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By Madelyn Cain, author of “The Childless Revolution, What It Means to Be Childless Today” (Perseus) and  “First Time Mothers, Last Chance Babies” (New Horizon Press).

In a million years, I will never regret giving birth to my much-wanted daughter at age 39.  My husband never regretted it either, and he became her father at age 55.

When I married the man I loved I was fully aware that the 15-year age difference would have consequences down the line.  But what did I care?  I had finally found the perfect person to spend my life with, the man I wanted to father my child.

Though I knew our daughter was coming into the world with older parents, I saw only the positive:  that she was born to two people who loved her, that we were a couple devoted to one another, and that we were at a point (career-wise, financially) that our priorities were straight.

What mattered to us was creating a loving family and all three of us seemed to flourish in it. Though Paul and I were sometimes referred to at parks as our daughter’s grandparents, we found the labels humorous. We never acknowledged what that really portended.

Together we watched our beloved child blossom and enjoyed each phase of her life.  We were also lucky enough to have personalities that melded together.

At our daughter’s graduation from college, we bursted with pride.  We couldn’t believe how lucky we were, look what we’d been blessed with!

And we continued to feel blessed until the fall after that graduation when my husband at age 77 was diagnosed with a terminal cancer.  Our perfect, loving, world was about to unravel.

For three years we watched the painful, steady decline that ended in October of last year.

I had married my husband accepting the devil’s bargain that he would most likely go before me.  I was willing to endure that pain because being with him, married to him, was worth it.

Many of us adopt a positive view of older parenting (especially when we are younger) but now I wonder. It’s a bit pie-in-the-sky, head-in-sand thinking, isn’t it?  It’s not reality-based.  What did I think was going to happen, realistically?  That he would live to 90, 95?  He made it to 80. That’s pretty good, all things considered, isn’t it?

What I had not thought through was the consequences our daughter would face because of our choice to have her at a later age.  I had conveniently overlooked that little tidbit.

In the days that followed Paul’s death, I saw with new clarity what our daughter had truly lost:  a father to guide her as she enters the work world, a father to love her until she finds her own mate and finally a father to walk her down the aisle when she ultimately does.

Yes, any parent can die unexpectedly and at an early age but the odds are not in your favor when you have children late in life. For some reason, many of us don’t want to believe the odds. We don’t want to see the pain we might cause.

If you asked my daughter, she would tell you she doesn’t regret any of it.  That it was worth it to have had the father she did. But these are early days still.  Regret may emerge down the line. How can they not?

Older parents won’t and shouldn’t refrain from having children. But they need to be aware of the not-so-unexpected outcomes they have avoided looking at. Though we may be comfortable with our choices, the reality is that the person who will pays the biggest price is our child.

Notes for this blog:

Madelyn Cain is the award winning author of LAFFIT: Anatomy of a Winner, The Biography of Laffit Pincay Jr. (Affirmed Press) . She is also the author of The Childless Revolution, What It Means to Be Childless Today (Perseus) and  First Time Mothers, Last Chance Babies (New Horizon Press). She holds a Masters degree from the University of Southern California where she was elected to the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. She has written for newspapers, magazines, the stage, and for television. Currently she teaches nonfiction writing at the University of Southern California.

In addition to writing and teaching, Ms. Cain lectures on women’s issues and conducts writing seminars at Media Bistro. She has been a guest on Anderson Cooper 360, NPR, CNN, The Diane Rehm Show, The Other Half,  NBC Evening News and more.

This year she was asked to be a judge for the 2012 PEN Awards (Nonfiction) and

a panelist for the 2012 L.A Festival of Books (Writing the Sports Biography) as well as a judge for the Writers’ Program Awards at USC.

9 Responses to Facing The Long Term Fall-Out

  1. Lylas says:

    When I was in high school in the 70’s, I had friends that had parents die of cancer and heart attacks. My mom had a stroke when I was in college and my roommate’s dad had a hear attack. It was not uncommon, people weren’t expected to live until 90. Sure, I miss my mom very much and I’m sure your daughter misses her dad everyday but its not regret that makes us sad, its our love for them.

  2. Angel (http://www NULL.flowerpowermom NULL.com) says:

    I was moved to comment on this story as I feel Madelyn has made an incredible journey with an important message for all of us who follow her. There are trade-offs in early and late motherhood–rarely, do we have the idyll. My mother died at 54 when I was only 24 and I do remember how I missed her at my wedding and the birth of my children. These are the facts. Yet, it is true also that, had I had my children younger, she still would not have been there to watch them grow up, let alone be born.
    We must balance our goals with the inevitable process of taking life as it comes to us. To do so, it is important to gather as much knowledge as possible and then make the best, most informed, choices that we can, each in our individual circumstances.
    Thank you, Madelyn, for your wisdom.

  3. Annie Dryden says:

    There is nothing to be gained by living life based on the what-ifs. So many families broken by disaster and war, so many unexpected illnesses… so many elders living very well in to their older years. Children come into this world when they mean to, witnessing the joys and sorrows of pregnancy and childbirth as a nurse and personally has led me to that belief. Having a healthy child that you have the opportunity to love and nurture and mentor at any age is a miracle. a gift. Wondering whether it was good, bad, right time or inconvenient has little bearing on the process at all. if more mature parents can give children a more stable start in this uncertain world for any amount of time than the world will be better for it.

  4. Cynthia Wilson James (http://www NULL.inseasonmom NULL.org) says:

    First, my sympathy goes out to Madelyn and her daughter for their loss. As a woman of faith and someone who recently experienced the loss of a family member who left a son in his first year of high school, we mustn’t allow what we see as “life odds” to stop us from pursuing our God-given dreams, whether it be marriage, motherhood or another venture. Even if we marry and give birth at the “right age,” the reality is this: we have about as much control over when we die as we have when we are born. Let’s all of us, mature mothers, be thankful and be a blessing to our children on this day!

  5. Victoria says:

    I am so sorry for the loss you have experienced. I agree with PP that these losses are hard no matter when they happen. I was in the low-odds category of losing my (very young, 41-year-old) father while I was in high school. Your daughter got to know her father into adulthood, and I think she is wise for not regretting it. My partner is 15 years older than I (and led me to this blog!), and when we first entered into our relationship, neither of us thought there were more kids in the future. But here we are, almost 6 years later, with a beautiful one-year-old daughter. Losing my father so early in life taught me to always treasure every moment with those you love, as you never know when it will be your last. And I also agree with the PP about the importance of mature parents providing a stable home for children.

  6. LeslieC says:

    I am 48 and on an adoption waiting list for a newborn. I started my journey to try to have children when I was 42.10. My eggs were too old and I moved to donor egg. Then I found I had an immune issue and couldn’t carry to term. So I went to adoption 2.5 years ago. I had no idea this journey would take so long and I do wish I was five years younger or maybe even a little more when I became a mom. But that is life. My grandma was born when her mom was 42 and her dad was 48 – not planned – back then you just had kids until you hit menopause. No one talked about how bad it was on the kids.

    I was out to dinner a couple of weeks ago with some friends and one said to me – have you thought about whether it’s fair to the child to be older? I said to him, how fair is it to your five year old daughter (who he had at age 41) that she has to deal with your impending divorce and the fallout from that? It shut him up quickly.

    It is always sad when someone loses a parent early. A friend of mine got married at 35 her husband was 40, they had one child and he got a brain tumor and died two years later. Another friend of mine is 48 and has cancer – he has kids in their late teens. A 35 yr old coworker’s husband cheated on her; she’s going through divorce and has two kids age 4 and 2. Another coworker’s husband (she’s 40) has mental illness – how fair is that to a child? She wanted a sibling for her child but because of her husband’s condition decided not to. Now her child won’t have a sibling because of this.

    Really, the stories of unfairness are never ending. Yes, every choice has consequences. But sometimes life happens the way it does – people marry too young and get divorced which negatively impacts kids; people get married older and the kids have older parents or maybe lose a parent. I think everything happens for a reason. I will adopt the child I’m meant to adopt. I hope I will live to 90 like most of my family members, but I know I may not. In the meantime, as an older parent, I’m more emotionally prepared to be a parent at this age, I have more wisdom, more patience and more love to offer a child.

  7. Amy says:

    I am moved to comment. Although I mostly do not regret my choice to be an older parent, I have spent significant time thinking through the consequences to my children. My husband and I will be in our mid- 60s when the last one graduates from high school. We have consciously created a support community for our children composed of family, friends of all ages, and possibly a religious community later on as well. We adopted siblings for our ‘homegrown’ child in part because we love parenting, but also for our daughter’s sake so that she will have th support of siblings when we are older. Age looks different now anyway. We maintain excellent health and are active. My in laws approaching 80 still ski and run. My mother just finished a day long snorkel trip at 70. At 50 my husband and I work out and are training for a triathlon. When my grandmother had her last child at 38 everyone thought she was nuts and too old. while we must consider carefully our drop in fertility and the effects of aging and death on our children, we must also acknowledge that the ‘norm’ is changing and we must change with it. W must deal with reality as it is rather than indulging in wishful thinking.

  8. Bridget says:

    You’re daughter shouldn’t have any regrets, I’m sure she doesn’t regret being born. No life is perfect. I’m 46 and would love to be a mom and I know I would be a better mom than most of the mom’s out there. I can’t afford to be a single parent and i would need the loving support of a partner. Unfortunately, the man I love doesn’t want kids. At my age, I can’t see myself meeting someone else who would want to give me a child. I have been with this guy 4 years, I wish I could have left him but I was too in love

  9. Sharyl King Vandendries says:

    Things happen for a reason. Especially becoming a parent. Some are good parents – be them young, like 18, or older, like 50 – and some are bad……..doesn’t matter the age.

    But when you’re blessed at a later age with a baby you never thought you’d have, you find in yourself an inner faith that this is happening because it’s supposed to happen.

    I had young YOUNG parents. My Dad was 20 when I was born, and my Mom was 19. I lost my Dad when I was 37 and he was 57 (to cancer). How I wish he was here to see my daughter (15 months old) but he isn’t.

    No, we can’t think of all the “could haves” and “should haves”.

    I appreciate this lady’s story, I really do. And I certainly see myself in it too (the inside jokes of people thinking my child is my grandchild) but if I live to see her grown and married, I”ll be happy. If I don’t, I leave behind good people who will teach her what she needs to know for herself, and about me.

    All will be good.

    I believe that.

    **Sharyl

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