When my friend Georgia* told me she was
pregnant, she asked if I thought she was crazy. Crazy? For some people, having a
baby in their early 40s when they have a daughter graduating high school might
be a little nuts. But for Georgia and
her husband, James, it made perfect sense. And I reminded her that
babies are fairly irresistible, so there’s a good chance she’d fall madly in
love with the little tyke.
Georgia and James met when Georgia’s daughter, Leila, was 5. James has always been close with Leila and ended up adopting
her. He and Georgia, who live in Portland, Ore., tried for years to
have a baby together, eventually going through unsuccessful rounds of fertility
and tests. They took a break before deciding on one last round of
fertility. That’s when Georgia called—happy, nervous and a couple weeks pregnant—to ask if she was crazy.
Georgia’s experience got me wondering about
the particular challenges of raising kids with a wide age gap between them, how
it feels to be an older mom, and what it’s like balancing the growing
independence of adolescents with sleepless nights and a baby-centered life.
Preparing the Older Kids for a New Baby
Since fertility treatments played a part in
Georgia’s pregnancy, there was definite planning involved, and, as Leila got
older, Georgia and James shared the decision with her. For Kerry,* from West Chester, Pa., talking to her older daughters about adding siblings to their family presented
a couple of challenges. Kerry is divorced and happily remarried. She has two
daughters from her first marriage and, now, two sons from her second. The two sets of
siblings are about 13 years apart.
When Kerry and her husband decided to try to
have a baby, she was in her mid-30s and wondered how easy it would be to
get pregnant. For that reason, she didn’t talk to her daughters about beginning the process. She didn’t want to drag them through the potential monthly fertility
stress. She also admits to thinking they’d be excited to have a new baby
in the family.
Looking back, Kerry wishes she’d found a way to prepare her daughters a bit more. She ended up telling them when she was pregnant, but still wonders if that was the best plan. Her oldest daughter went to go live with her father soon after Kerry got pregnant, because she had a hard time accepting the divorce and remarriage. The younger boys are really close with each other and have a special bond with her younger daughter.
Kate,* from Scotia, N.Y., had a different experience. She
and her husband discovered there was a surprise baby on the way just before Kate
turned 40. Her sons were 11 and 13 at the time. She describes how her older son
burst into tears when they told him the news. Her younger son was pleased, but a little more reserved. Occasionally he wishes his sister didn’t follow him around quite so
much, but both boys are caring and loving with their little sister.
Helping teens or older children make the
transition to having a new baby in the house follows some of the conventional
tips for adjusting to a new sibling. For example, recommendations include involving your older children in planning whenever possible, from picking colors for the nursery to discussing possible baby names.
Kelly Sherine Fisher, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, advises parents to invite teens into the decision-making process, but not make it a requirement. Similarly, she suggests putting your older children at ease in regard to responsibilities. "Reassure your teenager that she isn't going to have to be responsible for the baby—that it won't be a requirement of your teen to babysit," she says. "If she babysits, it's a gift—a choice to be part of the baby's world on that level."
Keep in mind that teens face stressors in their life with school; life choices, such as college; and all the changes they are going through. Spend time with your teen to give him time to discuss his concerns, Fisher says.
It's important, she adds, to set aside time for just the two of you. "Even consider getting a babysitter in order to have that special time," Fisher says. If he seems less than thrilled about a baby initially, remember you all have nine months to get used to the idea. The cute, slobbery baby smiles will help, too.
All of the mothers I spoke with agreed that
switching gears from baby’s needs to their older child’s concerns and
schedules makes their heads spin at times. Mothers
are multitasking all the time, but the mental shift—from baby cereal and diapers—to quadratic equations, boyfriend troubles and college applications is intense.
Another big shift comes in the form of
personal goals and decisions. Kate said that the hardest thing for her to
accept was not going back to work. She had been gearing up to return to full-time work when she got pregnant. She and her husband wanted their daughter to
have the same experience Kate provided as a stay-at-home mom for the boys, but
it wasn’t easy to reconcile herself to at least five more years at home. She’s
concerned that at her age and given the length of time she’s been away from
work outside the home, it’s going to be even harder to find a job.
For Georgia, she’s looking at having a
newborn as a welcome interruption in her career. While she still
has some concerns about not working outside the home for the next year, she
also wants to enjoy her time with the baby. With Leila, she had very little time off as a new mom.
Kerry arranged her work life to meet the
needs of her growing family. Working 5 miles from home means she can duck out
at lunch for a kid’s doctor appointment. She designed her work and home life
specifically to keep commuting time to a minimum. The kids’ schools are also
nearby, and her husband's schedule as a nurse allows him to care for the kids so they don’t rely heavily on the older girls
The age factor
Kerry feels that having the second round of
kids has left her feeling younger sometimes and older at other times,
especially compared with the other moms at school. Georgia worries about being
the “old mom” and finding moms she can relate to.
"It's just truly beautiful," says Dr.
Jay Gordon, a pediatrician in Santa Monica, Calif., who has seen families at his practice with a wide age gap in children. "I send kids off to kindergarten, college and on rarer
occasions—maybe every other month—take care of families doing both. Sometimes
these rebuilt or long marriages are even welcoming a newborn as they get their eldest,
perhaps blended, child ready for college."
These couples are renewed, youthful-but-wise parents who have usually found a new partner for this
adventure at odds with "normal" 40-, 50- or 60-year-old behavior.
The result, he says, is pure joy. "Tears of separation and
tears of happiness. It’s pretty wonderful.”