When I was nine months pregnant with my second child, I sat on a park bench while my 3-year-old son played at my feet. A gentleman strolled by, gestured to my boy, and said, “Your kid or your grandkid?”
Yee-ouch. Okay, yes, I had my two boys on the late side—the second one arrived just shy of my 40th birthday—but I didn’t think I was into grandma territory yet. I mean, sure, I would have liked to have had kids earlier (my husband would have too) but it took a while for us to find each other. (Dating in New York is kind of like The Hunger Games, except with more narcissists and $18 cocktails.) We were so eager to get the ball rolling, so to speak, that I was 11 weeks pregnant at our wedding, because every bride wants to be acne-splattered and holding a discreetly concealed barf bag when she says, “I do.”
So when people look down on, or say dismissive things about, older parents, I want to say, hey, it’s not like I wanted to be combing gray hair and toilet-training a toddler at the same time. But now, with the sleepless nights mostly behind me, I’m starting to actually enjoy being an older mom. The other older mothers I know feel the same way—even though we didn’t exactly choose for things to be this way, we feel like a little more maturity makes us better parents than we would have been 10 years earlier. (Of course, I know lots of young people make terrific parents, but for me, waiting turned out to be the right move.) Below, the nine greatest things about being an older parent.
1. I’m okay with not partying. By the time our first son arrived, my husband and I were mostly done with the bar-hopping phase of our lives. We don’t mourn the late nights or the hangovers. (We do mourn the sleeping in. I will never, ever get used to being woken by someone hitting me in the face with a truck.)
2. We were totally ready and psyched to have kids. Because we’d had plenty of time to think about it, we were 100 percent on board with having kids. There were exactly zero conflicted feelings about a positive pregnancy test. In fact, there may have been a couple of rather old people doing the Electric Slide while holding a pee stick.
3. We’re more settled in our careers. If you have kids when you’re 25 (and there are major advantages to that, I’m not denying it), you’re raising small kids and developing your career at the same time—and that can be hugely stressful. We had both achieved some career successes when our first arrived, and were able to scale back on the work front for a bit to care for our sons.
4. I’m calmer and have more patience. As someone who suffers from anxiety, I used to have a hair trigger for stress. But I’ve been living with anxiety for so long that I know how to manage my “spells,” and I know that flare-ups are just that—an episode of a chronic ailment. When I was younger, I really did think the world was ending; now I know it’s just the gremlins talking. If I’d had my kids younger, every rash or split lip would’ve sent me into a tailspin. Now I just say, “No, dear, we mop up blood with rags, not the good towels.”
5. I have perspective. Becoming a mom, at any age, changes your perspective on the broader culture. When I was younger I bought into a lot of harmful ideas about women—about looks, weight and worth. The combination of motherhood and aging has helped me see both what is good and bad about the culture I’m raising my kids in—and how to resist the elements I don’t like. Now if someone says, “Be a man!” to my son, I just roll my eyes.
6. I’m not learning how to be an adult at the same time I’m learning how to be mom. If I’d become a mom at 23, I would have subjected my child to my growing pains—learning how to open an IRA, how to deal with a car making the knocking noise, and how to snake a toilet—at the same time I was raising a kid. (Now, of course, I know all the answers: Look on the Internet.) I know you can do these things at the same time, but spreading them out gives you a little more room to breathe.
7. All the youthful screw-ups (I hope) are over and done with. So, okay, I’m not going to lose $300 at three-card monte in Penn Station again. I’m not going to let the AAA membership lapse and then get in a 1979 Dodge Charger for a cross-country trip. I’m not going to let some random dude “help” me empty the sewage tanks on a rented RV.
8. I have the right partner. I’m not saying every older parent has a perfect marriage. But the kinds of relationships I had when I was younger—ranging from the guy who was trying to “make it” as a ukulelist to the guy who was more conventionally abusive—are behind me. If you marry a little late, I firmly believe you’re making a more considered choice.
9. I feel incredibly lucky. I wanted kids for so long that I’d made peace with not having them—which made their arrival that much more of a blessing. If I’d had my kids when I was 25, I might have taken youth and fertility for granted. So what if I’m technically old enough to be their grandmother? I’m so grateful to be a mother at all that my heart stops when I look at them. And that’s something that gets sweeter with each passing year.