A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a co-worker where I mentioned one of my former co-workers who had been pregnant in her forties when she ran a marathon. The feat of running a marathon aside, he replied in shock, “Pregnant? And she was in her forties?”
Slightly taken back by the blatant reaction, I calmingly replied, “Yeah”, and continued on with the conversation, choosing to omit the fact that my Mother was pregnant with me at the age of forty (And that was nearly three decades ago, when the norm for women was to have children much younger, typically in their early-twenties).
However, my Mother immigrated to the United States in her late-twenties, so starting a family was unfortunately something that had to be a bit delayed. After she immigrated to the States, she returned to her home-country to marry my Father who had not immigrated over yet. After they were married, she returned to the States and waited several years until my Father was finally able to arrive.
When they were reunited, it took several years until they were eventually pregnant with my sister at the age of thirty-five. They continued trying to conceive again for another several years until they finally gave birth to me at the age of forty. At that point, we capped at being a four-member family after I was born.
Similar to my co-worker’s reaction, my friends were also very surprised when they found out how old my parents were. Most of them assumed that my parents were much younger simply based on their physical appearance, using the good old-fashioned stereotype that “Asians age so well.”
I only had a few friends who could relate to having older parents, as it did make a slight difference in parenting styles — I’m not sure if it was a cultural thing or an age thing, but my parents were slightly more traditional than a majority of my friends’ parents. Since the age gap was also a little larger, it often felt like it was more difficult for me to relate to my parents and vice versa. Either way, it definitely made a difference in how I was raised.
Of course, times have changed and it’s now becoming more common for women to have children later on in life. And as a whole, young adults are more “delayed” in entering the typical life stages in comparison to past generations— Taking recent decades into consideration, particularly geared towards Millennials, this delay of entering typical life stages largely ties into the aftermath of the recession.
As we know, it has taken slightly more time for many young adults to enter that next phase of “adulthood”. The average age for young adults to enter the housing market, or even move out of their parents’ house, has significantly increased in conjunction with the average age of getting married and having children.
Because of this, there has been much criticism in regards to how “grown up” Millennials really are, with older generations calling us the “Peter Pan generation” in assuming that we are all attempting to avoid the inevitability of entering adulthood.
However, that’s not the singular issue at hand.
Many factors play into the causes of why there has been such a shift in the average age of entering these certain life stages.
In an article published by the Pew Research Center, titled “They’re Waiting Longer, but U.S. Women Today More Likely to Have Children Than a Decade Ago”, author Gretchen Livingston highlights the recent trends of women and motherhood, while also indicating the causes of these trends. She writes,
“The Great Recession intensified this shift toward later motherhood, which has been driven in the longer term by increases in educational attainment and women’s labor force participation, as well as delays in marriage. Given these social and cultural shifts, it seems likely that the postponement of childbearing will continue.”
The opportunities presented to women has grown rapid fire over the past few decades — The opportunities in career and education has paved a path for women to explore other options prior to having a family.
Women are no longer limited to the sole identity of Mother. Instead, we are pursuing the same goals, ambitions, and careers paths as men and we’re continuing get better at it. And that should not be something that anyone should ever be criticized for. Gretchen Livingston concludes the article by writing,
“While there has been little change in recent decades in the shares of women who are mothers across racial and ethnic groups, the age at which women are becoming mothers has risen across all groups.”
Which shows that women as a whole are delaying motherhood, regardless of who they are.
Aside from willingly having children later in life, people need to also take into consideration that maybe it wasn’t a choice for a woman to have children later in life.
We don’t always know others’ circumstances. We don’t know the full story. We don’t know how many times they may have tried and failed. Therefore, it’s not our place to judge when or even if a woman decides to have a child.
As for me, I’m a twenty-eight year-old, un-married women with no immediate plans of having children in the near future. I still have many career goals, dreams, and ambitions that I aspire towards. And although, I do eventually want to start a family, the thing that I don’t want to ever be criticized for is when I finally decide to.
I’d assume that as parents, you would want your children to have a better life than you had — I, at least, know that’s true for my own parents. So, shouldn’t that be a logical enough reason for delaying procreation?
In addition, taking into account financial security, housing security, and accepting the overall responsibility of having a child, it’s a role that someone should be fully willing to take on. And wouldn’t it be morally irresponsible and even selfish of someone to have children when they know that they don’t want to yet?
The pressure that society can put on a woman can be extremely overbearing, but it should not be the primary reason for starting a family — Or for doing anything for that matter. Women should be able to make that decision on their own when they are ready.
So, as a society, let’s realize that time’s have changed. Let’s stop pressuring women to get married right away. Let’s stop pressuring women to start a family right a way. And let’s stop judging women for having children later in life.
That’s not our decision to make for others.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, check out, “The Harsh Realities of Getting Older”