May 29, 2008

In 1914, when she was 43 years old, my grandmother Mary Alice wrote her sister from Atlantic City. She was sick with the flu and had to cut her trip short. That bout of the flu turned out to be my mother, Marie Elise. Years later, my mother would laugh when she told the story. Apparently my very proper schoolteacher grandmother was embarrassed for the world to know that she and her 55-year old husband were still having “relations.” Needless to say, and for more reasons that one, my mother was their only child.

Fast forward to 2007. I watched a 60 year old single mother proclaim herself as the standard bearer for mature mothers everywhere. “There are a lot of middle-aged women having babies – 40s, 50s; now I just turned 60…they just have to keep up with what’s going on with society.” I’ve got a newsflash for her. When those twin boys start to climb on the countertop, swing from the curtains and shove Rubber Ducky down the toilet, she’ll have to keep up with more than what’s going on with society.
From stories of my mother’s childhood, “mature motherhood” was much easier for my grandmother. Her summers were free, they lived on a farm and both parents had more than enough time for their daughter. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a 21st century, city-dwelling 60 year old single woman. And that’s the point – I don’t know what it’s like – for her. Maybe this woman has enough family support to make motherhood work. She may be more than up to the physical and mental challenges of single parenting. Still, I shudder for them all when the full force of puberty sets in.

The birth of my children was magic for me. And I was a relatively “late in life” mother. Of all the parents of my children’s friends, I was one of the oldest. I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. But even I have limits. By the time I’m 70, the only play dates I’ll be arranging will be on the deck of a sailboat with cool drinks and good friends.

Some critics pointed out that when her children are 10, she’ll be 70. When they deliberately plan for children much later in life, is it fair to accuse older parents of being selfish?

With so many grandparents raising their grandchildren, is there a difference?


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