This will take about 7 minutes to read.
Women in their early 40s and beyond who don’t yet have children are part of a group with uniquely positioned needs: we’re beginning to experience the challenges of midlife, yet also dreaming of starting a family, however that might happen.
At this stage, women are often deep into their careers, have pushed off childbearing, often only to find that they have a hard time getting pregnant. This leads to fertility treatments, rounds of IVF and, the stressors of finding that friends are ‘moving on’ on life (so it seems), and navigating changes within marriage and other personal relationships. It’s exhausting.
So today, we’re here to talk about the unique joys and challenges that come with being an older parent to a young child, and to provide hope for relief from these challenges.
If you’re going through this unique experience, and finding that these challenges resonate with you, we hope you know that you’re not alone. Many other women experience the uniqueness of this time, and if you are too, know that it’s normal and that you’re not going crazy.
In my work as a therapist, I find that often there is such an emotional build-up to getting pregnant, that once it occurs, people find that they have hundreds of expectations and dreams they didn’t even know they had, and often, those don’t come to life as expected. And that’s hard to bear.
For example, parents of newborns and young children find quickly that their energy isn’t what it used to be when they were younger, especially as the journey to getting pregnant was exhausting itself! So, when parents find themselves exceptionally exhausted at getting up all hours of the night, have (very normal) struggles with breastfeeding, and are hit with the reality of less time with their partner and themselves, the fantasy of parenthood is shattered.
And as if that wasn’t enough, older mothers may find that perimenopause begins to set in. This comes at the time that the baby blues, or worse yet, postpartum depression could also develop, leaving mothers confused about what they are experiencing. Always talk to your doctor, should you experience any symptoms that seem out of the ordinary for you. I’ve outlined some common symptoms below:
Some Perimenopausal Symptoms:
You may start to notice changes as early as in your mid-30’s and usually some time during your 40’s:
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings and increased risk of depression
- Changes in libido
Some Baby Blues Symptoms:
These symptoms may develop after giving birth and last for about a week or two:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Mood swings
Some Postpartum Depression Symptoms (PPD):
These symptoms may develop with the first few weeks after giving birth (but may also begin during pregnancy) and up to one year after delivery. They might initially be mistaken for baby blues symptoms but PPD symptoms are much more intense and last longer. It is important that you talk to your doctor as soon as you experience any of these severe symptoms:
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Loss of appetite or eating too much
- Intense irritability and anger
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Intense anxiety or panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself and/or your baby
- Isolation from family and friends
- Excessive crying
- Severe mood swings and depressed mood
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
When one of these hits, it is almost always a surprise, and most women don’t know what’s happening to their bodies. Women might feel like they are going crazy, or like they are out of control, and don’t know what to do.
If you’re feeling any of the above symptoms, or not feeling like yourself, talk with your doctor right away.
When women have young children as an older mom, they might feel embarrassed about their age, and may dread being mistaken for the grandmother instead of the mother. Some older women who wish to have children may feel such shame about their age and society’s expectations of how old they ‘should’ be to be a new parent, that they are conflicted about whether to have children at all.
Like so much in life, supportive connections with people you like and trust are the antidote to shame in this case. Find people in your life who support you and your dreams and connect with other women in the same life stage. You can find other moms through a local moms group, through your church or religious center. If you don’t know where to start, talk to your pediatrician, gynecologist, or simply google “mothers group” in your area.
At the same time parents who have a child in their forties or later may find themselves worrying about what will happen if they aren’t able to be around for their kids later in life, or what happens should they die while their children are still young.
The truth is, all parents should be thinking about these questions and taking steps to address them, but this kind of concern is much more common in parents who have children at a later age.
The first step is to hire an estate lawyer and make a thorough plan for your finances, assets, and, of course, your child. Talk with trusted friends or family members and ask them to be guardians, should anything happen to you.
The next step is to take great care of yourself (which, of course, all parents should also be doing, no matter their age). Eat well, spend time outside, work out consistently, and maintain supportive relationships in your life. Find time in your day for meditation and yoga, even if it’s just a few minutes a day, a few times a week. Get an annual physical.
Build relationships with parents in the same boat as you. You can meet people at a mother’s club, at church, or even at your child’s school.
Take the best care of yourself so that you can take the best care of your child, no matter your age.
For adults beginning their parenting journey later in life, they are likely dealing with caregiving on both ends: for their children and for their parents. And this presents its own set of stressors for caretakers. For example, elderly parents often live far away, so there’s a lot of travel involved, leaving parents of young children unsure of how to best support their children while they’re gone. On top of that, financial stressors add to the weight. Parents often wonder how they can provide adequate care for their aging parents based on all the costs?
So, parents of young children navigating these multiple challenges experience multiple emotional stressors. That might be grieving the loss of grandparents for your child, even if your parents are still alive, or feeling guilty about not being able to take care of everyone the way that they’d like to. These stressors add up, even if parents live nearby.
If your parents live close, then that’s additional stressors, like the pressure to visit often and help out around the house, such as preparing meals or cleaning. All of this takes time away from your family, and from yourself.
This feeling of double responsibility at both ends leads to pure exhaustion for adults, many of whom are often juggling demands at work. If you’ve ever felt this way, or are currently experiencing this, there’s hope for relief from the stress.
There’s a lot of hope out there for parents who are navigating the unique challenges of being an older parent.
First, make new friends. Join a mother’s club and look or ask for a sub groups for older parents. Therapy can often be helpful, as it’s a way to take time for yourself and focus on your own needs. Find a trusted friend or family member who can babysit for you while you take that one hour a week for yourself or find a therapist who does digital appointments.
If you’re feeling weighed down by the pressures of parenting, think about how you have previously taken care of yourself when you were stressed. Think about what worked for you then, and how it can help now.
Make time for physical exercise and being outside — or better yet, do both by going for a walk with baby!
Find something you love doing and are passionate about, even if you’ve never done it before. Whatever that is for you, especially if it involves being physically active, outside, or with other people. Remember that the dishes can wait. If you’re exhausted from daily to dos, hire out as much as you can afford. Hire someone to clean the house, mow the lawn, or walk the dog. You can have meals and groceries delivered, get packages picked up from the house, and order online. You don’t have to do everything yourself, and there’s no reason why you should.
To get some time to yourself, find a friend who has kids the same age, so you can babysit for each other, a couple of times a month or so, giving each other space and breaks.
Sometimes, none of the above suggestions will work, or you may just feel too exhausted to begin trying. In these cases, it may be appropriate to consult with a psychiatrist for medication management and find a therapist who can help (how to find a therapist who’s the right fit for your needs, click here).
When should you find a therapist and consult a psychiatrist?
- When you find yourself isolating and don’t want to leave the house
- If you have uncontrollable crying spells for days
- If you want to run away when your child cries
- When you find that your internal resources are no longer sufficient to help you cope
- When you’re too irritable and don’t get along with friends and family
- When insomnia is persistent
- When caretaking overwhelms you beyond control
- If you feel panicky, overly anxious, or have bad thoughts, like hurting a child, or have a fear of hurting your child
As an older parent, you’re much wiser than you were in your younger years, and you’ve seen others make parenting mistakes that you’ve likely learned from. You’ve had more time for big experiences, giving you more to share with your child, and a sense of accomplishment even before becoming parent. You’re likely more financially secure and able to provide for your child in a way that younger parents can’t.
While there are certainly challenges with being an older parent, it’s also a great gift, for you and your child.