In a recent op-ed, Nona Willis Aronowitz discusses waiting until you are older to have children and the effect that has on the children themselves. She has an interesting perspective on the topic because she is a 27-year-old with a 79-year-old father. Though her mother passed away some time ago, both of her parents were older when they had her. Now, she points out, she has had to grow up faster than she would like because her father is at the age where she has to worry about him constantly. She says:
Now I move a little slower when we walk down the street together. When he runs 20 minutes late, my imagination runs wild: Has he fallen or gotten into a car accident? Has he forgotten about our appointment? Oh, God, does he have Alzheimer’s? My father continually reminds me that he can fend for himself, but his protestations fail to dismantle the layer of worry that has set up camp in my brain.
Her argument, then, is that delaying childbearing isn’t ideal for the children once they get a little bit older. She writes that she doesn’t feel right turning off her phone for days at a time, nor would she be able to start over in a new location without guilt and worry about her father’s wellbeing, and that this is ultimately unfair to her. When she should be enjoying her twenties, she is, instead, stuck worrying about her aging father.
I see Aronowitz’s point, but I have to question whether or not this feeling of being tied to a place because of care or worry for a family member is a product of her father being older, or whether it is a product of being someone’s child in general. I am the same age as Aronowitz, and my parents didn’t have me until they were in their 30s, so I can’t speak to the same exact issues that she has with her father, but I have taken on some of the caregiving duties she speaks of in her article. As a child of divorced parents, I am my parents’ emergency contact and, as such, have been called to the hospital with the added responsibility of having to call everyone else in the family to update them on the situation.
My parents tell me stories all the time about people younger than them who have suffered a fall or another similar accident. It just goes to show you that being a caregiver to your parents has very little to do with your parents’ age, but everything to do with your parents’ health, and maybe a little bit of fate. I, also, would find it very difficult to leave my parents and start a life elsewhere, not because of their age, but because of the ties we have built together. I’ll never regret the time I am able to spend with my family because we live close, and I wouldn’t trade that for all the clean slates in the world.
Also, I find it hard to believe that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits when you’re talking about childbearing at a later age. Aronowitz herself admits that her mother waited because, as an ardent feminist, she was willing to wait until she found a man who would share childrearing duties equally and her father, who was on his second marriage, wanted to wait until he was sure he could get it right. Both of her parents got to have full careers and full relationships — both with each other and with their peers — before they added a child to their lives.
In this way, to paraphrase Anne-Marie Slaughter, they were able to “have it all.” Instead of agonizing over whether or not to have their high-stress careers and the family life, they were able to have both. From a child’s perspective, too, having older parents can be incredibly beneficial. For one, since the parents have had full lives already, they can now devote lots of time to their children without worrying that they’re missing out on something. Furthermore, older parents are often more set in their careers, making it easier for them to raise a child financially. This benefits the child immensely; it is often the children of low-income families that have to grow up the fastest, since they have to worry about the family’s finances and, often, have to start working at a young age to help provide.
Caring for an aging family member isn’t easy, and older parents do mean earlier caregiving duties for their children, but does that mean that people should have children earlier just to avoid this? Should we allow our fledgeling careers and relationships to suffer by adding a baby to the mix before we’re truly ready? The bottom line is that there’s no perfect way to have a family, and the parents have to do what they think is best for them because, ultimately, that will be best for the child, too.
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