Three's A'loud

Age old question

They say age is only a number. That you are only as old as you feel. I used to believe that this was true… until I tried doing a cartwheel with my six year old the other day. Here’s a tip: it’s not like riding a bike and I am actually as old as my muscles felt for two days after. I was hoping to impress the kids with the riveting tale of their mother having been the 0/9 junior gymnastics champion in our club two years running in the early nineties, but decided to rather leave that story for another day as I was limping away. When my husband asked what came over me I confidently claimed that I was just doing funny moves to entertain the kids. He just smiled and brought me another glass of wine.

As I got comfortable in a much better position - cheering the cartwheeling kids on from the sidelines with that glass of red in my hand - I must admit I felt a little bit guilty. If I had started having kids when I was younger I might have been able to keep up with them better. “I am sure that hot blonde mom at school who always picks up her kids in her yoga pants can do tons of cartwheels with her girls.” I sulked into my wine as my husband tried not to agree too enthusiastically that the blonde mom is hot. “Then again”, I continued, “she might not have my patience and wisdom.” Let me just skip the part where my loving husband laughed so hard he almost fell off his chair and did a cartwheel of his own. I further proved my infinite wisdom and patience when I punched his arm and almost spilled my wine. Suffice to say that I am still waiting patiently for the wisdom to kick in…

Later I did some research and found some really interesting information regarding the worldwide average age of moms at first birth.

The report from which this map was compiled consists of 127 countries in total and makes for some really interesting reading. For instance: 35 of the top 44 countries by mother’s mean age at first birth are European and 20 of the bottom 22 countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. We can probably conclude that family planning and education in Europe is doing pretty well whereas women in Africa are still leaning more towards their “traditional” roles of marrying and having babies while they are much younger. Another result from this study which I personally find quite fascinating is that 38 of the 42 countries where first time moms are youngest are very hot countries (as in weather-forecast-hot, not blonde-mom-at-school-hot) and 3 of the top 4 countries where first time moms are oldest are very cold. I am sure there is a perfectly logical reason for this but I can’t help but imagine young moms pushing strollers in bikinis VS (c)old moms in unflattering hats and thick jackets waiting as long as possible to take off their clothes to make babies.

Moving along then.

Not only does first world countries have a much higher average age for first time births but the global age for first time births has steadily increased over the past decades. “Women are staying in school longer, they’re going into the work force, they’re waiting to get married, and they’re waiting to have kids,” John Santelli, a Columbia University professor of population and family health told the Associated Press.

One study put the average age of first-time mothers in 1974 at 24 years old compared to 27 years old in 2012. I would venture a guess that by now it is at least another year or two higher.

Worldwide the oldest verified mom on record was Maria del Carmen Bousada de Lara. She was 66 years 358 days old when she gave birth to twins who were conceived through IVF with donor eggs.

On the opposite end of the spectrum it’s a huge concern that teenage pregnancies worldwide are still such a big problem in this day and age. In South Africa alone there were 99 000 teen pregnancies in 2013 compared to the 81 000 the previous year and this trend seems to have been continuing in the years since.

But back to the age old question: For those who has a choice to make and are neither too hot nor too cold; what is the perfect age to start having children? Is it better for your kids to have that 25 year old hot mom or this 35 year old non-cartwheeling mom? Asking this question on social media flooded my inbox with more than 180 responses in only a couple of hours. Here are a few of my favourite comments:

Dawn Rossiter McFarlaayne from Cape Town fell pregnant at 24. She says: “I was a mess and nowhere near ready to look after another life BUT wow did it change me. I just wish I could have waited 2 more years to be more settled. Then again the truth is 2 years later I would have been the exact same person just 2 years older…”

Lucille Bromage from Kwazulu-Natal says: “I had my first at 28 years old and wouldn't have it any other way. Old enough to be done with partying and young enough to be able to run after everyone.”

Vereece Busschots from Gauteng had her first at 19. She continues: “I'm 27 now and have 4 kiddies. I had to sacrifice a lot at a young age. With each child I've learned that I was better at it as I got older. I agree that I wasn't the best mom at 19 but can't say it was a mistake because I learned so much. A part of me wishes that I could go back in time and be the mom I am now for my first born. But at the end of the day I feel like regardless of your age or circumstances becoming a mom is not something you can prepare for or be completely ready for, each and every child is completely different and it's an amazing journey.”

Finally, I totally agree with Luba Le Roux from Cape Town: “Some people are mentally mature at young age some aren't even later. Main thing is as long as you are as best a mother as you can be and love them unconditionally, and put your children's interest first you're doing great.”

I wrote a really long analysis of all the moms’ responses trying to make sense of the general feeling among mothers at the moment. I explored the reasons that have to do with our children’s well-being VS the thinking that have to do with our own needs and dreams. However I decided against getting into all of that in such detail. Because, in the end, every single one of those 180 responses was based on one of the following points:

Those of us who decide to have kids when we are younger

  • hope to have more energy to play with them,
  • hope to see them grow old and have children of their own
  • and look forward to getting them out of the house while we are still “young enough” to travel and have some fun ourselves.

Those of us who decide to have kids when we are older

  • hope to have more wisdom and patience,
  • hope to have more financial- and career stability
  • and wanted to travel and have some fun of their own before they take responsibility for another life.

Still unsure whether this is the right time for you to have kids? Maybe mark the 6 statements above from most important to least important for you personally. Not what your mom thinks. Not what your friends think. What matters most to you and your partner? Because you are the ones who will be there for bedtime stories and schoolruns. Who will pack the lunchboxes and do the cartwheels (maybe).

Obviously we don’t all have the luxury of planning it perfectly. We might think we live in a time where we can control everything and plan for anything but of course this is not the case at all. What if you don’t find the right partner by the “perfect” age? Many couples really struggle to fall pregnant and others are surprised by how easy a surprise can happen (I would prefer to never call it an accident). In the end a child at any age is a blessing and as long as they are fed and loved you are definitely on the right track. If you are in the fortunate position where you have the choice in your hands, think wisely. Give your kids the best possible life with the best possible opportunities. In the end it doesn’t matter that you are old or young, as long as you always remain young at heart.

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