“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter” – Mark Twain
I’ve been asked so many times what it feels like to be an ‘older Mother.’ It always strikes me as a silly question, really, it’s not as if I knew what it was like to be a younger mother. I am what I am, we are where we are and I am 48 1/2 with a 12 month old daughter… I am happy, blissfully happy, if a little tired most of the time.
There have been times of course when I’ve fretted about the idea of being nearly 60 when she’s 20 and wondered if I’ll ever see my grandchildren and then I shake my head and tell myself not to be so ridiculous. Nobody knows the cards fate will deal them by way of health, and if I’m lucky enough to be here at 60, or 70, or 80 … or 100 then that will be a blessing. I will probably be the oldest mother at school gates, but I will the only mother Hope knows and I will ensure, in as far as I can, that she has a safe, happy, adventurous life. She may never have children of her own, or bless her, if she’s like her mother she’ll have them when she’s nearly 50 and I’m nearly 100.
People have theories about older mothers; leaving it late for financial reasons, perusing a career, waiting for the ‘time to be right’ and so on. I think often none of these are the case, and more frequently it is because people have tried and been unable to conceive, or perhaps because their life circumstances weren’t right. Either way, the perception of older mothers is often a negative one or slightly suspicious one, and many people seem quick to judge.
Are we irresponsible for having children later in life? I don’t think so, but then again I probably wouldn’t. Certainly, pregnancy and child birth come with less chance of success and higher risk of problem as women pass 40. But if a woman is prepared to take the decision (along with her partner) to try, knowing the risks, the emotional roller coaster and issues then I believe she is to be respected and supported. For me, personally, I have never been financially worse off than I am now, my job security is at an all time low and my knees are painful, but I know that I am a far better mother now than I would have been 20 years ago. I have more patience, I have a healthy disrespect for child rearing book experts, I don’t feel paranoid about what other mothers are doing and upset by the fact that my daughter’s first tooth came months after all her little playmates started chomping their mothers whilst feeding. I feel far more relaxed about the mess at mealtimes and the fun of baby led weaning.
It’s not that I have more time for a baby now. It is, in my case, that I’m prepared to make more time for my baby. I was revoltingly selfish in my 20s, generally fairly confused in my 30s and really only settling into life as a grown up (sort of) once I got to 45. I may have achy knees and big bags under my eyes but this really is the best time for me to have become a mother … which is just as well really!
It’s been said many times before that older men who have children late in life are not treated the same way as older women. Somehow they are portrayed as macho, manly and virile whereas older mothers are often portrayed as grey haired, withered women who cause their children embarrassment at the school gates and really shouldn’t ever think about breast feeding, let alone in public!
I’ve been asked several times (usually by men) if my girl is my grand-daughter, or if I’m the nanny. I just smile and say, no she’s mine and often throw in an, “I’m just really old” type comment and then smile while they blush and walk off muttering apologies. The rudest anyone has been was a lady at a railway station in London who told me (after eavesdropping on a phone call I was making) that I was a fool for having a child late in life (I was 47 1/2 when I gave birth), and then asked if I’d done it to make sure I was looked after when I was older. It made me cross but it also made me laugh outloud much to her disapproval, how absurd, really nobody can count on being looked after by their children, and as far as I’m concerned nobody should. They are their own people and will head out into the world following their own journeys. Of course it would be wonderful to have that kind of relationship with Hope, but I’d never want to stop her from having adventures or make her feel obliged to stay around to take care of her elderly mother.
Talking of relationships with mothers, I am blessed and fortunate to have a wonderful relationship with mine. It wasn’t always the case as I was a horrible teenager – petulant and moody – but over time we have become the closest of friends. Seeing her playing with my daughter, watching the relationship form between them and the days the three of us have spent together is quite probably the most precious time I have ever had in my life. She was an older mother too – 38 when I was born. And the love, patience and support she has given me have been unstinting. I’m only able to write this as she is sitting teaching my girl to conduct an orchestra of teddy bears with a wooden spoon while listening to a record of nursery rhymes.
So, for me it’s not about being an older mother, or even a geriatric mother, it’s simply about being a mother, and there’s no point, in being a mother unless you’re determined to be the best mother you can possibly be… and recognising that, as Kahlil Gibran wrote so beautifully, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
Right, I can hear a commotion downstairs. I’d best go and rescue both granddaughter and grandmother from one another, or at least go and listen to the teddy bear symphony orchestra and then take my girl to have a bath before bedtime.