Once upon a time, it was the social norm to settle down and start a family in your early 20s — typically with a support system of new-mom friends and extended family.
Yet due to a series of medical and social advancements (the Pill to IVF treatments), we’ve extended the age at which women can choose to start families — with the age for first-time moms climbing up around the world. The road to motherhood has more routes than ever before — some less traveled than others.
Even though we can start having babies at a later age (and even though many young women are very happy to do so), there’s still the biological pull to put those maternal instincts to work. A lot of my childless 20-something friends are starting to wonder: What’s the best age to have a baby?
And so it’s an interesting time, right now. The generational gap between parents is wider than it’s ever been — with 21-year-olds and 41-year-olds living the new-mom experience side by side. Millennials who grew up listening to Britney Spears and designing AOL profiles are on play dates with Gen-Xers who clearly remember a pre-Internet existence and still rock out to Nirvana. And while those cultural nuggets might seem trivial in the face of new life, new responsibilities, and the monumental insight into the human experience — it still matters. It matters in how we connect, how we relate, and how we form friendships with other moms.
Younger parents will tell tales of isolation and embarrassment, without many peers to lean on for labor advice or poop questions. They might have to fend off snide comments about their age, like “babies having babies.” They might feel like they’re constantly having to prove themselves to a society that thinks they’re too immature to handle parenthood.
Older parents will confess to feeling judged about their choice, as well — that they’re selfish for having a child at an older age, if just for the genetic and health risks. They might feel pitied for their perceived lack of energy, and occasionally get confused for grandparents.
And then, of course, there are the positives in both camps. I had my son at 22 years old (which certainly was not the norm here in New York), and I’m thankful for the way it shifted my priorities and put my life into focus at an age where I was craving self-growth and introspection. It was easy on my body, I was already used to pulling all-nighters in college, and I didn’t have a long-established adult life to be accustomed to. (See 10 Reasons I Love Being a Young Mom here on Disney Baby.)
My friend Lisa, on the other hand, is in her early 40s and our kids are the same age. She’s thankful to have had decades of nomadic freedom, traveling from city to city, forming friends all over the globe. She says that her pre-child experiences make her a more well-rounded, insightful mother, and she’s happy to have waited to find the right partner.
Studies are conducted to find the ideal age to have a child, but the results are consistently contradictory. So maybe we simply need to is talk to one another — to tell our stories and compare our notes — to realize that there’s no ideal time across the board.
What age did YOU have a baby? Why are you happy with that age?