible – what your family planning looks like when you are in your 20s or 30s. It’s no guarantee that life as a mother will be any less challenging than for someone older – my mother had six children beginning age 17 to 34 – and never seemed happy. I agree with the many that say “Age has nothing to do with being a good mother.” But statistics say it does have something to do with being around as your child greets all the important milestones they wish their parents were there for. And at 45 and 55, I am not in a good place to bank on this at all. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I do hope I am fortunate enough to have one or two children in my 30s. Beyond that, I will take all offers to babysit friends’ children, and donate to child-related non-profits. Perhaps that is how I will fulfill my maternal drive. My husband, dog and I will love other people’s children. Thanks for hearing out my decision-making process. It has been the hardest thing I have ever had to decide. I love and miss the child I will not have, but this love can be given to others who need it. I feel strongly (for me) that having a child at 46 would be selfish. No judgement toward others; it is a very personal decision.