At 22, I had lots of energy for running around, playing at the playground, getting up and down off of the floor, sleepless nights and carrying children long distances. I swung on the swings, climbed the jungle gyms, played games, climbed trees and more. By the time I was 37, I couldn't race around the way I once had. I got exhausted quicker and had less tolerance for chasing uncooperative children. I couldn't carry my son for long distances anymore and had trouble putting him in and out of his car seat. I struggled through, but when my granddaughter came, my chronic back issue had compounded, and I had developed arthritis. It was impossible for me to catch her when she sprinted away from me on walks, so I did what I swore I would never do. I got a "leash." It was a lifesaver - literally. I also couldn't lift her into the grocery cart, so she learned to climb up on my bended knee and jump while I guided her into the seat. I have always been a creative thinker, and nothing was going to stop me from caring for her properly. When we are older, our bodies also may recover differently from childbirth. It takes a longer to gain back our energy and to lose the extra weight. It's important to remember that and not be hard on ourselves. However, one of the many advantages to being an older parent is that you are probably more settled, less impatient, more secure in your relationship and are (hopefully) more financially secure.
Then, there are the emotional issues that change with age. As a young mother, I hadn't finished my years of freedom. Since I didn't go to college, I did have some of that freedom, but I was still growing up and trying to find my way. I didn't have any girls nights out, gave up going to shows and just wasn't as secure in myself as I was later on. I struggled to "raise" myself while raising my children. However, because I was still fairly child-like, I was a fun mom. My husband resented his loss of freedom more than I did, lost his child-like qualities with the additional responsibilities and that, in addition to the financial challenges, put a huge strain on our relationship. Also, none of my friends had children yet, so we had to find and cultivate new friendships with other parents, which was not easy but at least it was possible. Some of the advantages of being a young parent is that you get your child-rearing over with early and have the rest of your life to do whatever. You will probably be a youngish grandparent, if at all. And, it wasn't that long ago that you were a child yourself, so you remember it more vividly.
When I was 37, I had a couple of friends who were also having children, and it was wonderful having a community around me. As a 51-year old raising a child and a young mother, I experienced a severe lack of peers. I had plenty of friends who were supportive, but no peers. I couldn't find a local group of grandparent caregivers, so I befriended younger parents. It helped, but they weren't experiencing the same things as me. I was a mom, but not really. I had been a grandmother for over 10 years already and was finding it hard to juggle the two roles. No one can really understand that dynamic unless they experience it themselves. I eventually found a couple of grandparents in the same boat, but we were all so busy readjusting our lives around these children and maintaining our current relationships, we found little time to socialize.
So, what about employment? Our expenses invariably go up when we have children. As a young mom, I hadn't yet embarked on a career and decided to be a stay-at-home parent. That was rewarding and wonderful in many ways but also held me back from pursuing what is now a successful career. If I had do it again, I would make the same decision, knowing the difficulties that came with it. I never regretted a minute of it, but it was harder to jump into the working world later. As an older mother in the working world, everything was different. I suddenly had to worry about childcare. It's not easy leaving your child with someone else while you go to work. And, I had to juggle my career work with my parenting work. Unlike many of you, I did not have a partner in this, making it even more difficult, but that will be a separate blog post. Deciding not to work outside of the home was much easier before I had a career. I was only giving up hoped-for income, not income that I already depended upon. When we're older we may have mortgages, school loans, car payments and any number of other financial obligations. So, we work full-time and squeeze in whatever time we can for our families. I decided early on that housekeeping was not as high a priority as it had been before. I chose my family over a clean house. However, as an older parent, I was much better at economizing and managing my money.
We also give up a lot when we become parents. Most of those things we give up willingly, but, even so, we may sometimes feel resentment over the lack of quality time with our partner, or missing social events we are used to attending, concerts, plays, parties or weekend getaways for example. I'm always amazed at how many people don't trust other parents to care for their children. I always traded babysitting with others. My own children were often happier with other kids to play with, and the adults got time away. It's fine to trade off and have each parent take turns going out, but then you never get to go out together. That usually puts a strain on relationships that are already changing when you add kids into the mix. In indigenous communities, everyone raised the children together. It really does take a village to raise a child. It affords them an opportunity to learn that different families have different rules; they have different diets; they do different types of things together. It's hard to let go of control over what our children learn and experience, but eventually, they will go out on their own anyway, and these are important lessons for going out into the world. My kids started doing overnights early and, because it was a regular part of their early childhood, they didn't mind being away from me. One small exception was my youngest son who did go for overnights but only felt safe in very specific homes. Always respect that in your children. Trust their instincts. It's good to nudge them, but don't force the issue, if you can help it.
At any age, childless friends become bored quickly with hearing you talk endlessly about your child's accomplishments and your struggles as a parent. They often give unwanted advice, thinking that they know better than you because they work in a child-related field, had younger siblings or babysat a lot. Always remember that you know your child better than anyone else and will know what's best for them, but don't be afraid to ask for help or advice when necessary, just be careful who you ask. Although your friends may be peers socially, they may not be parenting peers. And, that's an important distinction. If you have a caregiver who is with your child while you're at work, be sure to let them know what you struggle with and find out if there are struggles they are coping with as well. Tell them about any big changes. Did you have a loss recently? Is there a change in finances? Is there more stress than usual? All of these things will affect your child's behaviors, and your caregiver should be looked at as part of a team whether they are babysitting just once in a while or watching your child full-time.
Like everything, there are pros and cons to both situations. Everyone does this in their own way and it all works. These are just things to keep in the back of your mind. I think the biggest piece of advice I have for parents of any age is to find peers, other moms and dads who are around your age with whom you can share your successes and failures, your hopes and worries. And, find people who have been through it that you can go to with questions, whether it's one of your own parents or a trusted friend. We all need a helping hand sometimes, and there are lots of experienced people willing to share what they've learned over the years or willing to help you figure it out by listening to you.
Also, remember to care for yourself physically and emotionally, no matter what age you are. We are doing our children a disservice when we don't prioritize ourselves. In everything we do, we are modeling for our children. Do we want to model detrimental self-sacrifice? Certainly not. We want to teach our children to value themselves while they care for others. We can only teach that by doing it ourselves. We need to value ourselves and our partners and make time for everyone, including ourselves. It's not an easy task but is very important and worthwhile.
Here's a great article that lists 5 pros and 5 cons of being an older parent.
And one on being a young parent: http://afreshstartonabudget.com/the-pros-and-cons-of-being-a-young-mom/