Tuesday 26 September 2017

Could delaying motherhood until your late thirties be a good thing? Irish mums have their say

According to new research, older mothers are more relaxed parents.

Lisa Corrigan and her husband Mark had their first child when she was 37 (Eabha 4) and her second when she was 40 (Fionn, 1)
Lisa Corrigan and her husband Mark had their first child when she was 37 (Eabha 4) and her second when she was 40 (Fionn, 1)
Lorraine O'Connell says having youth on her side can make parenting easier.

Arlene Harris

Women have long been warned of their 'ticking biological clock' and encouraged to have children as early as possible.

A young, fit mother is perceived to be far more equipped to deal with the demands of a young child than someone of more advanced years.

But if a new Danish study is to be believed, delaying motherhood until late thirties and beyond is actually a good thing, and may result in more balanced and easy-going children.

With the help of almost 5,000 participants, researchers from Aarhus University monitored the behaviour of children at various stages of their childhoods and discovered that the older the mothers were, the fewer emotional problems their children had, despite the fact that they were disciplined less than the children of younger mothers.

The research also revealed that older mothers were more relaxed while pregnant and were better equipped to provide behavioural boundaries for their children. Dion Sommer, author of the study explained the findings. "We know that people become more mentally flexible with age, are more tolerant of other people and thrive better emotionally themselves."

But Dr David Carey, director of psychology at City Colleges and dean of the College of Progressive Education in Dublin, says being 'relaxed' about parenting isn't a determining factor to doing the job well.

"Being a 'relaxed' parent is about as influential in the role of parenting as being a vegetarian parent," he says. "I have met a lot of parents who were far too relaxed about their parenting job to the point of being neglectful - having said that, being an overly anxious parent is equally ineffective.

"But there is no need for any parent to prove anything to anyone. Just be loving, emotionally available, provide good examples of living on the useful side of life and know the difference between genuine discipline and punishment - that's called being a 'good enough parent'.

"Parenting has a lot more to do with being a good human being than anything else. However, an anxious parent makes for an anxious child so I would advise parents to simply be themselves, which involves hopefully, being patient, kind, understanding, firm and able to listen without being a dictator," Dr Carey adds.

Anna Kilkenny had her first child a year ago with husband Daniel Sissling. Now 38 years old, the mother-of-one agrees with Dr Carey and says it is personality rather than age which influences your parenting technique.

"I think it's character and experience which determines what kind of parent you might be," she says. "In our case, we weren't older parents by choice. We experienced five years of infertility and treatment before we had Finn, and those years certainly built character and made parenthood a very deliberate and determined choice - and it brought with it a lot of patience which has translated into our parenting style.

"But having said that, I think older parents may feel less concerned about the possible impact of having a family on their career progression. By the time I had Finn, I had already been working over 15 years, travelled and lived overseas and undertaken a Masters. This made it easier to avail of a two-year career break to spend more time with Finn, which I would have been more hesitant to do at an earlier stage in my career or life."

Kilkenny, who is on a career break from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, says plenty of life experience is an added bonus to having children later in life.

"As an older parent, you have the opportunity to benefit from seeing others who have raised their families when you're just starting out," she says. "This lends itself to an 'à la carte' parenting approach, borrowing from the experience of others and merging it with your own preconceptions of what kind of parent you'll be."

But Lorraine O'Connell, who is over a decade younger and has a three-month-old daughter with her partner Mark, says having youth on her side can make parenting easier.

"I see plenty of benefits to having children at a younger age, provided you are in an emotionally, financially and physically stable position to do so," says the primary school teacher. "When it comes to the birth itself, somebody in their 20s would surely be more physically capable than somebody older. I certainly think that my physical fitness, stamina and youth had a big part to play in Katie's natural, gentle birth and indeed, my quick and easy recovery afterwards.

Lorraine O'Connell says having youth on her side can make parenting easier.
Lorraine O'Connell says having youth on her side can make parenting easier.

"Younger parents have plenty of energy to meet the demands of a newborn and grow with their children as they go through childhood. To put it into perspective, when I am 48, Katie will be celebrating her 21st birthday, whereas some mothers are only preparing their children for First Holy Communion at 48.

"If people are leaving it later and later to start their families, this will lead to an ageing population, which in itself causes huge issues in society. As it is, Katie's grandparents are all still very young (in their 50s) and are fantastic with all they do to help. So because Katie has young grandparents, too, I feel that this is yet another added bonus to having your children at a younger age."

Lisa Corrigan and her husband Mark had their first child when she was 37 (Eabha, 4) and her second when she was 40 (Fionn, 1). She believes that being an older mum can have its disadvantages too.

"Raising kids is the most joyous and also the most demanding thing you will ever do, and age does not prepare you for that," says the 41-year-old yoga teacher. "No matter what age you are, there will be days when you miss your old pre-kids life but at the same time feel mad for even thinking something like that.

"But younger parents may have the advantage of having extra family support - something I really miss having lost my mum to cancer when I was just 25. I also sometimes wonder, do older parents with established careers feel they have to be able to juggle everything: career, family, home and social life.

"Having had my kids later, I felt a pressure for them to fit into the life I already had before they existed, and it took me a while to negotiate with myself and make changes as well as accepting that I had to let some things go. Some older parents with more established careers may be more financially secure and this can definitely reduce the stresses of things like childcare and general day-to-day expenses of having children, however, it doesn't make them better equipped to care for their baby.

"But I don't think anything prepares you for your first child - both the love you feel and the overwhelming sense of responsibility."

Tracy Donegan, midwife and founder of gentlebirth.com agrees and believes there is no set rule when it comes to what age is best to become a parent as everyone is individual, but there are some advantages to being a 'mature' mum.

"For most women, it's easier to become pregnant in their twenties compared to thirties and forties but we may feel emotionally more ready for the challenges when we're older," she says. "We can't stereotype all parents, but life experience can definitely be an advantage. Older parents are more likely to be settled into their careers and have most likely faced challenges in their lives that they can call on to help them through the intense early weeks of parenting with the knowledge that it won't last forever. Also, they're more likely to be flexible in their parenting and have less financial stresses and be in more stable relationships.

"Likewise, a woman in her forties who is healthy and fit may have more energy than her counterpart in her thirties. But setting realistic expectations is so important, no matter what your age, especially when it comes to adjusting to life on minimal sleep for a few months."

Young mum Lorraine O'Connell says becoming a parent may be a daunting role, and lack of sleep can take its toll, but it is a wonderful experience, no matter what age it happens.

"Parenthood is a gift - a precious, precious gift and a blessing," she says. "And should people decide to have their children in their twenties, or older, in their thirties, and even forties - it is completely up to them. But it is interesting to see different opinions, and to see the change in Ireland in recent times, with lots of people leaving it later to start their families. This was not the case for us, and I am glad we decided to start our family when we did. Katie is the best little girl, we are completely besotted with her and don't know what we ever did without her."

Latest figures from  National Perinatal  Statistic Report

Published June 2016

● The average age of mothers has increased from

30.5 years in 2005 to 31.8 years in 2014

● 33% of mothers were aged 35 years or older, up from 26% in 2005

● 21% of first births were to women aged 35 years or older, compared to 13% in 2005

● 2% of total mothers giving birth were aged under 20 years, compared to 4% in 2005

● 38% gave birth for the first time, with an average age for first-time mothers of 30.0 years

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life