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By Jodi Halpern, MD, PhD, author of From Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice.

When people warned me that I might not have enough energy to keep up with a toddler in my 40’s I shrugged them off.  As it turned out, I’ve kept up with my son physically.  What I didn’t anticipate was that as a 51-year-old, I’d have trouble keeping up my 11 year old mentally.

I am a university professor and a fast thinking New Yorker.  Who knew I’d meet my match not in an academic debate but in the back seat of my own car?

Mom’s Morning Question Time

In the morning, I imbibe a cup of coffee before venturing into Daniel’s room to gently touch his shoulder and tell him to “wake up.”  After a few minutes of keeping his eyes closed and mumbling, “I’m too tired to go to school,” he looks right at me and the questions begin.

“If we built a computer out of carbon, and knew how to make all the nerve pathways, what else do we need to give it consciousness?” Or, “Why do we have two opposing political parties in charge when they can never get things done? Why don’t we have a better system?”

Daniel is a bright kid, eager to learn, and I want to encourage his curiosity, at least in theory. But my usual response dribbles out more on the order of “Good questions, honey.  I’m too tired to think about that right now. What would you like for breakfast?”

The Brain Power, Kids and Menopause Mix

The problem is I say the same thing at dinner-time.  I thought I was getting away with all this until one day, he spoke to me in a gentle tone that he adopts when talking to younger children  “Mommy, are you sure you used to be smart?”

The thing is, I’m 51-year-old woman in peri-menopause, an older mom, with a full-time academic and professional life.  My son is my top priority, and I have what sometimes feels like unlimited love for and interest in him.  But as for my brain-power, not so unlimited.

While I blame this on age, I should note that the younger moms I know report similar issues. Maybe brain fatigue is just the result of keeping your kids in mind 24/7 while still conducting other aspects of life.

Still, the age thing makes me sad occasionally, just knowing that my intellectual peak and Daniel’s never coincided.   What an exciting meeting of the minds we might have had.   At the very least, I want him to respect me.

Why Being An Older Mom Is Worth It

I needn’t have worried.  Recently, my friends and I were talking about the value of “wisdom.”  I didn’t even know Daniel was listening, but the next day he asked me at breakfast, “Is there really such a thing as wisdom?”

“What do you think?” I asked, lobbing another one of my avoidance strategies.

“Yes and no” he said. “It’s good to learn from experience…but everything involves a level of uncertainty and change.  If you think you’ve mastered it, you are probably kidding yourself.”

I looked at him, amazed.  And relieved that our souls connect even if our minds might run at different speeds.

About This Blog:

Jodi Halpern,MD, PhD is a psychiatrist and an associate professor of bioethics and medical humanities at the University of California, Berkeley.  Her book From Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice (Oxford University Press, 2001, 2011) helped build a wave of research on clinical empathy.  Halpern investigates how emotions and the imagination shape the healthcare decisions of clinicians and patients.  In addition to studying how to educate professionals for empathy, she is completing a book on the role of self-empathy in living well in the wake of illness and disability. She is also beginning work on the challenges veterans face reconnecting with their families after war.  See jodihalpern.com.

24 Responses to Keeping Up With Kids In Your 50’s

  1. Sharyl says:

    Good thing we all are different and have different opinons, cuz I think this read was a total waste of time. Honestly…………….I don’t even know where to begin, because I am a bit repulsed by the idea this woman has that she is mentally exhausted from raising a child.

    You think that a younger woman doesn’t think the same way?? Come on. I don’t care HOW old a person is, at the end of a long day, anyone can be mentally exhausted, but this woman let’s on that because she’s older, she’s “lost” some of her smarts……..good grief. She’s maybe lost her marbles, if anything.

    Some children are just naturally more curious, more talkative, more inquiring, whatever. I am sure there are LOTS of younger parents who get stumped by their bright children’s questions too. After all, if you really think about it…………..we live in a lot different world today than we did even 20 years ago. Kids have access to so much more information than we ever did, so of course they will be full of questions that we don’t know the answers to.

    Normally, I enjoy these articles………..today, I am a bit put out.

    **Sharyl

    • Kris says:

      Interesting. When I read this part:

      “While I blame this on age, I should note that the younger moms I know report similar issues. Maybe brain fatigue is just the result of keeping your kids in mind 24/7 while still conducting other aspects of life.”

      I thought she was saying the exact opposite of what you are so put out about. To me it reads as if she had the thought, had some discussion with other women, and is questioning her original assumption.

      As a 40 yr old with a 3 yr old contemplating another child, I was glad to read her thoughts. I’ve wondered if I can handle another child mentally. I know that my MIL is far from the same mental agility as she was when she was younger. Does that happen at 50? 70? For other reasons? I have no idea, so that makes it a concern.

      At the same time, it’s good to be reminded of what you’ve posted as well: “I don’t care HOW old a person is, at the end of a long day, anyone can be mentally exhausted”. So true.

  2. Susan says:

    I’m 51 with an 18 year old and a 5 year old. Also in perimenopause and a demanding full-time job. I’m also astounded by the questions my 5 year old comes out with, and usually when I have my head somewhere else (or various somewhere elses!).

    Sometimes I get down about not having as much energy as younger moms when I am feeling tired and overwhelmed, but then I think…I had more energy when I had my 18 year old at 33, but at that time in my life I also didn’t have a teenager to worry about and take care of, or a full-time job with many other people’s jobs depending on mine, and when I think about the younger moms I am comparing myself to, most of them have much simpler lives—only one child, or two close together, still in early stages of their careers without many responsibilities or less demanding jobs. So I really do not know how much I should blame on my age and how much on other aspects of my life…age is the obvious scapegoat, but may be just that!

    In other words, the question is, am I tired and less energetic than other mothers of 5-year-olds I know because I am 51, or because I also have a teenager with health problems, I have a more demanding job, AND my 5-year-old is not a good sleeper?

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. Angel La Liberte (http://www NULL.flowerpowermom NULL.com) says:

    Thanks for the feedback Sharyl and Susan!
    I’m 51 and mine are 7 and 10. We just did Halloween, one of my fave times of year, and I have to admit, that between work, studying for a course and my peri menopausal mood swings, I found myself feeling very stressed out.
    I think the real issue for me is the hormonal changes with menopause and the very individual way that affects each of us! I’m scheduling a couple of upcoming blogs on remedies and coping tips for handling this and the stress of parenting young ones. If you have any requests, either post them here or use the contact form!

  4. Lylas says:

    At 53, I’m looking forward to the info on handling perimenopause since I think its symptoms aren’t as manageable as my demanding job and 2 year old son.
    I’d have to agree with Sharyl, I was disappointed to read that Dr. Halpern feels we have diminished brain power because we are ‘old’. I know that when I was a kid, I thought my parents had diminished brain power and they were in their early 30’s. I guess I just assumed all kids (and especially the all-knowing teenager) have numerous occasions when they think their parents are ‘dumb’.

  5. Anne says:

    Ok… so I am 51 and in the throws of the “pause” and have an about to turn 5 yr old. Ok so yep my brain cells are not as snappy as they used to be partly because of getting older (lets face it things change with the pause) our bodies totally morph in ways that we cannot control, and partly because of job stress and the 50 zillion things we have scheduled on the calendar etc. I have less patience in some areas but more in others. I juggle our daughter, being secretary of a service organization, and a full time job. Bottom line yes it gets to be a bit much sometimes but I would not trade one minute of it for anything in the world. Being a mom in my 50’s to a toddler is fun, exciting, challanging and helping with her homework I feel keeps me on my toes.

    Lets face it children are learning things at a much more advanced rate than when we were all in school and keeping up can be a tough job sometimes. My sister is parenting a 7 year old and he came home and wanted to talk to her about the three brances of our government. WOW….. that is much more advanced than the things I studied in the 2nd grade.

    Keep up the good articles….I enjoy reading the different perspectives.

  6. Lisa Williams says:

    I can relate…not only will I be in my 50s when my daughter is encountering higher math and science (never my strongest subjects) but since I suffered a stroke (caused by HELLP Syndrome, a rare extreme form of eclampsia, often fatal) at her birth AND I’ve currently entered menopause (prematurely in MY opinion) I’m having a hard time keeping up with her NOW and she is only two and a half. However, I would not trade being a mom for ANYTHING. It took me ten years to achieve a live birth (lost three pregnancies along the way) and her birth nearly killed me but my daughter is the joy of my tired, brain injured, menopausal life. Thanks for this post. I figure the need to keep up with my daughter will keep me on my toes.

  7. Carolyn (http://www NULL.mommyinthemiddle NULL.com) says:

    It tickles me that this article was posted today, as I spent this entire morning researching the “Mommy Brain” syndrome. (My little “senior moments” are starting to embarrass me).

    I found some interesting information but the jury is still out on whether menopause makes us “stupid”. ( I haven’t gotten that far in my research!)

    Personally, I think I still have a very active mind for a woman about to turn 53. My son is 6 and I look forward to keeping up with him mentally.

    I believe we have to work a harder at keeping our stamina up as we age, and therein lies the challenge. A tired mind will underperfom regardless of age.

  8. Karen at MomAgain@40 (http://momagain40 NULL.blogspot NULL.com) says:

    No, I don’t think it has anything to do with age! Those questions would floor any parent 😀
    I think it is wonderful that he comes up with it, and it seems that you are creating the perfect creative environment for him to come up with it!

  9. Mary says:

    I am almost 52, have a 12 y.o. and an 8 y.o. If anything I am quicker , smarter, and wiser than a couple of decades ago. I listen to the conversations of the younger moms at pick up time at school, and they are not smarter, or quicker, or whatever than I am. Frankly some haven’t got a clue. If anything they are more concerned about what they are wearing, or they are complaining about something related to parenting, etc.
    Am I physically tired? I suppose so at the end of the day… but who isn’t? Aren’t we supposed to be tired? It’s time for bed, lol! 😉
    Sometimes I even wonder about people complaining of “physical demands” of motherhood. What exactly is this? Physical versus being sedentary? To me I chalk it up to getting excercise, which gives me energy, but that is just me…and, yep, at the end of the day I too am tired. Again, I just figure most people are tired at night.
    I wanted my children so desperately, and love being their mom so very much, I have nothing to complain about. Yes I am in the throws of menopause and sometimes experience a brain fog like “where the heck are those da*^ reading glasses !” LOL,
    But that’s ok,,,(pre+) teenage brains are a lot like that too, lol! I have faith I will be just fine with excercise, and making sure I spend a little time on me.. (like just reading this blog). But I don’t think that is “special” advice for me to follow because I am in my 50’s..it is good at any age.
    To me the writer sounds like she is MAKING herself old… And her son’s questions? Why in the world would she feel a need to “lobby another one of her avoidance stratagies” answering his question of whether or not wisdom existed? ESPECIALLY since she was just “talking to her friends about the value of wisdom” ???? Of course there most certainly IS something called wisdom, and it comes from experience and time. Not a hard concept to discuss with your kid. Perhaps her son questions her mental acuity when he says : “Mommy, are you sure you used to be smart?” BECAUSE she never answers any of his questions, ! lol. He has to answer all of them himself! No wonder she feels brain stupid. She is intimidated by her own son??? PULEEZE.
    I value being able to share wisdom with my kiddos.

    Then, he is “too tired to go to school”, and she is “too tired to think” in the morning getting his breakfast…… Can anyone say: GET MORE SLEEP? lol …. sorry, I just find this rediculous.

    To me 50’s isn’t old. I might be an older mom, but I am not old…..hmmm, makes me think I should stop referring to myself as “an older mom”. Any suggestions?
    Thanks , and I hope I didn’t offend anyone, this is my first post on the forum,
    Have a great weekend,
    Mary

  10. ExpiredEggs? (http://www NULL.expiredeggs NULL.blogspot NULL.com) says:

    I appreciate Dr. Halpern’s honesty and candor as she struggles with coping with exhaustion and doing right by her inquisitive son. Who doesn’t want to do our absolute best for our kids, especially when we’ve fought so hard to have them?

    I’m 43 and just had my son this year. I can’t help thinking what life will be like when he’s around 10 years old and asks seriously complicated questions. Not that I think I’ll be a mental mushroom by then, but I have a hard time now with the fortitude that parenthood requires.

    Reading her entry, and the responses, I guess I will choose to see this as a challenge to keep up my game long into the future!

  11. Angel LaLiberte (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com) says:

    Mary, the jury is still out on the politically correct term for being an “older mom”. Perhaps this is an indication of the built in bias of our society on becoming a mother after 40? I’m still looking for the holy grail on that.
    Look at the examples: older mom, “mature” mom (although that produces a lot of horrible porn links when you search it), later mom, advanced maternal age, or menopausal mom, midlife mom. Sort of depressing isn’t it? Especially when you consider that the age of 40 is now only midlife. We still have a long way to live!
    Perhaps we should run a contest for coming up with a positive, re-affirming name for women who become mothers over 40.
    Any takers? 😀

  12. Theresa ZW says:

    Being an older mom is such a blessing!!!!! I rise every morning thanking God for my three children. I’m doing things at 52 that other moms aren’t doing in there 30’s. It’s amazing what we can do when we set our minds to a particular goal. My youngest is 9 years-old and I walk while she rides her bicycle. I am the 9 year old and my mom can keep up with me. – Molly p.s. I love you mommy!!!!
    One of the reasons this is a true blessing!!!!!! Theresa:)

    • Mary says:

      Theresa, wise mom :)
      I feel the same way, I thank God for my two kiddos,, People have made comments to us in the past that our kids are lucky to have us (they are adopted) – and the opposite is so much more true,, we are so blessed to have them. AND life is so fullfilling and fun – I love doing all the things I would NOT be doing if I didn’t have them.

  13. Karen says:

    I have to agree with Theresa! I am just so thrilled everyday to wake up to my 8 year old son asking me questions about life’s mysteries and the relative nature of the Nintendo 3DS! I am 49 years old and currently pregnant with my second child, due in January 2013! I am tired quite a bit of the time, though I think it’s more because of the pregnancy than my AMA status! It took me almost 20 years of fertility struggles just to get to this happy place in life, and I try not to complain too much (though my husband and son may disagree with me :). I do, however, reserve the right to be who I am at this point in my years, and to feel however I need to feel without a lick of guilt!

    I appreciate the sincerity and humor of the article, and of the comments as well! We all roll however we need to roll, and it is to our credit that any of us do as much as we do!!

    Thanks for the piece!

  14. Konstantina says:

    I am now 34. Used to want to have children so badly for years but didn’t work out. No proper man e.t.c.
    Now I met the man I want to be with. He wants to have a family with me and says that I would be a great mum. Our relationship is really good and flowing.
    But now I feel a bit tired from wanting this so much for so long. In the past my desire to have children got me sick and I had to do an operation.
    Now everything is more than ok but I feel confused about having children or not. It is like I am emotionally excausted
    As a little girl It always seemed natural to me to have my own chlidren at an older age. It seemed more mature

    Any inspiration?

  15. Lisa says:

    After reading the first comment from Sharyl, I almost left this site. I think it was rude and uncalled for in every way. Women are here to support one another.. not attack. I was grateful as I read on that there are intelligent, caring women here who are open to opinions without put downs.

    • Sharyl Vandendreis says:

      I could care less if you think I am rude or not.

      I put how I felt in to my response. If you don’t like it, don’t read it, it’s that simple.

      I was not meant to turn any one person away from the site. I stated how I felt. And you’ve stated how you felt.

      So leave it at that.

      **Sharyl!!

  16. Angel LaLiberte (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com) says:

    Karen, you are an inspiration to all of us! Congratulations on being pregnant with that baby at 49! I thought you were amazing when I interviewed you back in 2011. All, you MUST read this woman’s story here: http://achildafter40.com/cost-infertility-treatments-delayed-motherhood/.
    This is a excerpt from Karen’s story that I love and I’m posting here:
    “I have found that mental self-bashing seems to be more prominent in older women than in younger women—that somehow we shouldn’t even want to have a child, let alone a second one, at ‘our age.’”

    “Baloney!” she says. “My life was turned upside down in the most wonderful ways when I gave birth at 41.”

    “I expect the same will happen again if this next cycle works at 48—I look forward to it!”

    Well, guest what? You DID it! 😀

  17. d.wood says:

    Ladies I applaud your bravery. I am working to become a single dad via surrogacy. I will be 50 when my child is born.

    Again thank you for showing me what could be!!!

  18. How to Raise Children in Your 50?s and Stay Sane (http://gettingpregnantafter40 NULL.net/how-to-raise-children-in-your-50s-and-stay-sane/) says:

    […] See full story on achildafter40.com […]

  19. ed says:

    Not to many men here, hum. Just turned 50 and I have a 1 year old. I can say its been hell (maybe it was the colic). Maybe its me but whatever it is we are thinking about having another child.OMG I could not do what women do and I’m physically sick and mentally broken. I mean come on (I told myself) I have 70 rentals this should be a breeze.(bahahaha) I can say I have felt a serious mental change even before my daughter was born. Maybe its the years of stress “before” having a child and now I see more years of stress. Its the screaming and crying and the late night stuff that woman do . It is very hard for me to watch and harder for me to help:(..I do love my daughter and I’m beginning to see a brighter side of it with her walking and learning yada, yada.. I still have some issue with my sleep and stress that I hope will go away but it has been so bad I can feel a permanent scare. Maybe men are just not built for it Idk what it is but I want to be happy and to raise my child and hopefully children happy ….

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