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Category: Relationships / Topics: Family Parenting, Parents Relationships

Being an 'Older' Parent

by Ken Potts

Posted: June 16, 2019

It comes with its own ups and downs…

In honor of my youngest son's 30th birthday ...

It was about 3:47 a.m. I had a dirty diaper in my left hand, some A & D Ointment in my right, and a grinning 6-month-old in front of me whose expression clearly said: "I'm up and let's play!"

"I'm getting too old for this," I muttered.

This seemed to have little effect on my son, who continued to insist, this time verbally, that a new day had dawned and he intended to enjoy it. The last thing I seem to remember is the two of us lying down on his rug to play; I'm assuming he had a good time.

I was one of a growing number of "older" parents in my generation. It used to be that older parents were parents with older kids, but not anymore. Now that phrase is used to describe those of us who have children in our late 30s or early 40s (or even later).

For some of us, it is as part of a second marriage (my case). Others of us delay getting married and some of us have simply put off starting a family until later in life.

But whatever the reasons, we find ourselves at a stage in family life that used to be negotiated at a younger age.

Demographers are estimating that the number of couples 35 or older having children has quadrupled in the past decade or so. In some urban areas, it has almost become the norm.

Older parents are having to learn or relearn the intricacies of diaper changing, midnight feedings, and later, ring?around?the?rosy and baseball.

I had convinced myself before Alex was born that, though older, I would also be a much wiser parent. My years of living, I assured myself, would be more than enough for any age-related disadvantages.

In retrospect, I was both right and wrong.

In many ways, I was a much better parent than I was when my oldest daughter was born. But, in other ways, I can clearly see I was struggling at times.

In comparing my experiences with those of other midlife parents, and in reviewing some of the research done on such new families, a fairly consistent list of advantages and disadvantages is evident:

1. One disadvantage has to do with the physical resources we bring to our job as new parents. I don't know about you, but middle of the night fun and games were no longer on my list of good times. I also remember that my back felt a whole lot different lifting Alex than it did lifting his older sister. I simply did not have the energy, stamina, or flexibility that I did when I was in my twenties.

2. Another difficulty for the older parent comes in trying to relate to the world of a small child. I will be a lot further in years from my son's world than younger parents would be. I remembered less about what it is like to be 5 to 10. And I'm afraid some of my playfulness had been worn away by the years.

3. A third problem can arise out of our lifestyle commitments. For example, by our 30s and 40s, many of us have gotten into the habit of devoting a good deal of our time to our jobs. And then there are hobbies, volunteer efforts, additional schooling and all the other things we have done to fill up our lives. We must be flexible enough to readjust all of this and make our new children a major priority. The older we get, the harder that can be.

4. As they get older, our children also may struggle with our age. Will our 10-year-old resent his older parent who cannot keep up on the playground? Will our gray hair embarrass them? Will we fit in with the younger parents of many of their friends?

5. Finally, in waiting to have children until midlife, we are to some extent depriving them of years with their grandparent (who, obviously, are older too), as well as years with us. We will die earlier in our children's lives than if they had been born earlier in ours.

Now the other side of the coin:

1. The maturity that comes with age can enable us to bring significantly more knowledge and emotional stability to our job as parents. We know more about life, and about ourselves. We are more settled, more secure. We are less caught up in our own young adult needs, and more able to give our children's needs center stage. And we are more aware of the serious commitment we are making in becoming parents. That can all make a big difference.

2. In midlife, we also may have more financial resources to offer our children. We have possibly purchased a home, a decent car, are fairly free of debt, have more expendable income for clothes, toys, lessons, vacations and education.

3. And, in contradiction to No. 4 above, with the growing number of older parents, we may fit in quite well with our children's friends, many of whom will be older parents as well.

These are not exhaustive lists, but they do point out a good many of the advantages and disadvantages of waiting until midlife to start a family. In the end, I believe we can be good parents no matter how young or old we are.

Commitment, knowledge, self?awareness, patience, perseverance, and just plain love -- these have a lot more to do with our success as parents than age.

On the other hand, I don't know that I ever got used to 3:47 a.m. diaper changes.

Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of SamaraCare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove, Illinois.

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Posted: June 16, 2019

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