On Being An “Old” Mom

It’s one of those gray windy days. The leaves are falling and rustling as they make their way across our front yard and into the neighbor’s driveway. It’s the perfect weather for writing (or reading), cozied up with a sweater, a warm cup of something, and a comfortable chair. Or in my case, a floor-length wool tent-sweater-cape-coat, a semi-broken plastic bucket chair, and a matcha ginger latte that tastes like I’m licking a goddamn spice packet. I read somewhere that green tea helps with stress (I should put it in an I.V.) and is loaded with antioxidants so it’s become my afternoon beverage in lieu of ninety-two cups of coffee because I’m an adult and I’m adulting (I tell myself) because self-care but also so I live long enough to see my son graduate from high school. Sigh, the things we do for our children.

I’m what these United States likes to call an “old mom.” I had my son at thirty-seven which is totally fine in Italy where my husband is from but absolutely ancient in Salt Lake City where I’m from. Also, I’m positively geriatric according to my Persian father who grew up in Iran during a time when folks were married off at like twelve (yes, really) and my grandma was like fourteen when she had her first kiddo. To each his own, but uh, no, thanks (I feel like I should clarify that from what I’ve been told, people do not get married this young anymore and arranged marriages are more of a rural thing now and less common in cities).

I spent my twenties being told by random strangers in Chilis, where I waited tables for a few years, that I needed to get married and knocked up as soon as possible or I’d live a sad and terrible life and lose my chance to have a family and die a lonely spinster woman. It brought images to mind of me wandering around an empty cabin in the woods without pants gathering ingredients for an eternal life spell among my six thousand cats. Which honestly sounds kind of great. Don’t threaten me with a good time, old man who only orders coffee and tips three dirty pennies and some lint. I was fine with being old and alone because when I was younger I didn’t want kids or a life partner. So I ignored all of the unwanted advice, blocked out the stupid societal pressure and carried on doing what was best for me, and rickety ass aside, I’m happy that I gave myself ample time to figure out what I wanted in life. What I wanted. Me. For myself. Just me, myself, and I.

It would be really nice if we could normalize trusting folks to make their own decisions about their bodies and their lives. I get it, we’re terrified that if we shun the blueprint of what has “always worked” (for some) then society as we know it will collapse and pigs will fly and women will wait until they’re old to have children. THE HORROR. If you ask me, the pressure does more harm than good. People know themselves and if we just let them trust their intuition then I suspect we’ll have a society of healthier happier people who feel in charge of their lives. We are all unique and no one thing works perfectly for everyone. It’s okay if you don’t want children ever. It’s okay if you aren’t ready to settle down now or ever. It’s okay if you prefer travel to relationships, or dogs to kids, or all you’ve ever wanted is a life partner and babies. It’s okay if you tried to have children and you couldn’t. It’s okay if you need to find yourself and lose yourself and find yourself again before you have any idea what you want whatsoever. You know you. It’s okay.

Waiting was perfect for me. I’ll be honest, my body is a bit achey breaky and it would have been a lot easier to have children when I was young and had energy and could go an entire day without dreaming of a nap. I remember my clubbing days and the endless energy and am like, wow, I could have raised four kids without even breaking a sweat. I used to stay out all night and get up at six a.m. (if I slept) and go to work or class without so much as blinking. The exhaustion was nothing a cup of coffee or two couldn’t beat. Now, every morning I wake up with lower back pain as if I spent the night carrying cement blocks up a mountain while a swarm of murder hornets stung my ass even though all I did was read a book and fall asleep by nine. I’m pretty much always a little fatigued if not totally spent and I actually pulled a shoulder muscle dancing with my toddler this week. But it’s fine, I’ll gladly take the joint pain because I’d rather be a big fan of abusing turmeric than ass deep in bad boyfriends and vodka. If Id had him any younger, I’d have messed him up. Big time.

There are some people who somehow have it all together right out of high school or college. Those people had “normal” childhoods, or extensive therapy, or a gift for self-therapizing. Not me. My childhood was filled with my mom’s batshit weird boyfriends (the guy who skinned animals for a living, the guy who had a really bad drug problem and made me drive home from a racetrack when I was eight years old because he’d taken too much acid, the guy who had many felonies and prison stints for assault and battery, the guy who wouldn’t stop dropping off romantic mixtapes, and the guy who had vampire teeth and drew dragons all the time–I do credit him with introducing me to Rocky Horror Picture Show at like seven though), my dad’s inability to hunker down and be stable for five minutes, and an entire community that treated me like a pariah for not being a part of their frock and helmet-hair club. 

Because of all these “colorful” things, I felt strongly that it was probably a good idea to put off having any real responsibilities for as long as possible. I didn’t get married until I was in my thirties. We didn’t buy a house until our thirties. And my husband really wanted kids and I was like, wait, hold up, I need to think about this. Everyone is different and plenty of people with baggage raise amazing and healthy kids, but I needed and wanted to feel really stable before I even considered raising a whole human because it felt like the right thing for me, and because I have anxiety and I overthink fucking everything. But also because I’m a firm believer in taking your time when it comes to huge decisions that impact other people.

Having a child, or adopting a child, is one of the biggest decisions in the world even though as a society we don’t treat it like it’s a big deal at all because it’s so common. We pressure people to do it. We shame people for not doing it. It’s like a lot of people do it and we’re “supposed” to do it, so we’re like “oh, meh, you have a whole person living in your home totally dependent on you. GOOD! WHATEVER.” We’re collectively willy-nilly about it (and many things) from the moment someone is like “yeah, I’m gonna become a parent” all the way to the utter neglect of the birthing human’s body and and the parent’s physical and mental health afterwards. Our culture handles family building with about as much care as buying shoes. Which is problematic for a million reasons (the lack of support parents get down to, again, the care of birthing bodies) including the fact that a child doesn’t just affect their parents. As a parent, we affect the child, who goes on to impact every single person around them for their entire lives. That’s kind of terrifying when you think of it. Right? RIGHT! Not something we should be forced into, maybe?

If you choose to be responsible for a whole other human than it has to be when you’re ready and on your terms. Not on societies terms, not on your parents terms, or that elderly man with very strong opinions at Chilis, just yours.

I spent my twenties trying to figure myself out, dating, failing, traveling, reading, exploring different career options and amassing a ton of student debt. And of course tuning out every well-intentioned elderly person and my family every time they asked, “Are you going to get married and have kids?” Which was like every other week for years. Then I spent my thirties in therapy, reading self-help books, and listening to everyone tell me that I was now too old for children. For years I was like, old or not, I am still way too bonkers for kids. And then one day after being married for a few years, I thought, hmm, I do want kids. I feel okay, maybe I can do it now? 

There’s no such thing as being totally ready or perfect. No human is perfect. No parent is really ready. But I felt like I finally got to a place where I would screw my kid up in like “normal” ways. When we decided to start trying, I was still learning how to manage my anxiety and “PTSD” but I had coping mechanisms and a therapist on speed dial. Seriously, we need to normalize therapy as part of family planning. And as part of life-planning. Let’s just normalize therapy.

It took a long time to get pregnant because I’m older and have like five eggs rattling around in there like a broken maraca but we found out that I was pregnant the week I went in for a fertility appointment and decided I couldn’t get pregnant and went to NY and drank ALL THE BOOZE with my bestie. Of course. Since I was an older mom my pregnancy was considered high-risk and there were more tests and more precautions and I felt like nine-hundred years old during my appointments, like I would not have been surprised if my doctor dusted my vagina for cobwebs while checking my baby.

Our healthy little was born two years ago after a long and difficult labor and I could not love another person more. And it’s beautiful and it’s magical and fun and so, so, so hard. And I’m so glad I waited because it’s so hard.

If you’re out there wondering if you’re waiting too long, I’m here to tell you that you’re doing exactly what is right for you and I’m proud of you for it.

I’m not a perfect mom and I was not perfectly ready, those are not real things, but I am grateful that I can focus most of my energy on my son and less of my energy on my crap. I still see a therapist regularly and always will. I still struggle with intrusive thoughts and anxiety and I’m arming myself better every single day on how to take care of myself and how to model healthy coping so I can avoid putting my shit on him. I have the language I need to ask for help when I need it, something I did not have when I was younger and being pressured to procreate as if the fate of the world depended on my ovaries and mine alone. I really enjoy being older and a little wiser while navigating parenthood although I do occasionally worry that we might not meet our child’s partner or grandkids if those are things that he wants or has. I worry a little that I might be in a walker during his graduation ceremony and I’ll roll off of the stairs right when his name is called. But I’m meditating when I can and drinking my matcha as if it’s some kind of magical goddamn potion, and hoping for a long-ish and healthy-ish life. Finger’s crossed.

How old were you when you became a parent? Do you wish you were younger or older? What would you have done differently?

Please share if you’re feeling fancy.

3 thoughts on “On Being An “Old” Mom

  1. My story is similar to yours (though my childhood was not nearly as fucked up) — I was just never sure I wanted a kid. I got married surprisingly (to me) young, at 23, but we didn’t have our daughter until I was 34. SO CLOSE to “geriatric.” Ha. I’m glad my husband and I had that time together and, like you said, I would’ve been a shitty mom in my 20s. Also, if I’m going to be super honest, I take way better care of my body now than I did then. The aches are there, or course, but I have patience and knowledge and an actual idea of how I want to parent now. I do dread moving back to the U.S. in 2-3 years and suddenly being an “old” mom. I’ve really enjoyed parenting amongst peers in Italy.

    1. I love that so much. I wish we could normalize enjoying our marriage before family building. It’s so nice to have time to work on marriage (which is always work) before balancing that with being a caretaker. I will say that many of my mom friends with toddlers are younger than me, but I have found a solid group of moms in their thirties so if you do come home you might not be the oldest mom. You can be an old mom among other old moms and form an ache gang with me. 😂

  2. SO TRUE that our culture treats family building like it’s no big deal rather than the massive responsibility and life change that it is! I wonder if this contributes to the widespread pp anxiety trend (myself included). It’s hard to reconcile how effing HARD new parenthood is with society’s expectation that we manage it all effortlessly, with clean hair and a clean house to boot.
    Also, totally on board with normalizing older parenthood (or not choosing to have kids at all — it’s not a box to tick off on the checklist of life, contrary to attitudes I’ve witnessed). My parents were 40 when they had me and even as a kid I could appreciate the difference with some of my friends’ parents — mine seemed just a bit wiser, slightly more confident and together somehow. Age isn’t everything of course but since we our children rely on us for stability there’s a lot to be said for having kids later on.

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