My little (42-year-old) cousin had his first child at age 20 and his second at 21. Next year, he and his wife are planning a trip of a lifetime together, trekking through Nepal and Bhutan. For a month.
I had my boys at 36 and my daughter at 38. Next year, my husband and I are planning a week in Bethany Beach, in a house with 10 children. I’m tired just thinking about it.
Actually, I’m tired all the time. Mothering two 8-year-olds and a 6-year-old at age 45 has taken its toll and I’m finally feeling the full weight of the label the obstetrician gave me when I got pregnant: advanced maternal age. Oh yes. I’m so advanced.
But this is good, isn’t it? These gray hairs, sore knees and inability to drink more than one glass of alcohol before conking out at 9 p.m. speak to my mature and grounded parenting style, my patience, wisdom and life stability, right?
It’s a fact that more and more couples are waiting to have children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016 birth rates declined among women under age 30, and rose for women ages 30 to 44. Even royal darling Meghan Markle is joining this venerable club. She’s pregnant with her first at age 37.
So, clearly, we did this right. Right?
Not if you ask my friends in Columbia who had their two kids when they were 25 and 30. They’re 50 and 51 now — active, fun-loving and a year away from an empty nest. When they think back on their early years of parenting, they remember boundless energy and a devil-may-care attitude that instilled self-sufficiency in their now grown-up children.
“When you’re younger, you’re less cautious,” the dad of the pair says. “As a result, our kids have a lot more confidence and less fear because we weren’t transferring our [issues] onto them.”
Meanwhile, at dinner tonight, my son worried about the probability of getting dysentery. (Issues-transference, thy helicopter awaits.)
Another friend loves that he was well into a promising career and financially secure when he had his boys at age 42 and 44. But he’s prone to second-guessing that decision when he sees signs that the 7-year-old and 5-year-old are spoiled rotten. “I think since we have more money, life is too easy for them. They’ll never have to struggle,” he says.
My own mother had me at 19, and “struggle” was a common theme. She was a college freshman on a full scholarship and dropped out to care for me. She and my dad raised me — and the four siblings that came after — well, but today Mom says she should have waited a little longer.
“People like to say you grow up with your kids when you have them young, but that’s not always a positive,” she says. “When I had kids I still didn’t know who I was, so I was still trying to figure that out while I was trying to learn about my own kids.”
(Full disclosure: I was entirely grown when I had my children and the only thing I can say I know for sure about who I am is tired. So I give my mom a pass.)
Other parents who had children young hold opinions that vary wildly.
A friend of a friend likes being the “cool” mom, who, at 45, hangs out with her 27-year-old son and his friends and gets mistaken for a big sister.
But one of my two sisters regrets that she barely remembers her children’s cute and cuddly days — so eager was she to have them out of her hair as a young mother.
A cousin told me her own kids celebrate the fact that her youthfulness helps her better relate to and understand them. “It wasn’t that long ago that I was going through the same things,” she says.
While a close friend says having her first child at age 20 “limited my options” — in particular, her career choices and a dream of moving away from our hometown, where she’s now lived her entire life.
Friends who have been lucky enough to experience both young and older parenting describe an abundance of stamina on one end, and wisdom on the other. How old do you have to be to have both at the same time? No one seems to know.
But some parents do seem to have the right idea.
Another cousin who had children young said, “I love that I can be a helping ear and hand for my friends who decided to wait until they were older to have kids. Plus my kids can babysit in a few years, so we can all go out for a drink!” (Yes! As long as we’re back home by 9. I’m tired.)
It’s my Columbia friend, though, who probably summed it best.
“When you’re younger,” he said, “you don’t read parenting columns.”