AN ARTICLE FOR SPRING ST. SEE THE ORIGINAL VERSION HERE.
It’s a trend that’s not going anywhere. Women are waiting longer to have children. In the United States the average age of a first-time mum in 1970 was 21. It was 25 in 2000. The latest data puts it at 26.
It puts me in a minority. I often hear things like, “You’re young to be a mum”, or the less polite version, “Oh, you’re just a baby yourself”. Apparently being a younger mother is an invitation for strangers to weigh in on my life. Then again, I’ve heard older mothers get uninvited comments too, from well-meaning friends, to rude shop assistants.
It’s not surprising that having a baby, like being a woman in general, is an invitation for people to volunteer their opinions, regardless of your age. But what’s it really like to be an older or younger mum? When I started asking questions I expected to hear all sorts of pros and cons to having a baby and different ages.
In fact what surprised me the most was just how much older and younger mums have in common.
1. We all feel ok about our bodies
In general younger mothers are more fertile and their bodies bounce back from pregnancy more easily. I’ve always had a difficult relationship with how I look but, surprisingly, being pregnant helped me to be comfortable in my body in a way I hadn’t known before. There’s something about seeing my body perform its reproductive function that made me less conscious of the superficial, cosmetic aspects.
Younger mother Jenny agrees: “I have more confidence in my body to be able to do what’s necessary to nourish and raise my daughter.” Older mum Aleisha does, too. While she worries that her skin is “not as elastic as it once was” she knows it’s a “reminder of what I have done and what I have made. I don’t care so much about that stuff now.”
2. We all have to make choices about work
There are lots of considerations for new mums going back to work. When to return? Full time? Part time? What can we afford? Studies have shown that women make more money for every year they postpone having a child.
Aleisha agrees that there’s more financial security in having a child later. And she feels that it has made her more productive at work. “I am certainly much better organised now. I think perhaps I work harder when I’m at work so I don’t have to bring anything home with me. I live for the weekends now.”
Jenny also refuses to bring her work home: “I want to be around my children as much as I can—staying late nights in an office or away from home is not something I will do to further my career.” She feels lucky to have the opportunity in her role to work flexible hours and still get the experience she wants.
Meanwhile younger mum Samantha has felt the strain of trying to balance motherhood and her career in IT, as part-time work and maternity leave make it harder for her to keep up with technological advances. And older mother Marcie has similar concerns: “If I go back I would have to do training again and start from the basics.” A tough issue for mums at any age.
3. We all feel judged sometimes
A recent study of over 15,000 mums found that older mums felt judged about not being able to keep up with their children, while younger mums believe they’ve been actively snubbed by older mothers who don’t take them seriously.
Both Jenny and Marcie grew sick of people weighing in on the needs of their new babies. “I may be a new mum,” says Marcie, “but I know when my baby needs socks, needs to sleep, where my baby can sleep, how to feed her.” Jenny, too, had people suggesting that her baby was hungry or tired. “I can’t help but feel like that person has actually said ‘I know better what your child needs.’ As a mum who is around her child 24/7, I know what she needs, or, at the very least, I’m trying to figure it out.”
4. We all have changing friendships
It’s not surprising that both older and younger mothers can feel out of sync with their friends who are at different life stages. Samantha found it hard to keep up with the friends she used to see out drinking or at parties. “When I became a younger mum it made it very hard to keep up with friends, and for people to understand why I couldn’t be the friend I used to be,” she says. Aleisha has a group of friends like that, too: “I have noticed it’s harder to catch up with them, purely because I don’t go out on the weekends so much.”
But for me, there were definitely friends who stuck around, the people who were generous and considerate when I couldn’t do the things I used to. Jenny’s good friends have welcomed her daughter into the world. “It is a great joy seeing my friends interact with her.” But more casual acquaintances have dropped off for the moment: “I don’t have the time or the energy to catch up one-on-one with people I don’t have all that much in common with.”
5. We are all happy to be older or younger mums
Busybodies are quick to remind mums about the possible fertility issues that rise as women age. Older mum Marcie conceived her daughter with the help of IVF so is no stranger to this. But it has made her appreciate her daughter all the more. “My real favourite thing is just having my miracle. I am grateful for every minute.”
Both Aleisha and Marcie feel more self-assured and confident because of their age. Marcie says, “I feel more relaxed, I don’t worry or overthink things.” Aleisha knows herself better than she did when she was younger: “I know what sort of mother I want to be and what values I want to instill in my daughter.”
Meanwhile, Samantha felt that a lack of expectations actually helped her as a younger mother. “I didn’t know anything about babies and had nothing to compare to so this helped me to adjust my lifestyle more easily.” I know what she means: as few close friends have babies, I felt free to do things my own way.
So there you have it. It turns out it doesn’t matter if you’re an older or younger mum. Regardless of age we know our children and know ourselves. We have career successes and challenges and friendships that come and go. And hopefully having so much in common makes it easier to make mum friends and set aside our judgments, no matter what age we are.