The Challenges of 40+ Parenting
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Now and then my 7 year old daughter tells me that she simply can’t wait to be a mother.
For me, this conversation often sparks a kind of delicious thrill as I imagine holding my beloved grandchild in my arms and feeling into my own personal version of the circle of life. Which reminds me of that lovely fact that each female human is born with all the eggs that she will ever need throughout her entire life. That means that whilst I lay nestled in my mothers womb, the eggs that would become her grandchildren were all there. All within me. And all within her; like some kind of intergenerational Russian doll. It also makes me think of some kind of fractal-like pattern, where we’re all turning and whirling like Sufi dancers, unfurling together into a unknown future.
Back to that conversation with my daughter. I notice that sometimes some of those warm fluffy “grandmother-in-waiting” feelings are sharply countered by echoes of the feminist narrative I cleaved to so passionately throughout my 20’s. I hear them now: “…better tell her that there’s a whole lotta living to be done before you start thinking about babies!!” it screeches, almost banshee-like. “Yeah, tell her that having babies too early changes your whole life; and also tell her that it limits a lot of the choices available to you…” (I’m 44 and had my first child at 24, right after I graduated from university).
As she speaks of her future-mama excitement, closing her eyes and dreaming of her own little child in her arms, sometimes our eyes will meet: little-mother-in waiting smiling at me, excited-grandmother-in-waiting. Those moments are full of beauty and I have learned just to let them be; ignoring the other chatter in my head. There’s plenty of time for me to pass on some of the wisdoms I’ve learned about babies and the right time time to have them.
Best Time To Have Babies? Changing Thoughts…
Nowadays I completely surprise myself by saying to the young women around me things like “If you want to have kids, don’t wait too long to have your babies now, will you!”. This bucks strongly against a whole lot of stuff I used to believe (women really can have it ALL!), and also against the general trend that sees women having their children later and later.
So, why have I changed my thinking around this? Part of it comes from my own life experience of having been parenting young children for 20 years now. Obviously my feelings, beliefs and values are coloured by this. I sometimes find myself wishing that I’d had all three of them in my 20’s. If I had done so, I’d have three teenagers now and in some ways this (and the kind of parenting that calls for) would feel – how can I say it – more congruent with the life-stage I now find myself in.
You see, at the age of 44, I can feel the developmental issues of the mid-life transition beginning to work their special brand of magic (and discomfort!) within my consciousness. I feel infused with very similar developmental challenges to those that I faced as an adolescent, and many of them are focussed around identity. I find myseslf asking myself lots of questions like: Who am I? Like, really? What am I here to do in the world? And now (different to the adolescent stage) there is an added sense of urgency, with the good ol’ “mid-life life review” which can sometimes feel difficult as I tease through regrets, missed opportnities and sometimes a good dose of self-criticism for some of those things. I’m defintely more egocentric than I felt in my 30’s, and my focus feels like it is drawing back much much more into myself after the years of being focussed outwardly on my children.
So – is this discomfort within me simply a result of my having had my three children over a longer time period than most other people I know? Or is there something more archetypal going on here?
My core questions are these:
- Is there a developmental life-stage clash between the midlife transition and the parenting of young children?
- Is the very fact that I am in the mid-life transition as a life-span developmental stage mean that I am less able to meet the needs of my younger children?
- Does being in this stage pull me more into myself, which at the same time pulls me further away from them?
These are some deep questions I have.
Midlife: It’s All About ME (Just Like In Adolescence)
So. I’m sitting here writing about these issues, acutely aware now of feeling some discomfort when I put these questions to you. I know that many women are having their children later – many well into their 40’s. If I was considering the question of when is the best time to have babies if I was a first time mother in my 40’s, I’d imagine that it could evoke a few defensive feelings. You might be one of these women, and maybe you think I’m going to accuse you of somehow being past it, and unable to be a good mother. I want to assure you that this is absolutely not what this is all about. And hey, I know that my thoughts around this stuff may be way off the mark for you.
Truly, I’m not here to claim any grand theory of 40+ motherhood.
But, what I notice in me when I consider me and my experience of parenting my younger kids in my mid 40’s, is that (along with all the wonderfulness) I also feel a sense of sadness. I wish that I didn’t feel like I do, but I do.
And how I feel is this:
I feel like this stage of my life is supposed to be more focussed on ME. I can feel all the distilled energies, skills and experiences of 20+ years of adulthood all merging together within my soul into this person that I call me. At this life stage, I now feel ready to pour all that out into the world in a more tangible way. What I find is that the time commitments that I still have with my younger children (which are REALLY important to me to be there for) create a tension within me in a way that was no-where near this big when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. I believe that the mid-life transition has changed my experience of being-in-parenting. It would have been great to have had some kind of preparation for these feelings.
I had thoughts about what kind of mama I would be, as I became a more experienced parent. I certainly imagined that by the time I was onto my third child that I would be so much more patient, wise and engaged. What I find is not so much the opposite but that its just “different” to what I was expecting. Yes I have more wisdom. I also have less energy. I am far more relaxed and have an appreciation for what is really important, and also of what it’s good to let of.
I find I also have less ‘interest’. That sounds somewhat harsh. Perhaps a better way to describe it is this: I feel the pull of what I want to do in the world pulling me away from them – and it’s this which makes me feel the sadness.
Really, it’s a useless question – “When is the best age to have babies?” As we all know, life unfolds in such unexpected ways. No matter what age we bear our children, it goes without saying that there will always be challenges. We move through life impacted by all kinds of variables: age, circumstance, environment, personality, choices, preferences; we all know that that list is long.
Our children actively shape the experience of our lives, and just as I am impacted by the life-stage I am in, so are they shaping my life experience, and I theirs. All of us are like grains of sand within each others shells, providing the essential life friction we need to shape the pearl of the well-lived life.
Parenting – The Inner Journey
We feel happier and more at ease when we can truly inhabit the lives that we have, and discover what takes us away from ourselves. Please visit my parenting mentor page at www.hilaryjackson.co.nz.
40+ Parenting: Research Participants Wanted
If you’d like to explore the issues around midlife parenting further and would be open to sharing your experiences, please click here to go to our short survey.
Results will be shared in a follow-up article . All responses will be treated confidentially.