Sunday, May 10, 2009


I've been thinking about motherhood today. Not so much individual mothers, as the experience itself. Women are waiting so much longer now to have children and I know something about the side effects of that, myself. My mother was 37 when I was born, which was nearly unheard of in the 1940s and 50s. I was called an "elderly primipara" myself when I was pregnant with my son, and I was 29.

The temptations and demands of career seem to be the reason for women having children later. We have control, now, to an extent unimaginable even fifty years ago. And so the bright young women fan out into their careers, with few distractions from the challenges of their jobs.

These young women are focused achievers, just like their male counterparts. Neither they or the young men have been required to place the needs of someone dependent ahead of their own. Or if they have done so, it hasn't been for long. It hasn't been for twenty years at a clip.

No wonder they regard parenthood as a fearful prospect. Also, an expensive one. Schools, clothes, food, doctoring--all become the main locus of expenditures. Personal indulgences shrink in number and kind. The idea of deferring personal gratification seems as disagreeable as it is novel.

I was afraid of having children, too, and as an only child, ignorant of everything involved. Married couples had children, though, and so we did. When my son was born, I felt stunned for the first few months, pulled by his daily needs to exist only in the present. How to interpret his cries? Would I ever again rest, sleep, think? And enveloping it all, breaking over every fear and worry, the most overwhelming surges of love, surely the great love of the human race, the one that keeps it all going.

This is the part of having children that the hesitant young women and men of today don't know. They don't feel this for even the closest sibling. They don't feel it for their pets. They don't even feel it for each other. It's simply more, greater, than everything else.

So, looking back on it now from the perspective of my sixties, I can see that the products of the ego, however lavish or glamorous, mean nothing in comparison to the experience of rearing/raising my child. If I had been able to do it, and refused for whatever reason, I would have missed out on the central experience of life.

A few additional words about elderly mothers. Once you manage to get pregnant, it's not your age when your child is born that matters so much, although it has an effect. Toddlers in particular take a lot of maternal energy. It's your age after that: To be nearly sixty when your oldest child graduates from college; to be seventy for the first grandchild; to absent yourselves from your grandchildren's lives by dying before they can really know you. We may live a lot longer now than people did in earlier generations, but not all of us enjoy that opportunity.

It's worth thinking about, if you have a choice.


Jim Hancock said...

There is another aspect to being an older parent: Parents in their forties and fifties are usually better able to pay for a good education and provide the material things for their children, giving them a better start in life.. Then, there is the question of wishes versus needs. Our children always got what they needed, but the didn't always get what they wanted.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Gives us lots to think about. I was fairly young when my kids were born. 25 when my first was born and 27 when my second was born. I'm done now, but I'm one of the few 'younger' moms in my kid's classes. People have waited much longer to have kids than they used to wait. For me, I'm glad I had them young.

Ralph W. said...

My wife and I can speak from experience. We have three sons; ages 38, 33, and one who just turned 26. I was 28 when the first arrived and 40 when the last arrived. We had one in kindergarten, a typical junior high kid, and a senior in high school at the same time. The year the youngest started T-Ball, the middle one was playing pony league, and the oldest was playing in college. Somehow, we managed to make most of the games, even if I was at one and she was at another. All the activity isn't the problem if you are active and in good health. The one thing young parents to be need to consider is "what if?". I was "retired" the year my youngest started college. Fortunately, my wife had a good job and we were in good shape financially. My wife can balance anything and make everything work. That was our saving grace.

sizzie said...

You are right, Bdogs, it is something to think about, as well as a good topic to discuss. There is a lot to be said for the maturity of a parent, not just the age. Things that seemed incredibly important with my first child were laughably insignificant with the second, who came along years later.

Remember Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird was also an 'older' father, as Jem and Scout saw it, at least. I don't know how much he could offer them as they grew older, but he taught them a lot over the course of a couple of summers.

Make the time count while we have it and hope for the best in the future.