At long last, it’s finally time. After much contemplation and plenty of heartfelt conversations, you’ve decided to take the plunge into new motherhood. The main difference between you and most of the other women you know is one thing: your age.
Becoming a mother after age 40 isn’t unusual these days. According to a report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, in 2012, there were more than nine times as many first births to mothers ages 35 and older than there were in the 1970s. And as the numbers continue to rise, experts examine both the benefits and the challenges associated with first-time motherhood at age 40 and above.
Age Has its Advantages…
As compared to their younger counterparts, those who give birth after age 40 bring with them life experience. “Women at this age often have a greater sense of confidence and insight than their younger peers,” says Pamela Ginsberg, a licensed psychologist specializing in women’s health and wellness. “They have simply lived more life and therefore have a greater fund of experience on which to draw for the difficult parenting issues that arise.” She also notes that many of these women often have established careers, which may account for more financial security and job security.
Robin Gorman Newman can attest to these notions. The founder of MotherhoodLater.com and a seasoned first-time mother herself, she considers age to be “an asset, not an issue” when it comes to parenting. “With age comes wisdom, judgment and not sweating the small stuff,” she says. “You have a greater sense of self and personal accomplishment that you can model for your child. You are fully prepared to focus on parenting because you have been self-focused for a good chunk of your life.”
Of course, becoming a mom at an older age is not without its difficulties. For Newman, juggling new motherhood with other familial responsibilities can pose its own unique circumstances. “Balancing it all is challenging at any age, but if you’re living in the sandwich generation…as it did for me, life can be very stressful,” she notes.
Aside from managing your day-to-day routine, there is also the issue of making mom friends of a similar age. Ginsberg points out the importance of “peer-to-peer contact in parenting” as a means of emotional support and information sharing. “When these ‘peers’ are 10 to 15 years younger than you, there can be a strong sense of disconnectedness,” she says. “The challenges themselves may also be quite different for a woman who began parenting at 22 than one who began the parenting journey at age 40 or above. It may be very hard to relate.”
It was this particular concern that prompted Newman to start her mothers’ support group MotherhoodLater.com, which connects later mothers both in person and online in communities worldwide. “There is strength in numbers…so you definitely want to find community to support your parenting efforts,” she says.
Ginsberg seconds the importance of finding groups of likeminded mothers and joining more than one. “Once you have explored several of them, then you may have a strong sense of connection in one group and not another,” she notes. “You can then drop out if any groups that are not helpful to you.”
Debunking the Myths and Sharing the Joys
For those who second-guess their decision to begin a family later than most, experts share their insight on society’s misjudging. “I think a misconception about becoming a mother later in life is that these women won’t have the energy to keep up with young children,” says Ginsberg. “I think that is completely false. Older women entering parenthood may have a greater understanding of the need to take good care of one’s self in order to be available for others.”
Advising those about to embark on later-in-life motherhood, Gorman puts it simply: “Find your later mom peeps to share the journey and ignore the naysayers.”