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Why older isn't always better for mom and dad

Delaying parenthood has its benefits, but children in these families report several important drawbacks.

January 14, 2011|By Monica B. Morris

In her Jan. 9 Times Op-Ed article, "Tighter belts, later bumps," Elizabeth Gregory writes that the trend of delaying motherhood is a good thing, as doing so allows women to complete their educations and establish themselves in careers.

Later parenting certainly has advantages for parents, who may feel themselves more stable, financially and emotionally, to rear children. Nowhere, though, does Gregory consider later parenting from the children's viewpoints. My interviews with now-adult children born to comparatively older parents reveal some negatives in addition to the positives.

Among the perceived disadvantages were that their parents were less energetic than younger parents and less able to be physically active with the children. These parents were likely to be afflicted with age-related problems when their children were not yet middle-aged. Older fathers were especially more likely to die when their offspring were in their teens or even younger.

Late parenting brings a double generation gap. Older parents are farther removed from feeling young and newly aware of one's sexuality. Less important, perhaps, but real to children, is their embarrassment that their parents are often mistaken for their grandparents. Children born to older parents are more likely to be in two-generation families rather than those that have grandparents or great-grandparents. This means that many children will not have grandparents for long, if at all.

Finally, nowhere does Gregory mention the role of fathers. Intended or not, it might appear that those delaying parenting will be single mothers whose concern is to be "in a better position to support their families when they have them down the line."

My research indicates that the late-born children who felt most happy as children — who never thought about their parents' ages — were those whose parents spent a lot of time with them, even if they couldn't roll around on the floor with them. Mothers who have attained "policymaking roles in business and government" will certainly need support, other than financial, to fulfill this precious need.

Monica B. Morris is the author of "Last-Chance Children: Growing Up With Older Parents."

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