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?
I 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.