By guest blogger, Andrea Frankenthal, Producer/Director, Brighterworld.co.uk
Whether to be young parents or to delay having children till later, each has its own benefits. Indeed there are good reasons for choosing not to have kids at all. A 2019 YouGov survey showed half of Britons in the 35-44 age group who weren’t already parents said they never want kids. 10% cited ‘cost’ and the same proportion gave ‘impact on lifestyle’ as their primary reason, but the most popular, from 23% of respondents, was being ‘too old’. Having myself gone from not wanting kids to becoming an ‘older mum’, I simply want to put the case for the unique challenges, but mostly the joys, of parenting a young child at 50.
"soon I was deciphering the familiar shape of a tiny seahorse in the black and white grains of an ultrasound screen".
As a latecomer myself with much older siblings I was so immersed in family love and attention that I didn’t look beyond to appreciate how it has to be regenerated. It was only in my early 40s, when dating a man with grown children that I decided hedonism alone was not enough. Then I met my ex, and soon I was deciphering the familiar shape of a tiny seahorse in the black and white grains of an ultrasound screen.
I was very lucky and despite being 44 had a problem-free pregnancy. I even attended the gym until my final month. In mothers over 40 the oxygen to the baby starts depleting beyond the due date so I knew I couldn’t go beyond it. I duly booked a Caesarian for the final day lest the curries and reflexology fail to spark a timely evacuation.
Thus I had an epidural one September morning and watched curiously as the surgically-masked team busied themselves behind a sheet over my tummy. Within 5 minutes they released my beautiful daughter noisily into the world. The next day I was breast-feeding her at home in my rocking chair, surrounded by partially astounded well-wishers.
Some time later, I found myself orphaned and freshly single with this unique, comical wee creature in my charge. Her bottom-shuffling was a talking point till she finally walked at 2, but she developed speech early. When she was just 2½ as we left a supermarket car park I heard over my shoulder the most passionate use of an expletive in what must have been an exquisite observation; “Jeeesus….there’s two red cars!” She’d also find enchantment in odd things like wearing all my knickers around her neck.
Being physically fit and having worked in TV news, I was not unused to the punishing schedule of early infancy. It was more the inability to do anything simply that proved problematic, such as showering with the baby basket wedged in the doorway. What affected me more was the lower back pain and thumb ache, and the age-compounded poor memory for the military-style logistical planning required. But muscle ache is temporary, lists substitute for memory, and happily I am still as good as any young mum on the trampoline, though elements of my 50 something physique do create a certain disadvantage!
I don’t feel older than the ‘yummy mummies’ around me, though I may feel a little less yummy. The disparity is most acute amongst my peers whose kids are all sailing through senior school or university, and who are now confined to my child-free time. But I have new friendships as an older mum through my daughter and we share happy days in games of chase, face painting and feeding incontinent dolls.
"Navigating the tantrums and mood swings has led to numerous confrontations with my own inner child. But it is a huge privilege to watch a young person evolve, and to be able to contribute to that."
Having a first child inevitably changes our understanding of child rearing. Having that child at 45 and an older mum makes it all the more intense. Navigating the tantrums and mood swings has led to numerous confrontations with my own inner child. But it is a huge privilege to watch a young person evolve, and to be able to contribute to that. Every so often when she’s at her father’s, I get to relax and remember that there is life beyond Alvin and the Chipmunks. On the flipside, she’ll be keeping me tuned into the zeitgeist when she’s a teenager and I’m sailing through my 60s.
What is inevitably impacted by having a young child at 50, and being single, is one’s dating potential. Many age appropriate men have put parenting well behind them. Yet I am pleasantly surprised by the number still open to having an additional little person in the package
The most poignant aspect for me of being this age with a young child is my daughter not having grandparents. Seeing other kids’ grandparents at the school gates always fills me with nostalgia. Old family photos adorn the shelf alongside our kitchen table and in my more wistful moments I get lost in those happy memories. My daughter, who can sometimes seem wise beyond her years, has often chirped “I know you miss Grandma and Grandpa… but you’ve got me”. She may be late to the party but I thank the Good Lord she turned up.
Which recently, after 23 years of parenting, is something i've really been praying for more than ever before.
After all, Happy kids = Happy mum right?
But this past year has been really tough for all of them, in their own ways (and so by proxy, for me too.)
I used to think having four under the age of 7 was hard, but parenting four young adults, well that's a different kind of hard and no one can properly prepare you for that.
Swop dirty nappies and sleepless nights, to fragile mental health and sleepless nights of a different kind.
I’ve always felt like my role in the family was akin to Ground Control.
When most are now driving or learning to drive, out late, in late, surrounded by the temptations of teenage experimentation, and experiencing the negative side effects on their brains of hormones colliding with young adult life pressures, well...
...the phone calls, in and out, seem to be relentless & more anxiety inducing now than ever before, and i am tip toeing on, and around, some very sharp edged egg shells.
And its not just the phone calls; the whats apps’, text messages, emails that can start from as early as 6am (my alarm didn't go off, why didn’t you wake me?!) right through to 4am (i can’t sleep, there are no ubers, I’m locked out).
Where are you?
When are you back?
Can you pick me up?
Did you get it?
Can you take me?
Will let you know
Can you lend me some money?
Ping, ping, ping goes the phone as my other full time job as family receptionist, seems to leave me little time to concentrate on anything else these days.
My brain luckily has many different, alphabetically arranged, compartments, which my husband is blissfully unaware of. Whilst on the flip side, his brain conveniently seems to only contain one box, which is aptly labelled; ‘Ask her!’.
If only he could see inside the contents of my already full to over-flowing boxes;
Information of where they currently are, when they will be back, their plans for the day, the week, the month, the year, their current friendship issues, relationship status, job problems, school issues, exam timetable, social arrangements, medical appointments, ucas applications, all stacked one on top of the other side by side, squished together – its remarkable there are any boxes left for my own thoughts to reside.
This week I count myself lucky, its about evens here – 2 happy, 2 pretty miserable, that's not bad odds, I’ll take it, a huge improvement on last week where we had 3 in despair and 1 happy as Larry (who is Larry by the way? And can someone tell him I have no room for another child!
Each morning I brace myself for the sound of footsteps, which will give me, the first clue of the day as to what sort of roller coaster of emotions i'm likely to be greeted with.
They arrive bleary eyed into the kitchen grunting at me in acknowledgement that, yes indeed they are awake, but do not dare speak to me. I have resorted to texting them a questionnaire to fill in, whilst they are inhaling their choice of caffeine across the table from me;
1. Are you ok? y/n
2. Did you sleep? y/n
3. Got everything you need for today? y/n
4. What time are you back? 6/7/8/crazy o'clock
5. Will you be in for dinner? y/n
Byeee have a good day! tx/f off!
I know, I know, I bet many of you are reading this thinking – ‘fool, she’s doing way too much for them all, let them learn from their own mistakes, how will they grow up to be independent adults etc etc’ and yes you are absolutely right, I’m guilty as charged, but the bottom line is, like all us mums, I love them with every fibre of my being and I can’t enjoy my life, if they are not enjoying theirs.
I don’t care how old they are, when they hurt, I hurt, when they are happy I’m happy, so what ever it takes to be able to help them to become part of some temporary oasis of calm and happiness, all at the same time, even if its only on one day a month, well for me its worth it.
But yes i'm not going to lie....
....I’m a tad drained of
absorbing all their problems,
helping them find solutions
being a good parent
making them independent.
being an emotional punch bag
trying to make sure everyone is ok.
But that is what i signed up for and most of the time i can cope.
But wouldn’t it be amazing if just one day a month, or even a year, they all spent every waking minute of their days, making sure I was entirely happy all of the time. Now that would be something!.
Ah well mothers day is not too far off.......ooo that reminds me I must remember to put a post-it-note in the box that says; 'text family group a gentle reminder that i'm due a spa day or failing that some socks'!!!
Ps. however drained I am, I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world, i am blessed to have them all and in a blink of an eye, they will all be leaving home and starting their own families, before I can even look up and text: ‘Adios amigos!...
...and that’s a day I’m not quite ready for yet.
Parents will carry out seven different ‘jobs’ for their children before 9am, and another seven during the rest of the morning.
They will also fulfil nine roles between lunchtime and the end of the day.
Does that sound familiar?!
More than six in 10 act as a taxi driver, ferrying their children to school, clubs and friends’ houses 10 times each week.
And the teacher hat is put on for three hours each week as they help their children complete their homework.
It emerged 83 per cent believe being a parent means you must be an ‘expert’ in multiple jobs.
A spokesman for Curry’s PC World, which commissioned the research said: “Multi-tasking is never more important than when you are a parent, as you make sure the children are where they need to be at all times and have done everything they need to do.
“Many parents even have some extra tricks or hacks up their sleeves to allow them to get everything done, like asking their smart home assistants for homework help. Parents have to wear lots of different hats".
The study also found children have even taken to labelling their parents with certain job roles, with almost one in five adults saying they have been called a taxi driver by their offspring.
Around one in six have been referred to as a chef while the same number have even had their children call them a cleaner.
But while mums tend to take charge of much of the parenting ‘careers’, dads are more likely to act as the family mechanic, sports coach and technician.
Mums and dads equally share the responsibility of being the careers advisor and the lawyer - dishing out the punishments - with their children.
And although 55 per cent of parents reckon their children appreciate all they do for them, 17 per cent believe it’s a thankless task.
It also emerged that although 78 per cent of parents reckon their multi-tasking skills have improved since they had their children, 57 per cent admit to Googling the answers to situations they don’t understand when it comes to parenting.
Others rely on a series of hacks to get by with one parent polled, via OnePoll, admitting to adding 10 minutes onto everything in order to get it all done in time.
Another gets their children to help out as much as possible to make things easier – at the same time as teaching their son or daughter to be responsible.
Picking your battles is also a common parenting hack, while one savvy parent offers their child a choice between two things they would be happy for them to have so the children feel they have some control – while also doing what the parent wants.
TOP 10 JOB ROLES PARENTS HOLD
4. Taxi driver
7. Bank manager
8. Events planner
10. Delivery man/woman