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May 14, 2019

4 Things I Learned Starting a Family Later in Life

By Kathleen Hogan

Photo credit: Getty Images

I was in the middle of my pregnancy with our second child when I planned my husband’s 50th birthday bash. It was the biggest event that I’d ever undertaken. Fortunately, it went off without a hitch and as an added bonus, it provided a convenient platform from which to announce our exciting news, given that nearly 100 friends and family members were in attendance. I’ll hit the mid-century milestone late next year and our daughters will be six and two years old.

The trend of American women delaying childbearing is undeniable and due to multiple factors. According to The Atlantic, there is a rise among women in their 30s and 40s for several years in terms of fertility. Especially given the rapidly advancing science of fertility treatments, this is not a trend that is likely to be reversed anytime soon, if ever.  I’d have to say that I am one of those women.

The decision to grow our family later in life is one that comes with a handful of lessons learned. Here are four key takeaways that might help the next set of older parents.

1. Planning is more important than ever

    On multiple fronts, having children later in life intensifies the need for deliberate financial planning. Conventional wisdom suggests that the longer you hold off on having kids, the further advanced in your career you’ll be – and therefore better equipped to handle the staggering financial burdens of parenthood. According to a 2015 study, American parents spent on average, $233,610 on child costs from birth until the age of 17, not including college.

    My view is contrarian, where having children later in life creates more financial complications than it does even for the younger new parent set. As an example, consider the plight of what’s known as the Sandwich Generation: those sandwiched between caring for their own children and caring for aging parents. Those who delay childbearing are more likely to be caught ‘in the middle’, when parents need financial support at a time when daycare expenses exhaust any extra cash flow.

    Additionally, retirement planning gets real right about now. A concept that for so long seemed light years away is suddenly just around the proverbial corner, but on top of that now there’s college to think about, increasing life insurance and even long term care planning to consider. With this confluence of need, having a sound financial plan is crucial.

    2. Retirement is that much further off

        As a financial planner, I obsess over when/where/how my husband and I will retire.

        • Will we downsize and move somewhere cheaper, perhaps with no state tax?
        • Will I make an abrupt exit from the workaday world or will I gradually ease into a less demanding work schedule?
        • Will I continue working purely out of desire to remain intellectually engaged rather than out of financial need?

        I can’t say for sure about any of it at this point; having two small children makes these options almost completely hypothetical, regardless of how our finances play into the analysis.

        When discussing retirement planning with my clients, I often hear some variation of how they’ll wait to see where the kids end up then decide whether to follow them there. I can certainly understand that thinking, since at this stage I want my littles as close as possible. But for us older parents, that familiar scenario may not be an option since our children may not have settled at all when my husband and I get to a point where we want to slow down.

        3. You have permanently distanced yourself from others in your age group

          When you take on the mantle of parenthood, you unwittingly enter a cohort of breeders to which you will belong for the duration of your kid’s childhood. These are the folks you see dropping off the kids at school, in the playgroups, and making rounds in the birthday party circuit. In our case, we are among the oldest of that group.

          It also means that my husband and I see our own childhood friends, schoolmates and siblings much further along in the journey than us. While our kiddos are taking their first steps and playing with dolls, other children are learning to drive and inching startlingly close to full fledge adulthood.

          As a further consequence to the age discordance among fellow parents, forming friendships within the immediate parent circle is particularly challenging when there’s a lack of commonality beyond the ages of our kids.  

          4. “Mom” guilt takes on new meaning

            We working moms are no stranger to the concept of guilt. I was never going to let this get the best of me. I preemptively built up a defense to it head it off at the pass. My ears would be deaf to the pity or judgment in the voices of those apologizing that I had to work rather than stay home with our girls.

            What I didn’t expect were the insidious thoughts of what my children would experience if for some reason I met an untimely death. I still find myself wondering what age my daughter would need to reach before her memory of me would be real, if I get hit by the proverbial bus and don’t come home one day or face a medical crisis the ends my life prematurely. Hopefully, that never happens, but the guilt surfaces with the realization that by making the choice to become parents later in life, the statistical likelihood of such a tragedy is increased, according to the Social Security Administration, life expectancy at a given age equals the average remaining number of years expected prior to death for a person at that exact age.

            Without a doubt parenthood at any age adds complexities to one’s life. In my case, delaying this phase only adds to these entanglements. At the same time, renewed focus is achieved. Priorities in life are clearer, and the knowledge that time is limited is understood more profoundly. If my luck holds, I’ll be planning birthday parties – for little kids and big kids – for years to come.

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