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Jenny: Having Kids Early vs Having ‘Em Later

I had a very enlightening conversation last night — one of many, in fact — with my host here in Sydney, Ms. Jodie Ekert.

I first met Jodie many years back when we were both fresh faces on the stand-up comedy scene (not saying anything about the current state of our faces, mind you, I am speaking purely metaphorically…ehem) — we hit it off and when some many months later she came to town to perform and was looking for an MC, she called on yours truly.

Fast forward x years later and we’re now playing mummy club together in her suitably faboosh child-friendly pad — her bub 15 months, my little dude just a little older — and we found ourselves with a whole new level of common ground over which to chin-wag.

And so it was that the topic turned to the effect that having kids has on your life when you have them early in life versus later. And Jodie’s take on it was an interesting one to me, given that my experience of parenting has been quite different, at least in terms of the timing in my life.

You see, I remember very boldly proclaiming to somebody that “I’m not having kids til I’m at LEAST 33!”, not realising of course, that at that very moment, I was indeed, pregnant.

Ha. Ha.

I was 22.

And once I’d overcome the initial shock of this unexpected twist of events, my first thought turned to all the things I’d wanted so badly to do with my life but hadn’t.

Backpack through Europe.

Carve out a career in showbiz.

Go to Nepal and hire a sherpa.

I was kicking myself for not having taken action before now: why hadn’t I just pulled my finger out and made these things happen when I had the chance? Now that I was going to be a mother, I’d have to just resign myself to those dreams going on the backburner for the forseeable future, if not off the stove altogether.

Then something in me snapped. I resolved — in my traditional melodramatic form — to absolutely NOT let this new stage of my life mean the end of the things I really wanted to do. I was so completely resolute in this, so determined to still make serious headway on even the maddest dreams and adventures in my heart that I think, to be honest, I actually became quite selfish.

I still believe I was a good mother in those early years, in that I cared for my kids, loved them to bits and made sure they were well looked after – but I also recognise now that I became so damn hell bent on achieving what I wanted to with my life that at times my mind wasn’t really present just to enjoy my beautiful babies right then and there, which makes me sad now especially as I realise how quickly those first years really do pass.

Would I change anything?

I don’t know.

The flipside of this, of course, is that my kids have always known (and will always know) a mother who is at least trying — with various levels of success and failure — to look after her own needs and pursue her own goals, as crazy as they may be. Whether this turns out to be a positive thing for them, I can only hope. Time will tell.

Anyway, I am in typical Jenny-fashion, getting rather side-tracked here.

My point is that for me personally, motherhood at such an early age hugely impacted on the way I live my life (duh!) in the sense that it made me resolutely determined to carve out the life I’d barely even begun to live.

Jodie, on the other hand told me that she felt — as a first time mother at 32 — that her struggle was more about dealing with the sense of loss of the life she’d already had. i.e. the career she’d had, even friends she’d had – the difference between her and I being that I’d barely even begun to carve out my life when motherhood hit, whereas she had an established life that then had to change.

Let me hereby state for the record that both of us adore our little ones to bits and are so happy that they are in our lives — but it is fascinating to me the effect that becoming a parent has on your whole world.

It was only last night that I really thought about my own experience from a different angle.

That is, up until now I’d kinda thought at some level that maybe if I HAD done all the stuff I’d wanted to do pre-kids, even if I HAD waited til I was “at least 33” to have babies, maybe even if I HAD backpacked, treaded the boards and found my sherpa before embarking on the adventure that was family life, that the transition to “mother” would have been simple.

It’s now that I realise that’s just not so.

There’s never a “right time” to have a baby. They change your life no matter what.

And carving out a life for yourself is not just something you do in your early twenties — it’s a lifelong undertaking.

What do you reckon?

[Cross posted from Comic Mummy]

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. that’s an excellent realization. i wanted to neither wait too late nor start too young, so had my first at 29. second at 32, thinking now or never for a sibling for #1, and then low and behold, divorce, asperger’s syndrome for #2, remarriage, huge move i never imagined, and pow, a daughter added to my sons at 42 – planned and quite tried for.

    and yes, challenges at both ages of parenting, and i find my perspective now to be more exhausting and backaching, and more fundamentally sure about letting go of everything else, while still carving out my writing time. and i’m very happy about every child i made a conscious decision to have. even if i am stunned daily to see that that nearly 16yo, 12yo and nearly 3yo all came out of me and are doing alright, with my fly by the seat of my pants parenting.

    i swear, it’s the best and biggest thing ever i ever managed, this mothering thing. equal parts routine and spontaneity, frustration and joy.

    thanks for sharing your aha!

    January 27, 2011
  2. Toni Henneman #

    AMEN! What a great post! I couldn’t have said it better myself!

    January 27, 2011
  3. I too wonder what my life would have been like if I had not had children so young – I was just 17 when I got married and was pregnant three months later… something I do not recommend – 18 is just too young to become a mother – it was very stressful and yet it helped to transform me into a stronger, more confident person.

    However, for all of that my opinion is still that having kids sooner (like in your twenties), rather than later is generally better. Pregnancy is generally easier and so is the whole waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night with a newborn thing.

    I also see older parents tending to be more up-tight and trying too hard to be perfect parents. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent and young parents seem to be more aware of that – they know they are going to mess up so they ask a lot of questions and are not as hard on themselves. Nor do they seem to be as overprotective and overindulgent of their kids. I see older parents freaking out about germs and and organics and preschools and educational toys – things that we younger parents simply can’t afford to freak out about.

    I also like the idea that I will have so much of my life ahead of me once my children are grown, I will be available to be an active grandparent and have energy and health to do some of the things that I wasn’t able to do before I became a mother – yet with a more mature perspective and I like that.

    January 27, 2011
    • Stephanie #

      Actually, research shows that kids end up healthier and better adjusted when their parents have them after 30. The same study showed that parents who had kids later tended to live longer. The brain is not fully mature until 25, so most people are best off waiting until at least that time to have kids.

      September 10, 2011
  4. Rane dae #

    I had too many options for motherhood too early, though the second at 26 hurt much more to let go of. Still I’m grateful to not be tied to a man that I can’t stand. Then, when I was “allowed” to be pregnant, 3 miscarriages made me wonder if I’d made the right decisions so many years prior. Finally, my first live birth at the age of 35 and second at 37, leaves me breathless with joy and exhaustion and I _really_ wonder if I should have waited so long. But I know that I am much more patient, that I enjoy moving at the speed of toddler, that I can be the parent I have always wanted to be because I partied, traveled and generally lived dangerously in my 20’s and early 30’s. I’m grateful for my crazy fun times then so I can fully enjoy my crazy fun times now.

    January 27, 2011
  5. Such an interesting post — and conversation. I have the less common experience of having kids early AND late. I had my first at 21 and my last at 39. I had three kids by the time I was 27. I divorced in my early 30s and then remarried and had two more children.

    I have spent much of my life thinking that somehow the children were the reason that I wasn’t fulfilling my creative dreams. But back when I was a single mother, on the weekends when my three children went to see their dad for the whole weekend and I had hours upon hours to myself, what did I do with that time? Precious little. The lack of routine and schedule constraints actually set me adrift, rather than set me free.

    I have come to see that it isn’t the children, it’s me. I am now, at the age of 41, getting more done creatively than I ever have before. Why? Because I want to. It’s as simple as that.

    Yes, the sleepless nights are harder when you’re older, but that’s in part because there are so many other responsibilities when you’re older. When I had my first three children, I was able to slowly build a career on the side. By the time I had my last two children, I had a robust business to keep alive. That was, and is, very stressful. I feel that I was much more available to my older kids when they were little than I am for my present little ones.

    As you pointed out, Jenny, there’s no ideal time to have kids. You just have them and sort it out afterward. There is always some kind of sacrifice to make, but that sacrifice costs a lot less when we stay open to the present moment and the beauty that children bring to everyday life. I think it’s true that as we get older, we are more able to see the importance of that beauty and summon a little more patience. But it’s all a complicated and highly personal equation for each of us.

    January 27, 2011
  6. Sophia #

    What an empowering message! I am 26 with three children- 5 years, 2.5 years and 6months. I too have used my children as an excuse to victimize myself and my creative life. “Life would be so much easier if…” or “Their life seems so much more organized, planned and balanced.” I’ve always know that my kids weren’t really the cause but it was easier to blame my lack of creative output on external circumstances. I’m so grateful for the post and all the messages because it really makes me look at how life really changes for everyone no matter what age. I have the advantage of learning to incorporate art, and carving out a life for myself and my family from the beginning. There really is no right time to have a baby but I have now embraced my time. Thanks!

    January 28, 2011
  7. being one of the mommies in this space that have the perspective of having birthed babies early (21) and late (37) with the 17 year gap in between, I definitely would agree ADJUSTMENT and LOSS looks different but is inevitable.

    January 30, 2011
  8. there is definitely no “right time” for mothering. i had my kids at 19, 23, and 26. they are now 13, 10 and 6. my most creative and growing year was the year i had my youngest, worked 3 jobs from home, and my husband was out of work. not an easy time, but it forced me to put creative work on the timetable conciously so i wouldn’t become resentful of the hard bits in my life. i woke up at 3am every morning to steal a bit more time and took out time wasters (tv, talking too much on the phone, and recreational shopping) and wrote the book i had always wanted to write (and self published it with the income from one of the 3 jobs) i don’t see any moms having kids at the wrong time (one of my huge pet peeves is people making themselves feel better about their own life choices by bashing others — i think teen moms, traditional age moms, and older moms can all do a fabulous job if supported to follow their instincts and avoid the poor me syndrome.) motherhood and creative work balance cannot happen if there is a “poor me”, martyrship or resentment or extreme selfishness going on. like anything, it’s a matter of balance and moderation. you know what you need to do. don’t look to others’ situations or resources or life paths. you have your own to take.
    love this discussion 🙂

    January 31, 2011

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