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Older Parents' Child: Growing Up Special

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Thursday, March 06, 2008 | 2 comments

''When I realized my parents were older than other kids', I felt embarrassed and angry, that they weren't like the parents on TV,'' said Rich Simon, a Washington psychotherapist whose parents were in their 40's when he was born. ''Because they died fairly young, I became sort of an orphan at a relatively early age.''

But Dr. March Enders, a Washington physician who was 47 when her son was born, said: ''When you're an older parent, you really want your child. I felt more well defined in my career and had a lot more self-esteem, and, oddly enough, having Tommy has kept us young.''

Despite a multitude of studies and headlines about women putting off childbearing until their late 30's and early 40's, surprisingly little attention has been paid to children of older parents. For many, the emotional texture of their childhoods and their experiences in early adulthood are quite different from those of their peers whose parents are younger.

Advantages and Disadvantages

These children may benefit because their fathers and mothers tend to be more financially and emotionally secure and are likely to invest greater emotional energy in their upbringing, according to psychologists. On the other hand, they often report embarrassment, fear and remorse about their parents' ages. As young adults, they are frequently faced with emotional, medical and financial responsibilities for their parents at much earlier ages than other children, giving them a sharpened sense of time and a feeling that their youth has been abridged.

In many ways, however, offspring of older parents are children of economic and emotional privilege, according to Dr. Iris Kern, a professor of social welfare at the University of the District of Columbia who has studied older mothers. When their playmates' fathers and mothers are thinking about promotions, mortgages and their own identities, children of older parents are more likely to take center stage.

'More Mature and Stable'

Unlike younger people, who ''are more caught up with themselves and their own goals,'' Dr. Kern said, ''when you're close to 40, you've learned a lot more about life and are probably more mature and stable.'' Older parents often pay greater attention to their children, expose them to more varied experiences and are less likely to divorce, she said.

Older parents' temperaments may benefit their children. ''Older mothers tend to be calmer, more rational and are more relaxed with their children,'' said Dr. Jerome Kagan, a psychology professor at Harvard University. As a result, there is likely to be ''less conflict and anxiety in the child,'' he said.

Greater parental attention, while intellectually stimulating, may also result in unrealistically high expectations and not enough autonomy, said Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a Harvard pediatrician and director of the child development unit at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston.

Many of these issues also apply to children of older adoptive parents. Estelle Parsons and her husband, Peter L. Zimroth, New York City's Corporation Counsel, adopted an infant four years ago. ''I feel more comfortable about parenting, since I've done it before,'' said the 59-year-old actress, who also has two grown daughters.

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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    My mother had my older sister at 29 and me at 36. My father was 30 and 37 when my older sister, Meralyn and I were born. I remember feeling depressed at 13 but never ashamed of my parents and growing up in the 1950's with my parents being 50 and 51. Back in the day EVERYONE had children in their early 20's, late teens, including all of my family, except my parents. They went through with a lot of miscarriages till they had us. I prepared myself since I was 18 for my parents to pass sooner than everyone else's as mine were so old doctors weren't the "best" back then. Despite the odds, my mom lived an extremely healthy life (very active, even at 90!) only to die at 96, when I turned 60. My father died however, when I was 61. They were never ailing or anything. My sister was 67 and 68 when they died. Needless to say, my parents OUTLIVED all my friends parents, even those whose parents had them as young as 16! They also lived to see their (wait for it..) great GREAT grandchild, Eliza. I'm now a very old woman at the age of 74 and awaiting my 22nd grandchild (I had 7 kids) and my 2nd great grandchild. the age of your parents NEVER defines the age at which you shall lose them.

  2. Catherine, I’ve referred people to your site throughout the years and have been a frequent visitor. Today, it occurred to me that I’ve never posted a comment. Thanks for helping to dispel the misconceptions about getting pregnant in your 40s. You know my story. I married for the first time at age 40. I conceived naturally and gave birth at ages 42 and 44 to two healthy daughters. According to statistics, I “shouldn’t” have found a suitable mate or given birth to healthy children during my 40s!

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