Postponing Parenthood

May 30, 2013

Ann Patchett's bestselling novel "State of Wonder" tells the story of medical researchers studying an Amazonian tribe in which woman routinely bear children into their seventies. The idea of developing a pill to replace exhausting and expensive fertility treatments has this fictitious drug company seeing dollar signs.

The novel's timely release addresses the growing number of couples who are postponing parenthood for a variety of reasons. Many folks are waiting longer to marry (if they marry at all) and likewise they are putting off bearing children. 

Why are parents waiting? Many want to travel and pursue other interests first before they accept the confinement of raising children.

Some are waiting to establish themselves professionally before they become parents, choosing to put in their dues-paying years before they have a divided focus.

Other young adults have watched their own families or origin crumble with rising divorce rates, and they want to be very, very sure before making a commitment they may fail to honor.

Whatever the reasons, many babies are being born to first time parents in their forties (but not their seventies, thank goodness!).

I see a number of changes, some real benefits and others which may be considered disadvantages.  Parents who wait probably have more judgment and perspective about their children than younger parents.

Older parents have more financial resources to bring to their children. Some financial advantages have real value, like access to high quality medical and child care. Some of what passes for necessary expenditures like designer baby clothes and over-the-top birthday parties may have questionable value.

Disadvantages of delayed parenthood include the tendency for older parents to worry more about their children. They’re also more likely to find themselves sandwiched between raising their kids and caring for elderly parents at the same time, which can be a crushing load.

Whatever the reasons, many more parents will attend their kids’ high school graduations in their sixties.  It will be interesting to watch this significant group of older parents pass through each stage of child-rearing, undoubtedly impacting our society’s experience of family life.