Having A Baby Later In Life
I remarried when my son was ten years old. Being a single mother was daunting to say the least, despite receiving financial and emotional support from my ex after our divorce. I, like most mothers, love my son with a depth that knows few limits. But once he exited the Terrible Twos, I was certain that I didn’t want any more children. He was a delight. Witty, adorably bright, curious and willful. And he was enough. His father has other children and there were plenty of young cousins and god-siblings on both sides of his family, so there was no “only child” guilt from this mama. For nearly a decade it was just me and him.
How We Met
When I met and started dating Frank, I made it clear that procreating again was not something I was interested in, which he readily accepted though he had no biological children of his own. With me in my late thirties and him in his forties, it seemed like a no-brainer. At the time, at least. But two years after our wedding – after having changed our collective minds and trying for nearly a year to get pregnant – we had a baby girl. I was forty and Frank was forty-six. There we were, parents of a teenage boy and a newborn girl.
We like to joke that this crazy balancing act we call family is either keeping us young or making us old, and that by the time we know for sure, it will be too late. We (mostly) understood what we were signing up for. However, every now and then we meet “seasoned” (a kinder, gentler way of saying “old”) parents who didn’t quite anticipate all that comes with raising a young child while finding new gray hairs and amassing AARP discounts. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom for those who have either waited later than most people to start having children or who, like us, waited a good while until the time was right to consider adding to their family again:
Newborn babies still sleep – and wake up – a lot.
Remember when you were in your teens and twenties and could function, albeit foggily, on a few hours of sleep? Odds are that if you’re well past your twenties and settled into your thirties or forties, you need your sleep. ALL of your sleep. And even if you can still push through a sleep-deprived day or two, you’d struggle to do it for oh, say, three to six months while your baby gets that sleeping through the night thing together. I’ve gotta be honest – it was harder the second time around, a dozen years later. Just know that it doesn’t last forever and “Sleep when the baby sleeps” and “Take turns getting up” is still the best plan of attack, in my opinion.
Toddlers aren’t slower, even if their parents are.
When our daughter was around two, I took her to a park that was mainly a huge, green field surrounding a big, shallow pond. I parked the stroller, lifted and set her on the ground next to me, then turned to rifle through the overstuffed baby bag for her sippy cup and a new bubble toy that I thought would be fun. Within seconds, she transformed from a chubby-legged toddler into an Olympic sprinter wearing a pacifier where a gold medal should have been. By the time I noticed that she was gone, she was scampering headlong toward the edge of the pond, only twenty or so yards away. And she was gleefully yelling “Shwim!” I was terrified as I darted after her, finding speed I didn’t know I still had and shouting her name, to which she did not respond. Thankfully, “STOP RIGHT NOW!” did the trick. I’m not gonna lie – that was just one of a handful of “What the heck were we thinking?!” moments.
Your kids won’t really know (or care) that you’re older.
Once kids finally start school, they get roughly 2.5 million birthday party invitations a year. And you will take them, because every child in their class is their “friend”. We’ve lost count of the number of parties we’ve attended with our daughter where we’ve been asked if we’re the grandparents. Frank has much more gray hair than I do, so sometimes I’m asked by party parents if he’s my dad, which cracks me up but woefully embarrasses the inquirer. As we both politely engage in urbane and often awkward conversations about G-rated movies, youth sports leagues and play date venues, we’re often struck by how much older we feel in these situations.
We’re on our second home while most of the other parents are still renting or are in their first home. We’re both fairly settled into our careers while the younger parents still seem to be trying to figure out what they want to be “when they grow up”. Neither of us knows one song by Ariana Grande or has watched a full episode of Power or Game of Thrones (we’re more Food Network and CNN people). And, yes, we stream our music but we also still listen to a few CDs. And you know what? Our kiddo is clueless about the age gap between her parents and others’. She’s just glad they brought her to the party and that they’re somewhere nearby. (But not too near. That would be weird, because parents…)
You know a bit more, but you don’t know everything.
Yes, I’d already had a child and had helped raise my younger brother. Frank had helped raise his siblings and a longtime girlfriend’s children. We’d traveled, been in the military, read a few books, and learned what not to do by watching the news and observing some other parents. We certainly weren’t rookies, but I wouldn’t say we were veterans, either. This is mainly because no two children are the same. You’re lucky if they’re even similar.
You may know a little something about raising children, but you don’t know everything about raising them and you certainly don’t know everything about raising this child. I’m a high school teacher, and high schoolers are heavily invested in appearing to know everything, especially in front of their peers. When a question I ask in class is met with deafening silence, I often tell my students that “I don’t know” is one of the smartest answers they can give. The same is true with parenting, whether you’ve done it before or helped someone else do it. The good news is this: You will figure it out. And your kids will help you, because they are just as much our teachers as we are theirs.
Our son is college senior now and the insomniac, Olympic sprinting, party animal is in the fourth grade. I can say without hesitation that, thus far, we’ve relished every moment of this dichotomous journey. We’re grateful for the modicum of wisdom afforded us by age and experience and we eagerly look forward to watching them – and each other – grow.