When I worked at a preschool summer camp, I saw two types of parents:
The 20s – they’d swoop in, looking harried and often exhausted, gather child in one arm and gear in another, and disappear as quickly as they arrived.
The 40s – they’d saunter in, spot their child, and begin a delighted tour of the events of the day, observing artwork and snack remnants with equal and genuine interest.I was nineteen at the time, and learning a lot about parenting observationally. I understood why the 20s were so strung out: their time and resources were over-stretched. They became parents as soon as they were able, and that meant sacrificing self-building and life-building in order to parent at the healthiest point in their lives.
The 40s…well, who knows why they waited. But though their energy levels were lower, their attitudes and resources blew the 20s out of the water. The 40s were emotionally mature and financially comfortable, and they were never parents by accident. Their children were sought, treasured and celebrated. No disrespect to the efforts of the 20s, but the 40s I saw parented from a place of joy.
I’d always planned to be a 20s. I searched for the “Right Partner™ after college, but he never surfaced. I met someone in my mid-thirties, but together we suffered two miscarriages. By the time I got and stayed pregnant, I was a single 39 year-old carrying the offspring of an anonymous sperm donor. When my daughter finally arrived, I was forty years, one month and one day old.
I regret not a whit the age at which I became a mother.
I know what I was in my twenties: undercooked, untested and narcissistic. I could have been a parent, but I would have been growing up alongside my kid, and sucking a lot of the oxygen out of the room. Instead, I got two extra decades to learn how to put a child first without depleting myself. The forty-something me is weathered and practical, and knows how to roll with a punch.
I began this journey with deliberation, and only when I knew my parents were willing to help. I armored myself emotionally and practically for the sacrifices of single parenting. I endured fibroid surgery, two miscarriages and seven rounds of insemination. Conceiving in my twenties might have helped me avoid all that, but I suspect these trials made me a better parent. Every step, however painful, tempered me for motherhood.
Having my child is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I love her as I have never loved anyone or any thing – with delight and abandon and very little fear. And while I’m certain the younger me would have loved just as fiercely, she could not have appreciated or enjoyed being a parent the way I do now.