Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Older Parents

Have you noticed people seem to be having children later in life? Peoria, Illinois radio host Greg Batton from 1470 WMBD recently asked me live on the radio why we are seeing more of this. He noted he is an older dad and wonders what impact this will have on his young kids. I am waiting to hear back from a psychologist for the emotional impact this has on kids, but I thought I would post the answer to the first question. Why are we seeing more delayed parenting?

According to a study at Ohio State University on Family and Consumer Sciences:

A growing number of women across America are having their first babies at age 40 or even older. Overall, first births among women over 30 rose to a record 22% of all births in 1995, as opposed to 5% of births in 1975.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the birth rate for women aged 40-45 years rose 20% between 1990 and 1995, and increased 74% during 1981-95. The rising birth rate along with the increasing number of women in this age group means that there were more babies born in 1995 to mothers in their 40s than in any year since 1966.

Why Wait?
What explains this pattern of delayed childbearing? According to a study by Susan Coady, Human Development and Family Science faculty member at The Ohio State University, there are several reasons for waiting to start a family. Women who wait usually have more financial security, more emotional maturity, and more time to commit to their marriages and to their careers before focusing their energy on children.

It isn't so much that people aren't interested in having children, but they are just busy with their lives. Many couples have waited until they've established careers, bought a house and fixed it up, and then realized that it's getting late and they're running out of time.

Deferred marriage also plays a role, and many more females aren't married until a sizeable chunk of their reproductive lives has gone by. The high divorce rate among Americans also plays a part. Many couples delay childbearing until their marriages are stable.

Other factors that account for delayed childbearing include economic problems in the baby boom generation, the availability of legal abortion, and effective contraceptives that make postponement easier.

When Is It Too Late?
The media has generally publicized the virtues of older motherhood and suggested that women can easily conceive in mid-life, maybe even up to menopause. Women who put off trying to have children until their mid to late 30s may worsen their chances of becoming pregnant and lose the chance altogether to become a parent. Over the past 10 or 15 years, millions of couples have had reproductive problems stemming at least in part from the woman's age.

"Women aren't told enough about the decline of fertility with age," David Meldrum, a reproductive endocrinologist who heads the Center for Advanced Reproductive Care in Redondo Beach, Calif., says, "Many don't realize that if they wait, motherhood may pass them by." Female reproductive organs become less effective with age. When couples do decide to start a family, many find that they cannot.

Pregnancies can also be harder to maintain for older women. Studies show that women in their 40s have a rate of one and a half more miscarriages than women in their 20s. Premature and low-birth-weight babies can also be a problem for mature women. The good news is that doctors keep a very close watch on the mother, and many of these problems can be avoided. The wealth of sophisticated new genetic screening methods now available to pregnant women has enabled them to establish the health of their fetuses early in pregnancy.

Although these facts can seem depressing or scary, don't panic. It's best to know the facts and see how they fit into the rest of your life. If you are thinking about having a child, talk it over with your partner. If you're not ready, determine why you're not. Many people are just scared to make that commitment - to be responsible for another life.

There are no guarantees in life, and many of the factors affecting older parents can also affect parents at any age. The ability to love and take care of a child is certainly a good prerequisite for becoming a parent.

Midlife parenthood has so many rewards that people feel the benefits outweigh the risks. It's easier to relax and have fun with your children when you know you have the resources to care for them. Age also brings self-knowledge and control, and you are less likely to project your own longings onto your children to fulfill your needs. Older parents can still maintain their careers if they choose because they have the resources to afford good child care - something they might not have been able to do in their 20s.

And of course, the maturity level of older parents is a definite asset. They are past feeling like kids who still need to be parented and can move right into a positive parenting role. Older parents are more calm, confident, and able to go with the flow. Babies can sense this.

-NewsAnchorMom Jen


Diane Vespa said...

Jen, I was 40 when I gave birth to our son, and 42 when we adopted our daughter. The sleepless nights and added stress definately take a toll on our less resilient bodies. The secret to keeping up is plenty of excercise and the proper diet.
Older parents definately need to take better care of themselves so that they can effectively parent as well as be around a long time for the sake of their children, and grand children! Although parenting at an older age may be physically more draining, it is also more rewarding. I am a much better parent in my 40's than I could have ever been in my 20's and 30's!

Ms. PH said...

I think you need to add to this article that there are many doctors who disagree with doctors saying women over 35 will have a much harder time becoming pregnant and maintaining a pregnancy. There are many physicians believe that, if older women are healthy, there is a lesser risk in becoming pregnant than some believe.

I agree with Diane - I could never have been a great mother in my 20s and early 30s. In addition to the benefit for my children, waiting was a huge benefit for me. I was able to spend time educating and defining myself.

Jennifer said...

I think this post did a great job of highlighting both the benefits and the risks in delaying parenthood.

I had kids when I was very young, early 20's. Frankly, while I think I did, and am doing, a good job, I do hope my children will wait until they are a bit older. It was definitely more of a struggle, financially, school and career-wise.

Oh, and reading this article is making me picture my 20 year class reunion. My kids will be driving, entering college, and I'm sure there will be classmates with newborns and toddlers!

Eyebrows McGee said...

My parents were 27 when I arrived, 39 when my youngest brother arrived. Two very different experiences ... with two different sets of positives and negatives.

Definitely less impromptu sports with my youngest brother than with me ... but much more financial stability.

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