One thing is clear about our media conversations regarding parenting: you are never the right age to be a mother. Whether it’s alarmism about the high rates of teen pregnancy or the more recent alarmism about pregnancies and births to women who are too old, the message is clear.
The conversation on both ends frustrates me. Both rely on generalizations and assumptions about how age correlates to parenting ability and health of the pregnancy. Both conversations are tinged with a tone of judgment toward mothers regarding the decisions they make as parents. Both ignore the actual challenges that can result from pregnancy and parenting at a certain age, despite the fact that many of those challenges are ones we can actually address. Getting women to change when they decide to parent? Not likely. A more likely result is making everyone feel bad about when they choose to parent — something that does zero to improve children’s lives.
I’ve written before about what can be done to improve outcomes for teen parents — provide them the resources they need to succeed as parents, rather than putting all the resources into discouraging other teens from parenting. While there isn’t currently a government-funded campaign to discourage pregnancy and parenting over a certain age — say, 35 — it’s not out of the realm of possibility, particularly when you look at the kind of dialogue included in the recent conversations about older parents. From The New Republic, Judith Shulevitz’s piece, “How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society,” you get a clear picture of the sort of dystopian future she believes we may be entering thanks to the aging of parents and the supposed rise in developmental disorders among their children.
Two things are refreshing thing about Shulevitz’s piece. One is that she also focuses on the impact the age of the father might have on the health of the child, an uncommon moment of sharing the burden of responsibility with women. The second was eloquently described by Dana Goldstein: “it’s refreshing to read about the potentially problematic breeding practices not of young, unwed single moms, but of some of the affluent, hyper-educated married couples who delay child rearing into their forties or even beyond, and who will be well into senior citizenship by the time their children are fully “launched” into the adult world.”