Do an underdog, Mommy!" my daughter, Katie, called out as she settled herself into the swing. She wanted me to lift her high, running beneath the swing as I pushed.
"I don't do underdogs," I reminded her.
"Oh, yeah," said Katie with four-year-old matter-of-factness, "that's because you're an old mom. Only new moms do underdogs!"
Katie's casual comment tore through my self-esteem like a toddler through a department-store dress rack. Who, me? An old mom? I was 41 when Katie's twin brothers were born and 44 when Katie arrived, but I'd never had the fact I was older than most of her friends' mothers laid out so bluntly. Thanks to Katie, I spent most of my away-from-home time in the company of 20- or 30somethings. In my mind, I'd become 30 years old againor so I'd imagined.
Katie's three little words crumpled that image. The lines around my eyes reappeared, my hair became grayer, and I was again, well, an old mom.
Since that day, I've become an even older mom. Katie's now a teen. Along the way, I've discovered some unique and delightful things about being a midlife mom.
In Old Testament times, several pivotal Bible characters were born to mothers past 40. Through Isaac, the long-awaited son God promised to Abraham and Sarah, came the nation of Israel. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus' ministry. Both these great men of God were born not only to older mothers, but to women long past childbearing age.
However, the reality is, for present-day midlife moms, having a baby after 40 is physically riskier. A recent study revealed that 47 percent of first-time mothers in their 40s had a Caesarean sectiontwice as many as women in their 20s. Pregnancy-related diabetes, high blood pressure, and premature delivery also are substantially higher for older mothers.
For many, adjusting to changes in lifestyle also is a major hurdle. Rita Kenner, editor of Midlife Mommies, an online support community for first-time moms over 35, was a videotape editor used to stress and deadlines when she had her first baby at 43. "Working on a newscast meant there was an end in sight. Once the show is off the air, you're alone," she says. "But taking care of an infant is a never-ending marathon of feedings, diaper changes, rocking, and crying, all with very few commercial breaks."
For those coming to parenthood from a fast-paced career, it may be hard to remember there is value in putting a puzzle together ten times or dipping every French fry and every bit of hamburger in catsup at a 45-minute McDonald's lunch. As one midlife mother put it, "Five years from now, your kids won't remember the night you left the dishes in the sink. But they'll treasure forever the memory of the walk you took with them to look at the night sky." And so will you.
But according to Christa Taylor-Jones, author of Midlife Parenting, one of the biggest challenges for older mothers is a sense of isolation. "Their friends either had grown kids, teenagers, or no kids," she says of those she interviewed. I was surprised to find that when I had my twins in my 40s, I entered this lonely land myself. For my same-age friends now at the end of their child-rearing years, my sleepless nights or toilet-training woes were a thing of the past. Lunch out for me meant calculating whether it was worth the time spent hunting down a sitter, the possible last-minute cancellation if my child got sick, or the chance the sitter wouldn't show. It seemed more trouble than it was worth. As a result, I often felt my connection to adult life had been severed.
However, by the time Katie arrived three years later, I'd learned I didn't need to remain isolated. While it took effort, I found a bonus of midlife motherhood to be friendships formed with younger moms. This intermingling of generations has two-way benefits. If one's a veteran mom, it's a great opportunity to encourage newer mothers when they feel angst over a two year old who won't share or experience a four year old's defiance. On the other hand, if one's a first-time older mother who tends to treat her offspring like the pearl beyond price, a younger mom's more casual attitude can loosen up a too-protective parenting style.
Perhaps more insidious than the physical and emotional aspects of feeling alone is the danger of spiritual isolation. When quiet moments are a rarity, it's tempting to let go of time with God. For me, involvement in a women's Bible study that had a children's program rejuvenated my spiritual walk as well as helped fill my need for meaningful fellowship with other adults.
A midlife mom has challenges a younger mom doesn't. But she also has some plusesexperience and wisdom are on her side, not to mention life skills she never knew she'd need.
At the performances of my daughter Katie's sixth-grade play, Bye Bye Birdie, I was the single exception to a no-parents-allowed-backstage rule. The reason? I was the only mom who had first-hand experience with '50s and '60s hair-dos. One by one, I backcombed and crafted flips, French twists, ponytails, and Big Hair with an expertise that amazed even me.
The reality is, as an older parent, regardless of how I might feel, I'm kept from focusing on age-related aches and pains by the demands of those who assume I have limitless energy. No matter how hard a day or how tired a mom might be, a teenager always can find something for her to door to worry about. Scripture records that Sarah laughed when she learned she would have a son. It doesn't tell us the real reason God gave her laughter. It was to equip her for the time when Isaac would turn to her and say, "Mom, about your car "
Sometimes when I've struggled through a long night of worrying about my teens, I'm tempted to envy the empty nests of my same-age friends. Then I think of what I'd have missed. I wouldn't have known a baby's touch would be as sweet to a 40-year-old mom as to one in her 20smaybe sweeter, because an older mom's more aware of time's fleeting nature. I'd never have gotten to share screams of laughter on Disneyland's Splash Mountain unless begged by a 12-year-old daughter to ride with her. I wouldn't have experienced the exuberance of a teenage son bursting into my kitchen, shouting, "I need a hug!" rejuvenating me at a time when I was ready to retire from motherhood. And, what other 50something mom gets to stand at the back of a pulsating, darkened auditorium and watch her son play the drums?
At those times, I'm able to step back, remember Psalm 127:3 (NASB), and truly grasp that "children are a gift of the Lord." Then I thank God for those lives he's brought into mine, for the chance to share the timeless mother-joy of Sarah and Elizabeth. And sometimes, due to a sudden unexplained burst of vim and vigor (or maybe a Starbucks triple grande mocha valencia), I even feel energetic enough to attempt an underdog.
Pamela Shires Sneddon is the author of Body Image: A Reality Check (Enslow). She lives with her family in California.
Copyright 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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