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Late in the Game : As More Adults in Their 40s or Older Start or Expand Families, O.C. Parents and Experts Are Finding Benefits and Challenges Added to the Typical Demands

September 07, 1993|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Gloria Boice was in her 20s and early 30s, the software engineer didn't think about having children. Instead she enjoyed riding her motorcycle, cruising in her sports car and traveling to distant locales.

"I was busy consuming, and all those things seemed important at the time, but they aren't that important anymore," she says.

Now 46 and the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, Boice is one of an increasing number of men and women who are starting families in their 40s.

Those in their 40s or older who welcome an infant into their home not only face the typical demands of parenting, but also see some unique challenges and benefits that come with being a parent later in life. Long-established routines change; relationships with friends and family often do, too.

In recent years there's been a shift in philosophy regarding how kids affect older parents, says Laguna Beach clinical psychologist Barbara Wright, who regularly counsels individuals who started parenting later in life. "People used to believe that older parents had a hard time keeping up with kids, but popular opinion now holds that children keep you young and are a source of vitality."

Though older parents aren't usually concerned about a lack of energy, they do tend to worry more about the dangers in the world, she says.

"There is a naivete in youth that is really somewhat of a blessing," Wright says. "You are not quite so frightened by the could and might be's. For the older parent, the anxieties and fears that come with being aware of life's hazards can bring a certain level of tension into the household."

Decisions--especially important ones such as day-care arrangements and school choices--are often fraught with what-ifs. "Something that wasn't particularly dangerous before, like crossing a street, suddenly becomes very dangerous," Boice says.

Many older parents are concerned about their age, especially when their children get older.

During her late 30s, when it became clear to Boice that she wouldn't have children of her own, she thought long and hard about adopting. "When you're older and considering parenting, you do a lot of soul-searching," she says. "One of the things I worried about when I considered adopting was my age and the fact that I didn't want to leave the child before she was an adult. I had an aunt who died of cancer at 54 and left her two adopted children, ages 12 and 14, which is awfully young to lose your mom."

Since she and her husband, Rob, 43, decided to take the plunge into parenthood (adopting Ann Marie when the child was 8 months old), Boice hasn't regretted their decision. "I'd do it again in a minute, despite my age," she says. "Even though we're older parents, Rob and I don't feel worn out from parenting. If anything, she puts a little spark in us."

Joan Plevin, 41, a chiropractor and physical therapist in Lake Forest, has 5-year-old twins. She remembers her initial surprise about how time-consuming kids can be.

"When the children first came, I'd have things I wanted to get done, but an entire day would go by and I'd still be in my bathrobe," she says. "I finally realized that I couldn't place the same demands on myself as I used to."

Many older parents new to parenting are jolted by the way children tend to turn any well-organized schedule upside down, Wright says.

"Child-raising doesn't run by the clock like the corporate world," Wright says. "Those individuals who have been in their careers for 10 or 15 years are used to a certain level of predictability and organization of time. They soon find out, though, that kids don't read memos and their nap time isn't like a board meeting that starts at 2 and ends at 4 every day. Older parents tell me they'll make a list of things they want to get done during a day, but 1 o'clock hits and they're amazed to find that they haven't even washed the breakfast dishes."

Older parents can find their relationships changing with friends, who are more likely to be childless or have older children. Usually the homes of those friends are not designed for young children. And while the friends head out to a gourmet restaurant and a night on the town, the parents of youngster are more likely to find themselves at Chuck E. Cheese.

"You only have so much time for socializing, and you want to share with people who are at a common place in their life," Plevin says. "That doesn't mean that you forget old friends; you just don't spend as much time with them."

When the new parents do spend time with childless friends, their relationships tend to be different as well.

"You have less to share with childless friends than you used to," says Plevin. "Part of the problem is that you don't want to bore them by talking about your children, which is something they can't identify with or really understand. And if the friend is someone who wants to have children, but can't for one reason or another, you don't want to hurt that person's feelings."

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