Older Parents Get Scrutinized For Like, The First Time Ever

The New Republic recently tackled the issue of the increase in older parents. I’ve been curious about this issue for a while because I think it’s fascinating, the complete opposite of everything I’ve lived thus far. I couldn’t imagine having kids at 40, after two decades of doing what I want to do and when I want to do it.

In the piece in the New Republic, Judith Shulevitz shares her experience of having a baby in her late 30s and later discovering her son had some sensory and fine motor issues and required some occupational therapy. As she looked around his therapy session, she noticed all the other moms were older as well, which lead her to question whether there was a correlation between advanced maternal  age and developmental delays.

This is one of the first articles I’ve read that gives a comprehensive look at having children later in life. In a nutshell: There’s risks and rewards (much like having kids at any age, huh). She talks about her experience with fertility drugs and shares how unregulated the fertility industry is (which is really scary if you stop to think about it), and also how older parents are more likely to die when their children are in their 30s and 40s. Also, older fathers are more likely to produce children who are schizophrenic or have other mental issues.

And of course, she cites research that shows children of older parents tend to have wealthier households, lead more stable lives, and do better in school. But then she talks about negatives, which are never ever mentioned. Like, ever.

Shulevitz writes:

But the experience of being an older parent also has its emotional disadvantages. For one thing, as soon as we procrastinators manage to have kids, we also become members of the “sandwich generation.” That is, we’re caught between our toddlers tugging on one hand and our parents talking on the phone in the other, giving us the latest updates on their ailments. Grandparents well into their senescence provide less of the support younger grandparents offer—the babysitting, the spoiling, the special bonds between children and their elders through which family traditions are passed.

*nods head in understanding*

The way I did it, was going from my parents house to college to my boyfriend’s place, with a baby. I never lived alone and for a while that bothered me. I had my first kid at 20, my second at 22 and somewhere in between my two kids I got married, graduated college and got my first “real” job. There has been increasing responsibility every year since 2006, and when I look around at my peers, the people who graduated high school with me, I feel like I’m decades ahead. Most are childless. Some have “real” jobs, while others are in graduate school or traveling the world. Most are single. Some are in long-term relationships, but they’re not talking about getting married.

Being “thrust into motherhood“? Well, it turns out that I quite like how my life is and have grown to prefer it, to be able to defend my choices when some loud-mouthed person thinks it’s okay to belittle me and my family.

If I’m being 100% truthful, I want to look at this article and shout, “See!!! There are benefits to being a young mom AND HERE IS YOUR PROOF!” I get tired of the “you’re too young to have kids” and “babies having babies” articles and want someone to understand that the current trend of schooling until 30, marriage at 35 and kids at 40 has some downsides as well.

But alas, I don’t want anything painting a negative picture of my life based on statistics, so I won’t paint older parents with the same brush.

Read the article and let me know what you think. Will the increase in older parents change society?



  1. This topic is something that has been scaring me for years now — especially with that recent New Girl episode, appropriately entitled “Eggs.” In my case — an almost 32-year-old single woman, I really want to have kids. I wanted to be married by 25 and have my first child no later than 30, but that didn’t happen. I really hope that I do get married and have kids, and I also hope that they are healthy and don’t have issues — especially if it’s something that would be “my fault.” I think about things like I hope I’m alive and well to see my children into adulthood, my grandchildren, and possibly great-grandchildren. Just like some young moms feel, I don’t feel people understand how I’m feeling about where I am in my life — my mom keeps telling me it’ll happen and everything will be ok, but she doesn’t understand how I feel. She was married at 25 and had me at 28 and my brother at 34. Anyway, thanks for writing this — I hope that my experience, when it happens, as an older mom will be positive/healthy/happy/worth it for my future husband and children.

  2. I have to disagree about older parents being scrutinized for the first time ever. I see it every day from parents who have already had their kids and say “I can’t imagine being 40 with a 5 year old.” As a woman who has seen the good and bad from having children younger and older (from my friends), it has to be what’s right for you.

    There are more risk with the developmental concerns when you have a child later in life, but with everything we do, there are risks. So, again, it has to be a very personal and wise decision and I respect those who chose to have them early as well as those who have them later in life.

  3. This is a really interesting article, and it hits home for me for two reasons:
    1) My husband and I had our children young: I’m 28 and he’s 30, and we have an 8 year old and a 6 year old. Since it’s kind of early for even simple math: We were 20/22 when we had our first child (unplanned), and 22/24 when we had our second (planned).

    2) My mother had her second child at the age of 37, and her third at the age of 40. I won’t lie: I thought she was crazy, especially with the third. And whether it’s related to her & her second husband’s older age, or just a fluke: both of my half-brothers are autistic. (But then again, my son is autistic, and we had him at a fairly young age, so go figure).

    More than anything, I feel sympathy for older parents, especially when the decision to have children at an older age has some negative consequences — such as being immediately smushed into the sandwich generation, as you pointed out. Also, my mom is now heading towards her mid-50s, yet she still has a child in middle school. That’s a lot to deal with, especially when your 50s should be the time to start thinking about *finally* relaxing, with child-rearing out of the way.

    For us, having children at a younger age has been very beneficial, and preferable. We have a lot of energy and stamina, and our children have relatives (aunts, uncles, great-aunts and uncles, and great-grandparents too!) that aren’t yet ailing and very old and thus unable to spend time with them.

  4. I disagree that older mothers don’t hear about the negative consequences of waiting. I’ve had to wait, not out of choice but due to fertility issues and now being 30 I am constantly bombarded by family, friends, and online about how if I keep waiting (heh) my kids will be retarded, I could die, etc, etc, etc. Like you pointed out, there are negatives effects and positive effects to both sides. I think it just depends on when you have children on which side you hear.

    • @Angela – I’m sure on a personal level, yup, many older mothers and fathers have heard a lot of negative stuff about being older. But I was referring to the fact that the “mainstream media” called attention to it. That rarely happens.

      Best of luck to you!! :)

      • I’ve definitely seen it in mainstream media. Anytime I see it mentioned it stresses me out because it’s something at the forefront of my mind. I think its something you tend to notice more when it personally affects you, and overlook when it doesn’t.

  5. Now that I’m actually in my 30s, I actually see that older mothers, and older women without kids (and by older I mean like 35 and up) get scrutinized a whole lot, just on some walking in the room and having everybody shouting “When you going to have some babies?” The fact of the matter is, that whatever you choose that there really is no “easy” path, so I don’t know why we have to compare ourselves to one another.

    As an aside, why is having babies always talked about in articles as though there is no age between 19 and 38 that you can have them? I feel like the media makes your only options teen mom or “old” woman and that the only way you can have babies is by having them when you’re trying to finish undergrad, or climbing the corporate ladder and waiting until you’re old enough to be at high risk. I had my second child at 28, which for me was the perfect age; done with school, career experience under my belt, financial/relationship stability and fertility well intact. I’m not saying that has to be everyone’s path, and I don’t think there is a “perfect” age to become a parent, but I feel like the pitting of older mothers against young mothers is often because its always portrayed like you can only have babies at one of those extremes. As women, there are more options than “hurry up and get it done” or “wait until you can’t do it at all.”

  6. i had children young and had them old. Each situation has it’s pros and cons and I rebuked any negativity around the development of my youngest when I was pregnant with her. Its scary being pregnant over 35 – the doctors made me feel that I was going to have a 2 headed baby (i exaggerate slightly). There are benefits to being a young mom – more stamina and being an old mom – more patience and maturity.

  7. There are plenty of articles out there slamming older moms, younger moms, single moms, stay at home moms, working moms. What moms really need is real support. Instead of lambasting women for waiting longer to have children, or tsk tsk-ing at younger women with babies, how about some legislation that allows women to have a real maternity leave without having to live in a cardboard box? Affordable child care? The media is perpetuating an argument that does not need to exist.