In contrast to previous generations, many people are now choosing to put off having children until they’re in their mid- to late-twenties or early thirties, and sometimes later. As with so many other aspects of parenting, everyone has an opinion.
It’s not a simple issue, because many different factors come into play. At different ages and stages, there are both challenges and advantages we may bring to the table.
Younger parents may struggle financially, have difficulty maintaining education and career goals, and be less settled. Older parents face a higher risk of having a child with physical or mental disabilities, and, along with grandparent carers, have trouble keeping up with the sheer physical demands of parenting.
But it’s not so much about there being a 'right' or 'wrong' age as it is about making the best of your own situation. Many, if not most, parents will be faced at some time with a significant difficulty, whether it’s unemployment, ill-health, relationship problems or something else.
What’s important is that we focus on doing the right thing by our kids by applying the best of our knowledge and skills to the task at hand.
So with that in mind, here are some reasons to feel positive about being a parent or carer, no matter what age you are:
DEALING WITH THE DEMANDS OF PARENTING
If you’re younger, you tend to have more energy and need less sleep. You also tend to be stronger and more flexible, which makes keeping up with young kids a lot easier. On the other hand, if you’re older, you tend to be more mature and have a greater breadth of life experience, which can make it easier to cope with all the changes being a parent or carer brings.
LIFESTYLE AND FREEDOM
For older parents, it can be easier to change your life to accommodate children because you feel like you’ve already had your share of fun and freedom when you were younger. But for many younger parents, it’s not so hard to adjust when you haven’t had so much time without kids – and when they leave home, you’ll still be young enough to achieve other goals.
If you’re the first in your group to become a parent, your friends and family may turn to you for advice, and you won’t have the pressure of living up to what everyone else has already done. On the other hand, if you’re having children later in life than most people you know, you’ll have plenty of other friends who’ve been there, done that and can offer some much-needed perspective. And either way, you’ll have plenty of friends who can help babysit. Of course, if you’re somewhere in the middle, it makes it easier to form lifelong bonds with people around you who’ve had kids at about the same age.
WORK AND FINANCES
For parents in their 30s and 40s, being able to get more established financially, and in your career, can make it easier to balance the budget, which is worth the extra overtime. You may also be working in a role that allows you to have some flexibility.
Money can be tight for everyone, but is often especially tough for younger parents and grandparent carers. On the plus side, this can make you be more resourceful in having fun by spending time together and enjoying the simple things in life, which helps kids learn that material goods aren’t the key to happiness. You may also want to spend more time with kids without excessive work commitments. And for younger parents it can be easier to start getting serious about a career once the kids start to get older, because by then you have a better idea of what you want to do, but are still young enough to achieve it.
If you’re younger, you and your partner can forge an even stronger bond as you navigate the challenges of the baby years and still be young enough to enjoy renewed romance in the years ahead (and maybe be young grandparents)! And if you’re older, the years you’ve spent together before having kids should stand you in good stead even when parenting is tough.
At the end of the day, while it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of your situation, it’s also quite okay to speak up when things are a bit difficult. You don’t have to pretend everything is perfect and you’ve got it all figured out.
And whether you’re younger or older, it’s never a bad time to pick up some new knowledge and skills that can help you be the best parent or carer you can be, and create the best possible future for your kids.