‘Old’ or ‘older’ means different things to different people. I am using age 50 as a reference point for this article. While this no longer is ‘old’ to me, it is the age at which people are eligible for membership in the AARP (The American Association of Retired Persons), reportedly the largest membership organization in the United States.
While there are pros and cons to aging, there does not seem to be a preferable alternative for most of us. These pros and cons come into particularly sharp and meaningful focus when a person in the latter part of their own mid-life (or later) considers becoming the parent of a baby.
Older people have had the right to adopt, assume parental responsibilities when the biological parents are unwilling or unable to take care of their own child(ren). More recently, with the benefits of modern medicine, older women are able conceive a child, even post-menopausally, of their own. In any situation, the older parent will predictably experience a range of special challenges which, in each instance, are factors to be considered whenever the choice to become a new parent is made.
The following lists of anticipatable Pros and Cons of an older person assuming the primary parenting responsibilities for a newborn may be useful in thoughtfully considering one of life’s most genuinely consequential decisions. This is not intended to be a complete list of considerations but, rather, a brief itemization of some key factors which may generate some further assessment in the older adult entertaining the idea of becoming the parent of a baby.
1. Knowledge and wisdom.
While experience does guarantee learning, it certainly offers the opportunity for it. Consequently, the older a person is, the more experiences they have had. It is possible, perhaps often likely, that they know more than they did when they were younger.
I know that for myself, I am more thoughtfully aware as a grandparent than I was, as a young man, as a parent and have often scolded myself for not knowing then what I know now.
2. Patience and perspective.
Again, as we age, many of us ‘mellow’ a bit. Not all, of course, but many. Youthful hair-triggers have often smoothed down and our reactions and responses can become more thoughtful and carefully considered.
We may have also learned something more than we once knew about ourselves and about children.
3. Economic security.
It is not unusual for older people to have achieved some level of economic security beyond what they knew as young adults. This life ‘de-stressor’ can have a very positive impact on the attitude, comfort and confidence one brings to the demanding and complex activity of parenthood.
1. Health, available energy and resiliency.
Raising a youngster takes a huge investment of time, makes extraordinary physical demands on the parent(s) and draws a great deal of emotional energy and commitment.
An honest self-assessment of these capacities may help inform a good decision. Parenting a baby can be a 24/7, 365 day a year activity replete with predictable sleep deprivation and the prioritization of the child’s well being above all else.
2. Future thinking.
While a woman may successfully give birth at age 60 and beyond these days, she will be elderly before the child reaches their teens. Does this matter? For many kids and parents alike, it just might as a young person can wind up becoming a caretaker before ever having a chance to experience or enjoy an adult life of their own.
3. All routines will likely need to be adjusted or changed.
The older we get, the more routinized our lives tend to become. Introducing a totally dependent new life into or world for whom we are responsible requires a nearly complete reassessment and predictably challenging and, perhaps, ambivalent, resetting of our own priorities, preferences and habits.
These things are far easier said than done.
There are, no doubt, many other variables to consider. Sometimes, becoming the parent of a baby in mid-life or later seems the best and most humane of the available alternatives. At other times, it is more purely choice.
It is imperative that the older adult considering new parenthood take honest stock of their own motivations and capacities, lest a baby had with good intentions become an object of resentment and cause of exhaustion.