“You have two children?” my colleague exclaimed, “But you look so young!”
By the standards of my left-leaning town, I am a very young mother. As a result, I get this sort of thing a lot. Usually I try to explain about how yes, I am a young mother, but I had unusual circumstances, or that it was a good thing because it meant I wouldn’t go on the job market with pregnancy and babies still ahead of me when I finish my graduate degree. This time, though, I decided to try something different.
“Thanks,” I said simply, “They keep me young!”
And that was it. I let my colleague think me older than I am. I chose not to let it bother me, not to give in to the need to explain. And you know what? It was amazingly freeing.
The truth is that there is no “right age” to have a baby. Oh, sure, there may be an age that is right for you—an age when you feel you have things lined up and are ready and want a child—but there is no universal right age. Bearing and raising children is a great deal of inconvenience and trouble whether a woman is twenty or thirty or forty. Some people argue for younger childbearing—you usually have more energy then—while others argue for older childbearing—you’re usually more stable financially then. In the end, it’s not so simple. People just don’t fit in boxes like that. People are individuals, and people are different. What works for one person may not work for another person.
My advice to individuals trying to decide whether they’re ready to parent? It’s not about age. It’s about whether you’re ready to make the commitment to follow through. Parenting is incredibly rewarding, yes, but it’s also extremely demanding and amazingly taxing. You are responsible for a new human life 24/7, and a completely helpless human life at that. There will be so many times when you will have to sacrifice what you would rather be doing, over and over and over again. Life doesn’t end when you become a parent, but it does change in some pretty extreme ways regardless of your age.
There’s another aspect of this as well. People can be amazingly nosy and judgmental, and it feels like mothers face more nosiness and judgement than average. When you bear your children, how you birth your children, your medical decisions, how you feed your baby, how you put your baby to bed, what you dress your baby in, how you discipline, your schooling choice, everything is scrutinized. And it’s other mothers who are the biggest offenders.
I have learned something from this experience, though. I think I must be finally gaining my confidence. I’m tired of feeling the need to explain, or feeling defensive about my life choices. I’m ready to just live. I am who I am, I’ve made the choices I have, and I’d rather look forward than backwards. There is something intensely liberating about that.