Motherhood After Age 40

Dr. Nancy B. Irwin

“Death and taxes and childbirth! There’s never a convenient time for any of them!” — Margaret Mitchell

Motherhood after age 40 has increased 241% between 1976 and 1996. While we all know that medical complications for a woman are more likely past age 40, the psychological ones tend to greatly diminish. The opposite is true for 20-something mothers. Reinvention of the self, including parenting for the first time, past age 40 is on the rise for some very good reasons. Many women, as they draw closer to menopause or simply middle age in general, take this powerful time of reflection to redirect their lives, reinvent themselves, fill in the blanks of what’s been missing, while there is still plenty of time to do so. In other words, they may make a U-turn (or a “you-turn”) to create something new and spectacular; to give their lives a facelift. Gone is the outdated, negative concept of “midlife crisis;” contemporary women are making creative, positive midlife transitions that serve others as well as themselves.

Speaking as a psychotherapist, I cannot recall even one patient whose mother was in her 40’s when he/she was born and raised, who suffered poor parenting. On the other hand, many, many middle age women come into treatment to deal with their teens/college kids, and many to deal with the effects of their own mother’s lack of parenting skills.

I’m a big fan of good things come to those who wait. Later motherhood is rife with them, and here are my top ten:

  1. Patience. We all know this comes with age. Babies and young children, not to mention teens, sense this important aspect of nurturing. Children raised by older parents seem to be more mature themselves….they have more patience, more tolerance, less ageism.

  2. Wisdom. Most older mothers have “sown their wild oats” and are solid in their decision to parent at this time. They don’t mind giving up “clubbing” to babysit their own kids. Further, they’ve made some mistakes and learned from them. This can be an invaluable asset to model to children.

  3. Having children later may actually increase the mother’s longevity. Her desire to have a longer relationship with her children and grandchildren can inspire healthier habits and a more positive mindset about aging.

  4. Most midlifers are past the dictates of hormones and can be more responsible. As with the longevity factor mentioned above, some studies have shown that later childbirth can extend the functionality of the reproduction organs as well. Most older mothers are comfortable with their sexuality, and ready for the responsibility of childrearing. They know what is important and what is fulfilling.

  5. The natural narcissism of youth wanes with age. Most of us tend to become more generous with age, and this is certainly an important trait for a mother to bear.

  6. Older parents are freer from social pressure or expectancy (pun intended). They resisted it in their 20’s, and are more confident about the choice to parent now. As Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, said: “Every child should be a wanted child.”

  7. Financial security. Most older mothers have a some degree of financial security. Not only can they provide more resources for their children, but also they are freer from what can be overwhelming anxiety and pressure that can accompany financial insecurity.

  8. Emotional stability. Most midlifers have at least workplace as well as social experience; they have generally learned how to manage time, money, relationships, and other life stressors. Most have seen friend’s raise children and know exactly what to expect. Embracing the responsibility of mothering can provide a much more comfortable and healthier environment for babies and children. Too, most older parents have career stability, or at least have explored career choices and have expressed that part of themselves. Previous generations of women did not have this choice, and many resented being parents and/or being married at all. Children intuit this, and deserve to feel that their parents were absolutely dying to have them.

  9. Health and fitness. Many 20’s take health for granted. Older mothers tend to have learned and practice healthier habits. Again, very important characteristics to model for children.

  10. Purpose. By the time we hit our 40’s, most of us have embraced a spirituality of some sort, including atheism. We have at least begun to search for meaning and purpose as a human being on this planet, which begets peace of mind.

I believe it is never too late to live a life you love. If, somehow, childbirth/adoption is not a possibility for you, remember that there are plenty of ways to give to children without having your own. Look into volunteer opportunties, teaching, mentoring, starting a business for children, fundraising, etc. Oprah Winfrey never had her own children, and neither did Mother Theresa.

Dr. Irwin is a doctor of clinical psychology and certified hypnotherapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California. She is also a public speaker and author of YOU-TURN: CHANGING DIRECTION IN MIDLIFE (Amazon, 2008). 310/235-2882. www.YouTube/DrNancyIrwin