I chanced upon a post on the Stanford Alumni Daily Digest a few weeks ago by Vicky Keston. She called attention to a recent Huff Post article by Stacie Krajchir, founder of The See and Sprout Project, an international creative collective. In the article, Stacie talks about her experience as a forty-something mom. She takes us through the various challenges of childbearing at this age. She laments her lost freedom and flexibility. After all, she’s still at the everything-revolves-around-the-child stage. Three year olds have their own milestones to achieve. Think “horrible threes” besting the “terrible twos.” Miss out on the afternoon nap and you have before you the Loch Ness monster incarnated! We have to be there to make sure they do achieve their milestones, and in the right way, of course. We also want to be there to applaud, to pat on the back (ourselves or the child? Both?), to smug-smile satisfactorily, then on to the next stage.
After reading the article, I found Stacie, to say the least, less than happy, if not a little bitter at having been cheated of her happily every after. Lots of regrets: Not having done it sooner, not having the young body to incubate the fetus, not taking the option to freeze her eggs or even choosing to be childless by choice. Even future regrets: the possibility that her son would one day be alone when she and her husband are gone or that they may never see him marry. Caveat: She did say, she was speaking for herself and she admitted she did not really think about the details of how her life would be after the baby came.
I had my one and only child, a daughter, in my thirties. I was on my third year of residency then. My husband and I had discussed the matter a lot. We decided after six years of marriage, in he middle of training to be doctors, and traveling together, we were ready for parenthood. It was a tough juggle. I went back to work after three months. I wanted to graduate the same time as my peers. Until she was five months old, I would breastfeed her once through the night and in the morning, pump while at work, and then breastfeed her when I got home. Between being on-call and running to emergencies, my milk slowly but surely dried up. I accepted that formula would have to take center stage, while we introduced various foods to her.
I decided to go into Consulting Pediatrics after completing my training. Although, I spent more time in Neonatology, I found that I really enjoyed more interaction with my patients and their parents. Adolescents also provided much diversion and enjoyment. After two years into practice, I had a population of complex cases on the one hand (preemies with multiple issues, children with congenital malformations, syndromes, the hearts, the kidneys, the neuros, etc.) and on the other, I had a whole group of normal-born children from professional parents (fellow MDs, lawyers, dentists, etc.) and from older parents. The oldest first time mother I cared for was 43 going 44. (They’re much older now, by the way!) She was a former CFO in a Toronto financial powerhouse. Looking back, I think I took care of her more than the baby, who could not be any more normal than they came. I would have obstetricians call me to refer the families. “Please take them. Lovely couple. Very nervous. Need their hands held by someone who’ll be patient and informative.” And so on and so forth. I answered their calls, repeated sage words, reassured them this is all normal and no, their child will not stop loving them if they don’t give in to a tantrum.
Contrast this to the youngest parent I met. While I was doing my fellowship, we received a premature baby born from a new mother who was twelve years old. She came two days later with her mother, who was not even thirty! The father of the child was seventeen. Yes, sigh!
Let’s go back to Vicky Keston. She called attention to the article and posted her own take on parenting in her forties. In contrast to Stacie, she’s decidedly happy, with two young-uns. And it looks like she has embraced this era of her life. She has a company called Gooseling Inc., composed of moms who create video games that teach children social and life skills. (I guess if you can’t beat them, joint them, hun? But in your own terms, of course!). This mom, is for the most part, enjoying this new adventure. She went into it with eyes wide open: the hard work (nothing could match this except maybe running an entire country like ours!), the long hours, the loss of private time (you’re only on your own when you’re taking a shower but you might still hear them calling out to you from outside…), the struggles, the new ways of communication and increased mindfulness, less frequent adult conversations, and schedules around meal and nap times, or soccer/swim practice.
I have the same message for both Stacy and Vicky: This is all temporary. You might be having a hard time now because your children are so young. They want and need your time and attention 24/7. You find yourself stealing away for a haircut or lunch with a pal or even dinner out with your significant other where they have cloth napkins and drinks come without straws. But this is all temporary. By the time you’re in your fifties, they’ll be in middle school and then on to high school. They will be less attached to you at your hip. You might even miss it.
I’m currently in my fifties. I still have the energy for the ball games, the soccer practice, the debate clubs and science projects. But my nest is now empty. My hubby and I are together often. We travel. We meet with friends. We go on long hikes with our dog. We’ve gone full circle at this stage of our lives. (I’m ready for the next circle!) So, you won’t see the empty nest until you’re nearing your sixties. (I hope you’ll be healthy and active as ever!) So what? It’ll just be as much fun!
In your forties, you’re more patient and understanding. You’re less likely to sweat the small stuff. You’re less likely to raise a “teacup” or a “crispy.” (I need another blog post for these, huh!).
As for when the right time is to be a parent? I can’t support a twelve-year-old or any teen getting pregnant. Too soon. Too young. I know people who married and started their families in their twenties, even early thirties. I met some of these women whose marriages ended in divorce. They initiated it. They admitted that they did not get enough of the freedom singles enjoy. They felt they were deprived. They wanted to advance their careers, cultivate friendships and alliances, travel, explore new interests. They could not do this with a spouse and/or children in tow. You might say that this group is doing it backwards compared to the forty-somethings. Maybe.
There is no one right time or one right state for anyone to be a parent. It all boils down to what it is you want, how badly do you want it, knowing what’s at stake, being honest with yourself and what you are able to give up, at least temporarily. For almost two decades, the center of your universe will not be around you, your comfort, your time, your space. And the part about being sleep-deprived, exhausted, sometimes disoriented? That’s not the exclusive purview of forty-something parents. Unless you live in a Downton Abbey world, your and/or your spouse/partner, are it! The stages of picking up toys, changing diapers, cleaning up spit, these will all pass. So will the adolescent risk-taking stages. They all become rich memories to recall when the house (and your life) is quiet and all yours again.
Addendum: I came across an article that here in our country, a young adult has five milestones to achieve:
- Graduating from College
- Getting a job
- Getting married
- Buying a house
- Having a baby
It used to be that the order of these milestones was almost uncompromising. Most people finished all five by the time they were thirty. Nowadays, not only is the order of these milestones all over the place, some people take their whole lives to get them. Some people even elect not to complete the five. And, it’s all right.