Would you like to look younger, feel younger, live younger? Midlife parenting means you have access to your very own fountain of youth: Your children!
My mother was forty-five years old when she gave birth to my sister Elizabeth – her tenth child. While I was polishing off my first year of college, my mother was dusting off the baby carriage. I will not be revealing a huge family secret to say, this baby was not exactly planned.
She was certainly welcomed, however, rather like a delightful little chocolate at the end of a long but satisfying meal. Surprising, and cute as a bonbon.
It was all very entertaining for our friends and neighbors. Even my college roommates were eager to make the trip home with me on weekends, to observe this wonder of nature. (The baby, I mean. Although, my mother was rather impressive in her own right.)
For a while there, my newest sibling was quite the little attention hog (still is), but for those of us pedestrian enough to be born during my mother’s prime child-bearing years, the novelty soon wore off. It’s not like the gene pool was in danger of extinction, after all. And besides, all that spitting up, dirty-diaper-changing, babysitting duty? Been there, done that.
Over the years, we’ve all grown to like her rather more than expected, I guess. (Love you, Liz!) But here’s the thing: For my parents, this later-in-life baby was their very real – and yet magical – fountain of youth.
Yes, there were a fair number of jokes and the occasional awkward inquiry. (“Are you the mother, or the grandmother? Oh. How... exciting... for you?”) There were definitely a number of people who thought giving birth in your forties was somehow unseemly. It just wasn’t done back then.
My parents, despite what might have been perceived as a slight loss of dignity, had in fact hit the jackpot: For the next twenty-five years or so, they had a reason to be healthy, active and involved in the world around them. It might have started out feeling like necessity, but from dance recitals to Disney World to law school graduation, they enjoyed every minute of it.
Perhaps they were more confident; certainly they were more relaxed. And the progress they’d made towards financial security made everything just a little easier. Midlife parenting agreed with them. And dare I say, it kept them young. My sister didn’t do so badly either.
Today, they are the grandparents of twenty-six and they strive to keep their distance from all the messy stuff – dirty diapers included. Trends have changed, and there are a lot more forty-something moms (and dads) on the playground these days. I am one of them.
Do my children keep me young? Undoubtedly. When I let them.
And here’s the key: We can argue the politics of older moms and dads, or we can embrace the joys of life in general and parenting in particular. As with most things, it is all a matter of perspective. If we are brave and willing, we can find immeasurable joy in parenting at any age.
We can see the world through a child’s eyes – all shiny and new and bursting with possibilities. We can share the wisdom we’ve acquired with a bit of life experience – all those things we wish we’d known when we were pre-teens ourselves.
We can laugh at inappropriate moments and tickle each other silly.
With growing maturity, we can finally get over ourselves and learn what it is to commit completely to the well-being of another. We can re-learn what so many have lost on the journey to adulthood: How to love unconditionally; how to live without reservation.
We can build snow forts and have pillow fights and roast marshmallows over an open fire.
With our children and for our children, we can take better care of ourselves. We can make healthy food, adequate sleep, fresh air and exercise, priorities for the whole family.
We can stop taking everything so darned seriously.
We can smile and laugh and yell and giggle. We can run around in circles until we fall down dizzy.
Oh, my... you look younger already!
I wrote about the joys – and perils – of active parenting in, “The Sky’s the Limit.”