Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The age (old) question

I was 32 when I had Jess. I hadn’t wanted kids in my 20’s, but once I hit 30 my body clock kicked in with a vengeance. I didn’t feel old, I barely felt ready to be in charge of a child, so I was shocked when my health visitor referred to me as an ‘older mother’.

I started attending antenatal classes and quickly realised that the average age of the class members was around 22, so by those standards I suppose I was on the old side to have my first child. Once Jess was born, I started going to various baby groups and found the same thing; only one other person was in her 30’s, and I was the oldest there.

I used to have a bit of an issue with younger mothers. How do you raise a child when you are barely out of childhood yourself? I was convinced older meant better. After all, there are a lot of advantages to being an older mother. You’ve seen a bit of life and are possibly more financially secure. You may have travelled, lived it up, be more ready to settle down and lead a slightly more sedate, less selfish life. You may have more qualifications, and are more used to being independent. You may have more experience with children or are more able to advise them as they grow up. You may be married or have a steady partner and therefore more support. You are more likely to have planned your pregnancy and to actually want your child.

Younger mothers in contrast, want to go out every night, have no money or job, and are more likely to be single mothers. Their pregnancy might be a mistake and they plan to dump their child on their parents most of the time while they continue their life. They’ll be getting drunk or high and won’t know how to look after themselves, let alone a baby. Won’t they?

Once I got past my ridiculous preconceptions and got to know some of the younger mothers at the groups, I realised just how stupid I’d been. Of course the occasional parent was irresponsible and had little interest in their children, but for the most part they were lovely people and terrific parents.

As often happens, since I have become a parent, the demographic of my friends has changed, and most of my closest friends are now mums of children the same age as Jess. All of them are younger than me. Most of them fall well within the ‘younger mum’ category. I tend to forget their age until they invite me to their 21st birthday celebrations! Some are single, some are not, some work, some don’t, some are well educated and some aren’t. One has lived in several countries, has an excellent and well paid job and is married with a huge house. Another is a single mum in a council house on the breadline. Without exception they are all amazing mothers with terrific kids.

I think the media has a lot to answer for. I don’t believe everything I hear, but when every other program features loudmouthed young yobs boasting about the fact they only feed their children on fast food or saying they’ve had three children put into care, and every other night the news is running stories about children being left alone for days while their teenage parents go on holiday, it colours our views somewhat.

We need to remember that these cases are the minority. For every terrible young parent, there are loads of great ones. And for every terrible young parent, there’s a terrible older parent too.

Most parents, no matter what age, are neither brilliant nor terrible. They fall somewhere in between, tending towards the good most of the time and trying not to make too many mistakes. Most of us are just stumbling through, trying to feel our way and not to mess up too badly. I for one am going to try and be a little less judgemental and to remember: when it comes to parenting, age is just a number.

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