Although I really enjoyed the recent essay “8 Reasons Why I’m Glad I Had My Kids Young,” I couldn’t relate — because I had my baby as an “old,” or whatever young people call middle-aged folks these days. I conceived at 37, gave birth at 38, and now, at 40, have a toddler who somehow supplements his daily dose of yogurt with pure unalloyed energy. I didn’t have a kid to keep myself young. If anything, watching my 2-year-old climb the slide has only accelerated the aging process. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t change my timeline. In fact, I’m glad I had a kid as an “old” and there are a few reasons why.
1. Vintage hand-me-downs
The vast majority of my friends and relatives had children years before I did. And, lucky for me, my pregnancy coincided with the KonMari decluttering craze. Et voilà: tons and tons of hand-me-downs. Did it matter that my son was crawling around in onesies from the Bush-Gore election? Not a lick. Thanks to the generosity of family and friends, I didn’t have to buy a single item of clothing for my son until he turned 2.
2. Puffy, semi-permanent eye bags
When you get older, things start to change. OK, maybe that’s an understatement. Let me rephrase: when you get older, things start to morph into near unrecognizable versions of themselves. One of these things is, alas, the face. In my youth, I didn’t think it was possible for eye bags to extend into the upper jaw region, but I didn’t foresee smartphone watches or self-driving cars either. The upside is that since I always look tired, my face is none the worse from wear — after staying up all night with a newborn or sleep-training a toddler.
3. Memories of being a latch-key kid
These days, the trend in parenting has moved away from helicopter hovering toward letting kids be free range. Thank goodness! The latter parenting style imbues kids with adaptability and independence, which is great. Plus, it’s the style with which I was raised way, way back. To wit: I received a clock radio alarm clock for my 9th birthday, and promptly began using it to wake myself up, make my own breakfast and lunch, and get ready for whatever my fourth-grade teacher had in store for us that day. I didn’t wear the house key around my neck like some kids; instead, my parents hung it on the inside of the garage, where my brother and I fetched it after school. At any rate, thanks to my childhood oh-so-long ago, I have hundreds of similar examples of being given free reign, many of which I intend to employ with my kid.
4. Saggy boobs
Breastfeeding my son for two plus years only accelerated what gravity had started. Rather than get depressed about how far my breasts have fallen, I think about how my body nourished my baby when he was small and comforted him as he got bigger. Then I Google “super support bra” and start shopping.
5. Little interest in what other people think
It’s a cliché for a reason: the older you get, the more confident you become. Consider it the universe’s way of making up for the varicose veins and super-stubborn, post-baby muffin tops. Every new parent struggles at some point with doubt about some choice, from whether to circumcise to whether (or when) to go back to work to which brand of stroller is best. However, as you get older, it becomes easier to simply shrug off judgments about yours. Ditto being able to turn down the volume on your own inner critic.
The fact is (some) people judge. The girls who whispered conspiratorially in the locker room grow up to be the women who roll their eyes when you hand your kid a juice box or decide not to rush over to pick her up after a tumble on the playground. An equally true fact is most people spend far less time thinking about you than you think. Rather, they’re worrying about what you think about them. Once you internalize the idea that each of us is just a big mess of worries and judgments, you can move on with your day.
6. Responsibility to prepare my son for adulthood
Not to get all dramatic, but the average life expectancy of a woman born in the mid-1970s in the US, as I was, is about 76. At 40, I’m on the downward slide. My kid and his newly born cohorts, on the other hand, may live into their 100s. That’s a pretty big differential, with Baby estimated to live for decades and decades after me. While I obviously want my son to have a happy childhood, I’m more concerned about preparing him for a successful adulthood. Therefore I resist the urge to help him with every task or to step in and solve every problem. Instead I encourage him to make friends with frustration and to develop grit. When he’s tall enough to reach the dials, I’m going to make sure he knows how to operate a washing machine.
All parents are playing the same long game, of course, but I think older parents feel it more acutely. And that’s definitely a good thing.
7. Knowledge of what my time is worth
So I don’t plan on spending mine crocheting Pokémon Go costumes or watching my son take batting practice or obsessing about his math worksheets. I was an adult for years and years before I became a mother. I’m not only aware of my own needs, but I’m secure enough to balance my needs with his needs. I’m a better parent (and person) when I spend at least some of my time on me — otherwise known as the “put on your own oxygen mask first” school of parenting. If cooking organic meals from scratch every night is your jam, then you should absolutely keep doing that. Also, you should invite me and mine over one night. I’m an excellent dishwasher, and my son’s got to learn to scrub pans at some point.