So here you are at mid-life—and if you’re reading this you likely have a child or two running around. Right now, someone under three feet tall is probably tugging on your sleeve whining, “Mommmmmmmy!” And you’re despairing that you won’t even have a chance to read one paragraph in peace. At this very moment, your car is strewn with cheesy goldfish, you owe ten people thank-you notes, the playroom has been declared a federal disaster site, and you just want to take a nap. Sister, I know where you are. I’m only able to write this because the rest of my family is blissfully asleep. And no—I didn’t drug them! (Although the thought has crossed my mind as writing deadlines approached.) It’s early in the morning, dawn is breaking over the horizon, and I’m in the middle of my first cup of French Roast. It’s that time of day when I’m grateful for all my blessings, and I thank God for making me a mid-life mom.
Reality check—these serene moments are the exception. The last several years have been a struggle: from becoming a mommy in the first place, to redefining myself as the symbiotic other-half of a little one, while still being the other-half of my husband (how many halves do I have?), and trying to figure out how to maintain the career I’ve spent the better part of two decades building. Then there’s the age and mortality thing. Turning forty hit me like a ton of Legos, although I know it’s not the same for everyone. Some women get hit at thirty-nine, others not until forty-nine. (Are there any women who never get hit? I’d like to meet them!) But statistically, my life is half over and here I am with a young child, wondering if I know what in the world I’m doing.
Mid-life moms. Who are we? And do we really need to talk about this? I like to say we’re savvy women over thirty-five who have traveled different roads that delayed our childrearing. Many of us have made difficult choices and accomplished remarkable things. We’re healthier women than ever before; we are more educated; we are experienced, many of us with established careers. Some of us are in the trenches of motherhood while helping our parents face the challenges of aging. When you think about it, mid-life moms are pretty amazing. We’re the supreme multitaskers, all-too-familiar with words like balance, juggling, and time management. We all share the challenges of keeping one eye on little ones and the other on our retirement plans.
Although I have a whole circle of friends made up of mid-life moms, I also spend time with moms half my age. I can’t help but notice the wide age range of moms with young kids. A generation ago (that is, when I was growing up) moms seemed to have so much in common. They were all in their twenties, they married early, had children soon after, and in most cases, didn’t have careers during that time. Today it’s all over the map. First-time moms range in age from early twenties to early forties and have widely divergent backgrounds and family situations. I’ve found it necessary (for my mental health) to seek out other moms on the high end of that age spectrum because, although all moms share the common experience of parenting, the journey feels so much different now than it would have fifteen years ago.
Most of us on the topside of forty find ourselves increasingly thinking about the bigger issues such as The Meaning of Life. We’re gaining wisdom, maturing spiritually, and we’re concerned with making our lives count. All this while passing graham crackers to the back seat of the car—motherhood isn’t what it used to be! We live in a social climate that makes it more common than ever before to have children later in life. Couples are exercising “wait control,” with first-time mothers over thirty-five a rapidly growing demographic. 1 While most first-time moms are still between the ages of twenty and thirty-four, the average age of a woman giving birth for the first time has been steadily increasing over the last thirty-five years. Delaying parenthood is the new norm, even among Christians. n 2001, nearly 100,000 first-time mothers gave birth between the ages of forty and forty-four.2 America’s moms have indeed become the nation’s “ladies in waiting.”3
There seem to be several interlocking causes and influencers of this trend. Women are delaying motherhood to pursue education and careers. First-time birthrates for women in their late thirties to forties with a college degree were much higher than the rates for women with less education.4 In 2002, USA Today reported that laborforce participation among new mothers dropped for the first time in nearly twenty-five years. A more secure financial situation and a better education make taking time off from work a more viable option. New medical technologies have extended the childbearing years. Couples who delay parenthood are more likely to experience infertility, but the medical options keep expanding our choices, and most of us find a way to become parents one way or another. We’re living longer than in the past, too. All this adds up to a noticeable trend.
“Our expectations have stretched,” says Nancy Marshall, a senior scientist at the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. “The baby boomers are aging, so society is upping its definition of what’s an older parent. Over 30 used to be considered an elderly first-time pregnancy. This got moved to 35, now it’s more like 40.”5
Obviously, the media and entertainment industries are a pervasive influence. (Does Hollywood reflect life or does life reflect Hollywood?) Increasingly, mid-life motherhood is becoming glamorized by celebrity mothers—certainly not the role models most of us aspire to, but nevertheless, conspicuous proof that it can be done. Twenty-five years ago Yoko Ono made big news when she became a mother over forty. Now Madonna, Jamie Lee Curtis, Celine Dion, Rosie O’Donnell, Jodi Foster, and many others have started motherhood later in life, often without bothering to bring along a mid-life dad. With their nannies, housekeepers, and personal assistants, they make it all appear so easy.
But for us mere mortals, perception and expectations can hit motherhood smack in the face. Having had nearly four decades in the “me” generation, we can feel pretty out-of-control when we suddenly enter the world where “me” is entwined with what “someone else” needs. Accustomed to being in charge of our own destinies, we find it difficult to make unpleasant choices, like giving up our hard-won career versus going back to work and leaving our child with a caregiver. For Christians, expectations seem even higher. Traditional women’s groups and Bible studies can leave us with a feeling that if we don’t fit into a rigid (and often inaccurate) interpretation of the Proverbs 31 woman as The Perfect Homemaker, we’re somehow failing our husbands, our children, and God.
For some mid-life mothers, going from the boardroom to Barney puts us way outside our comfort zone. For others, experiencing early signs of menopause while shuttling kids to preschool causes us to wake up and smell the coffee—we’re not getting any younger. The mid-life mom also can be a “mom in the middle,” sandwiched between meeting the needs of her young children and taking care of her aging parents.
Because mid-life parenting is a new trend, we don’t have any previous generations to rely on for help and advice on the unique aspects of our parenting journey. Our mothers can’t help us learn how to balance a hard-earned career with a hard-earned baby. Past generations don’t have much experience with handling hot flashes while changing diapers. Our grandmas didn’t have gray hair until they were actually grandmas. So we’re not few in numbers, but we’re pioneering women, forging new territory on the mommy expedition. And that’s why I think we like to talk about it.
In the process of researching this book, people have asked why I think so many women are choosing to become moms later in life. The answer, I think, lies in the misunderstood notion of “choice.” Did I really choose to wait until I was thirty-five to have my first child? No—it seems God had a plan for my life. He chose my husband and the timing of my marriage, He blessed me with a career, He allowed me to grapple with infertility and miscarriage, and finally, He gifted me with parenthood. He knew what was best for me and arranged the circumstances of my life accordingly. So while the statistics and the media may be able to identify all the reasons for the mid-life mothering trend, most of us who are stuck in the middle of it realize it was never a conscious choice—it was simply the way things turned out. We ultimately come to a place of trust in the Lord’s goodness and sovereignty, and rest in gratitude for the way He’s arranged our lives.
In the following chapters, we’ll look at secrets many mid-life mothers have revealed that make their complicated lives work more successfully. We’ll talk about the things we share with mothers of all ages and the things that set us apart. My goal is to shed light on the unique and wonderful (and sometimes terrifying) experience we’re going through, while offering support, solid advice, and a few laughs along the way.
The transition from youth to over-forty has been tough for me at times. This book grew out of my own struggles as well as conversations with other women, all mid-life moms but each with her own unique journey. It is my prayer that you will find encouragement in these pages and that your appreciation for the gift of being a mid-life mom will increase, as mine has. With the apostle Paul, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you,”6 that wonderful hope in Christ that gets us through each day.
I feel as though I am sitting down with you over a grande latte at Starbucks and visiting about mid-life concerns—from wrinkle creams to long-held dreams. So, grab that cup of coffee and let’s get started.