Young Mom, Old Mom

IMG_4706When we were brand-new newlyweds, my husband Ed and I moved into our apartment at Wymount Terrace, BYU’s married student housing. The amenities included cinder block walls, 400 spacious square feet, and a life free from extravagances (like air conditioning, a dishwasher, or our own washer and dryer). And in addition to all those things, I also got the added benefit of a wicked case of baby hunger. At one time, all five of the other women living in our stairwell were either pregnant or had recently given birth. I was twenty-two and seriously immature, Ed had twelve years of school and training ahead of him, and we didn’t have any business even thinking about having a baby yet; but that didn’t seem to be stopping our neighbors, and I was convinced that by the time Ed finally relented, I’d be the oldest mom in the world, or at least the oldest mom in my ward.

Three years later, when our son Bryce arrived, we were living in St. Louis, MO, where I was finishing up a graduate program (literally– I handed in my last seminar paper on the way to the hospital) and Ed was completing his second year of medical school. We were twenty-five, and our friends, mostly people from Ed’s med school class, were shocked (and probably a little horrified) that we were having a baby. Most of them were still living with roommates, eating takeout or ramen noodles for dinner, and partying from Thursday to Sunday every week. The last thing they wanted after a hard day of studying was to think about coming home to rock a baby to sleep, or to have to worry about supporting that baby. They’d look at us, Bryce strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn, and say, “I can’t believe you have a kid.”

When Bryce got a little older, I’d take him to our favorite playground in Clayton, an upscale suburb. I liked the park because it had a little fence all the way around it and he couldn’t escape, but I was always acutely conscious that the other moms who had kids Bryce’s age were at least a decade older than I was. If there was another woman in her mid-twenties there with a child, I would have bet money on the fact that she was the nanny. I figured the other moms must be looking down on me, or that we wouldn’t have anything in common. They must have had cool jobs before they had kids. They must have found a way to support themselves that didn’t involve student loans. They must have it all figured out.

For a long time after that, I avoided playgrounds. It had a lot more to do with the fact that the places we lived after St. Louis (Minnesota and Texas) had climates that didn’t lend themselves as much to year-round park time, but I also wasn’t a huge fan of all the sizing up of the other moms I found myself doing. Besides, as I had more kids, a morning at the park just felt like a whole lot of work.

Bryce is now an eighth-grader. His sister, the one whose arrival really made Ed’s med school friends freak out, is in seventh grade. We also have a third-grader and a second-grader. And now they’re all (blessedly) back in school. But we also have two toddlers. Rose is two, and Eli will be two next month, and a few weeks ago, on the first day of school, when Rose looked so forlorn after leaving her big brother and sister at the elementary school, I surprised myself by suggesting that we go to the playground.

When we arrived, Rose and Eli took off for the big-kid jungle gym. I spent the first few minutes so engrossed in making sure that they didn’t kill themselves that I didn’t recognize it at first. But pretty soon, the kids settled down, I took a breath and looked around at the moms chatting in groups of twos and threes, and realized that I was the oldest mom there, probably by at least five years. I couldn’t possibly be the old mom. I’d spent so long justifying myself as the young mom. But this is Utah, where many of the moms are young, and although I wasn’t checking IDs, I’m pretty sure it was true.

I’m embarrassed to say that it shut me down a little bit. I might occasionally strike up a conversation with another mom while pushing our babies on the swings, but I just kept thinking, “Gosh, I look so wrinkled and frumpy next to these girls with their cute hair and Petunia Picklebottom bags– why would they possibly want to talk to me?” As I walked around and quietly judged them, I was sure they were judging me too (“She must be infertile– those kids are obviously adopted.” “A little bit of hair product would go a long way.”)

At twenty-six, I didn’t talk to the other moms. I was sure that I was too young and dumb.

At thirty-eight, I didn’t talk to the other moms. I was sure that I was too old and lame.

With six kids, I’ve been at this parenting thing long enough that I’ve caught the insecurity coming and going. And I think that if the 38-year-old me had talked to the 26-year-old me, the old me would have found the young me pretty cool, and the young me would have found the old me not too intimidating. And maybe we’d both learn that it doesn’t really matter all that much.

Are you a young mom or an old mom? How does it affect you? Am I the only one who feels playground anxiety? How do I get over it?

About Shelah

(Editor-in-Chief) lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and six kids. She has a BA in English Teaching from BYU, an MA in American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA in Creative Writing at BYU. Her work has been published in Dialogue, the Mormon Women Project, Irreantum, BYU Studies, and Segullah. When she’s not writing or wrangling, she can often be found running through the city in the pre-dawn darkness.

31 thoughts on “Young Mom, Old Mom

  1. The problem that I have as an “old” mom is the generation gap between us…lol I had my first baby at 36, and my last at 40. If I want to have a play date for my 5 year old, most of those moms are in their late 20′s, whom I’m sure don’t want to hang out with a 46 year old. Add to the fact, that my 5 year old is my last, and most times their 5 year old is their first, with a few more below. Or the opposite is true. Those that are my age who have a 5 year old also have a few older, and that makes them really really busy, with no time to hang out. With the younger moms, I don’t judge them. I’m just a realist. The topics of conversation, the areas of interest are things I remember discussing in my 20′s, but not so much in my 40′s. And they don’t want to hear about our retirement plans either…hahaha. See, you’re not alone…

  2. Oh, Shelah,I love this! I can so relate. I had my first baby in my late twenties, in Pennsylvania, in the middle of my PhD program, and I’m sure many of my colleagues thought I was crazy. (It did help that a few grad students in previous years had had babies during their tenure at the school).

    Then we moved back to Utah. Suddenly, I was no longer the “young” mom–in fact, when I had a baby last year at 35, I started to get a complex about being an old mom (it didn’t help that when I filled out the doctor’s forms I had to check the box for “advanced maternal age”). I am grateful, though, for a few moms in my ward who are about my age (though their kids may be a few years older).

    I think location has a lot to do with it–Utah has a lower average age for parents than much of the rest of the country.

  3. I worry about this in a completely different way. My mom had me when she was 20 and was a “young mom” my whole life. Since I didn’t get married until I was 29 we always joke that we got a late start – but now it is hitting me. We didn’t really have a choice (especially when you add years of recurrent pregnancy loss) but here I am, almost 36 and having my first baby. My husband always bemoan the fact that we will be the old parents. And that kind of worries me. Especially since I’d like more than one baby and we’re just getting older!

    The hard thing is every ward we move to everyone assumes we are around 24 since we don’t have kids even though we are the same age or much older than those who already have a slew of children.

    But being in Seattle we’ve noticed people outside the church consider us “young parents”.

  4. Wow! I’ve been feeling like this for a while now. I just sent my baby off to school and I’m 45. Most of the other moms are 10 years or more younger than me. I have older children. In fact my oldest is 20. When I meet another mom at the park, the conversation is usually how many kids you have and when I tell them my oldest is 20 the conversation is pretty short. It’s like I have cooties or something because my kids are SO OLD. I do like it when I meet someone who says I couldn’t possibly have a 20 year old because I look too young. That really makes my day!

  5. I love this post. Strangely, when I was at BYU I felt like the “young, inexperienced one” getting married at 21 – BA degree and semester abroad under my belt – and when I moved back to my hometown, my high school classmates already had kids! Our perceptions definitely change with location.
    I’m still a young mom in my own eyes, and occasionally have to remind myself that everyone has a different path in life. The more I remind myself of my blessings, the less likely I am to judge or compare myself with others, even at the playground.

  6. My first was born when I was 26 and my last at 37. I had similar experiences feeling too old, too young, and too old again, depending on where I lived. When my youngest was in kindergarten, I took cupcakes to school on his birthday. He informed his class that it was almost my birthday, too. One girl asked how old I was, and I said 43. She looked horrified, and told me her mother was 22. I was startled to realize I was old enough to be this girl’s grandmother. Weird feeling when you’re still mothering a 6 year old.

  7. I have also experienced a variety of ways of perceiving myself and others. I got married when I was 23 and had my first at 25; not really that old at all, but many of my friends that were my age got married at 20 and had their first by 22 or 23. I was at BYU and lived in Wymount and totally can relate to the baby hunger :)

    We moved to Seattle for a few years and lived in student family housing for a while–most of the people living there were actually our age and had kids at similar ages (some were LDS and some weren’t). But, when I ran into other parents in the park or at preschool I experienced that weird feeling of being 30 instead of 40. Interestingly, when I went on to do a PhD program in California, there were several other students who already had kids or were having them while in school (none of them LDS either).

    When my kids were little, it wasn’t really my age that made me feel insecure so much as the fact that most of the older moms I knew had older kids and I just felt inexperienced and like we couldn’t relate. I see that now with the younger couples in my ward who have little ones–I know they are intimidated by me because my oldest is now 10, and if their oldest is the same age as my youngest it’s still hard for us to relate to each other for some reason.

  8. I also forgot to add that I’ve actually always been most comfortable talking about parenting with moms who are a generation ahead of me and have mostly grown-up kids. For some reason we seem to find it easiest to get along if there is a large gap between our ages and experiences. I’m not sure why that is.

  9. Shelah, you are the coolest Mom ever. We all have our doubts and insecurities (even at my advanced age), but with my baby age 28,I have the perspective of having a grown child. You juggle it all well, but humanly, which many Moms never are willing to admit. Perfection isn’t attainable — for anyone — and admitting that isn’t easy for me, even at this stage of life. You enjoy your babies, middle and olders and that’s what’s really important in the grand scheme of things. Love you.

  10. I’ve been there. I was 27 when I had Christian, but that was young in Manhattan. Add to that the fact that I have dark brown hair and dark eyes and he had platinum blond hair and blue eyes. Everyone assumed I was his nanny.

    There weren’t many other moms at the playgrounds on the Upper West Side, but I met a lot of cool nannies from around the world. And as I judged others, I felt judged constantly–for having as many kids as we did, for not working outside the home–whatever.

    Now that I’m 46, and our youngest just started kindergarten, I’m on the other end. So, yeah: young mom, old mom. I’ve been both. I wish we could all just forget circumstances and get to know one another’s hearts.

  11. If it makes you feel any better, I will never. Ever. Ever own a bag with a brand name like “petunia picklebottom.”

    Oh gag.

    OK, sorry if I’ve offended someone who owns one…. (free givaway diaper bags from the hosptial work all right for me).

    Anyway. Wanted to say… I feel you. And I think that when women get together, especially women who do not know each other, especially when our kids are in the picture, it is quite easy and even automatic that we judge each other. Who knows why. It’s sad :( because we really need the support we could gain from comparing notes, life experience, venting, etc. Think of those poor, carefully coiffed young mothers who are driving themselves insane over details. Think of us older, more experienced mothers who could use an infusion of young-mother enthusiasm and dewy-ness. I say these things, and yet it is also tough for me to bring kids to parks or to participate in playgroups. Not a happy place, emotionally, I’m sad to say.

  12. The problem I run into is that I was a young young mom – I had my first when I was 19, and now at the age of 33 she is 14, with the other three at the ages of 11, 9, and 6 1/2. So when it comes to other moms, I don’t fit in on either side – the moms my age have toddlers and/or their oldest is the age of my youngest, while the moms who have pre-teens and teens are older than me. Whichever way I go, I can’t seem to make any real friendships. The young moms seem to cluster with those who have children the same age as theirs, and tend to often be cliquey, while the older moms are typically more financially established than we are with my husband back in school and us struggling financially. So I find myself in a kind of no-man’s land. It can be very lonely.

  13. First of all, Shelah, you totally are cute and stylish enough to hang with the young moms. Secondly, I find it weird when I take my little ones to the summer play group we have for all the mormons in our town that there are a couple of moms who were born the year I graduated! Talk about bizarre! I have fun hanging out with them anyway. There is no age requirement to have a good old conversation about potty training.

    At age 42 I would say I’m about the same age as many of the elementary and middle school moms around here (many had kids after careers so they skew older). Im definitely young to be a high school mom, though. People comment on it all the time when i drop by the high school. Honestly, though, age doesn’t seem to be as big a differentiator as family size. When I tell people that I have six kids, jaws drop. It is considered the craziest thing ever. Forget age, all people want to talk about is my food bill and how do we have time for everything, blah, blah, blah. Even in my ward I have the biggest family. Probably not the same issue in Utah, but in Austin it’s beyond weird.

    I have noticed on Facebook that a lot of my friends from high school (all nonmembers) have had their first child in the last five years. That seems odd to me. But frankly I’m glad I got started young. It means I’ll always be the pretty mom; also there is no way I would have the energy now that is required to have a baby.

  14. I love this Shelah, how interesting to hear about how different your experiences have been with the early kids and now the later ones.

    I agree with your other friend who says it’s all about location. Here in Los Angeles there are plenty of moms with little babies who are my age or even older. Four of my friends here, all of whom are slightly older than me, have babies under 17 months old. I even saw a woman at the gym the other day who was about 8 months and had all gray hair!

    I would imagine people look at you and your beautiful new little ones and think what a generous woman to have adopted babies.

  15. I felt old when I finally became a mom at 26, simply because I had experienced 4 years of infertility beforehand. Then, we moved to our current ward and I felt young. For a group of LDS women, I was surprised at how many women had their first child in their late 20s. (I too, experienced the BYU married ward induced baby hunger.) I have a theory, though, at least in my particular neighborhood. I live in a very small geographical ward (for Oregon), and the housing options are fairly homogenous. There are no apartment complexes and only two condo complexes. 90% of the area is single family homes within a small price range, which is not wealthy, but a step or two past “starter.” Many couples I know seemed to have married a little later, combining duel incomes and avoiding the debt that comes with starting a family very young and in school. (I’m not saying one way is right or wrong, just a theory as to why my ward has the particular makeup it has.)
    Anyway, the point of that long story is to say that I feel either average or a bit young in my circle of friends.

  16. I’ve been an “Old Mom” since I had my first at 26. (I’ve lived in Utah my whole married life.) Now, I’m going to be a “Super Old Mom” because I just adopted my youngest at 42. What will it be like when she goes to kindergarten and I am 47!?

  17. I was the young mom when I moved in to my current ward – 21, freshly graduated from college, first baby. Holy cow, it’s weird to think about that. Now I’m on the other end of 20 with three boys and it’s for sure a different experience at the park. I see myself in all these new moms around me and realize that I wish I hadn’t been so shy around the other “experienced” moms, and also that the efforts I make to talk to the newer moms is greatly appreciated by them. Though sometimes I talk too much.

  18. Shelah – when I met you I was shocked to learn that you already had 4 kids because I thought you were mid-twenties. You certainly do not look old and wrinkled :)

    I was 23 when I had my first baby and will be 26 for my second. I live in Utah County, so I haven’t felt like an exceptionally young mom because so many other women in my wards have been within a couple of years of me. However, I am starting to meet women I would like to become friends with whose kids are outside of the toddler stage, but I don’t know how to spend time with them. If play dates aren’t practical, then how do I get to know these women?

  19. I have been both a young mom and an old mom , it does depend on where I was living at the time. would rather that my students have a mature grown adult. children raising children creates so many problems.

  20. I feel this differently. I’ve never felt judged because of age, but I had my first at age 26, which I found out recently is the average for women in America. Where I find the gaps are with folks who have lots of children. I only have two, though not by choice, but it often makes me feel like I’m somehow stupider, or less put together than the bigger families when I struggle with motherhood. I feel this more with Mormons, but I think that’s only because Mormons tend to have bigger families. I also had a parent say to my face, “Well, you don’t get it, you only have TWO,” which was so flabbergasting that I didn’t even know what to say. My husband said something quippy back, but I was so hurt I didn’t even feel the need to explain why we only have two. It also reiterated my fears that other families scoff at our small family and think I have nothing to complain about because I only have two. That sometimes makes the hard days harder, because I hear in the back of my mind, “I only have TWO! This shouldn’t be that hard!”

    Maybe we should all cut each other some slack.

  21. Also, I think moms tend to hang out with moms who have kids in the same stages, which is a great equalizer in terms of age. I don’t really hang out with moms who have teenagers, not because I don’t like the woman I know who have teenagers, but because they’re schedules are completely different than my own. I had a really nice group of friends a few years back, but the group hasn’t really stayed together because some of got pregnant and had babies, which sort of resets things. When you are past the stage where your life revolves around nap time, you tend to hang out with friends who are there too. Maybe it’s a little sad to think that grown women’s social lives are dictated by their children’s schedules, but it’s sort of a reality for mothers, I think.

  22. I think that the idea that our friendships are dictated by our children’s schedules is really interesting, Heather, because it resonates so clearly with my experience. And because my two little ones came after the naps and strollers and diapers stage was long over with my older kids, it comes as a bit of a surprise to see that the people who are my natural peers now (the ones who understand the restrictions of toddlers) are so much younger than I am.

  23. I live in Utah and with five kids between 23 &14 I’m definitely the youngest mom at 45. My neighborhood and ward are filled with mostly moms who’ve gone to graduate school, have their own businesses and run marathons. I simply run errands. I wanted my kids young, as a convert with both parents being only children, I am a bit of a freak. I find that the biggest gap in friendship and conversations isn’t so much age as the birth order of kids and their friends. With my 14 yr old being the youngest of five, he has some pretty relaxed parents. His friends who are the oldest or only kids in their family have parents still a little freaked out by teenagers. I try to be very careful not to be patronizing about their worries, as I was the same. Although I often feel judged that we are not more uptight.

  24. Coming from Finland I was considered a child and completely out of my mind to have four children bam bam bam bam. Then we lost two babies and the doctor told me had we waited I could never have had children. In Utah i had so many people in my face for having children so close that I stopped listening, but when we adopten two more something changed.

    Suddenly all our children were not considered “accidents” and my parenting style was no longer out of the Galaxy. By then I didn’t really care what anyone said, my hands were too full because I was taking care of parents too. My mother was bed ridden, my mother-in-law had Alzhimers and my father-in- law was blind. I was the one with the most flexible schedule and received the blessing of taking care of them all. I could have never puued it off if our children had not helped me.

    One dear finnish friend just had her first grandchild, the last of my twenty four grandchildren just started first grade. Real friends don’t judge, they support! I have been blessed with friends from all ages and walks of life. I need to count my blessings more often hearing how much you young ones struggle with this.

  25. It is too bad that you feel this way. Kids can be the great equalizer and help us find things in common when we might otherwise be in very different stages. As young moms we can gain so much wisdom and as older moms we can be such great examples. What a sham to determine friends by ages.

    I do understand relating better to some people than others, but really at the playground we don’t have to become best friends instantly. We can just enjoy the comradery that comes from watching our toddlers play together.

  26. I had my first baby at 22 and will be having my sixth and last baby at 36. My husband and I moved to Sweden with our two young children when I was 25 where we weird on so many levels: we were married, religious, had children, young, I stayed home, husband was in grad school, and we were planning on more kids. A couple of times we met with other American families but our ages and life stages were so different that I stopped making an effort on that front and focused on cultivating friendships with other student families- mostly other international families from Europe.

    Now, I don’t think about my age very much as it relates to others, perhaps because I live in New York. I am probably young compared to many of the parents of middle school kids, but more on par with the elementary school and preschool parents. The real shocker now is the number of children that I have, my pregnancy, and my appearance of being a generally sane person.

  27. This is so poignant for me right now. I’m 35, my oldest is 12, and until a few months ago, I was convinced we were done. After a completely unplanned and shocking pregnancy, and a miscarriage as soon as I decided another baby wasn’t going to ruin my life, we’re talking about deliberately adding a fifth child. I feel so old to even be talking about it. It occurred to me that I’ll be quite a bit past 50 when this maybe baby leaves home. I’m convinced its the right thing, although I’m sure I’ll get some looks…

  28. I’m an old mom. 43, my oldest is 11, and I have a 2-year-old. It definitely affects me. You haven’t lived until you’ve had someone ask if you are your child’s grandmother. Overall I don’t mind being “older”, I am just grateful to be a mother at all after years of infertility and childlessness prior to our first arriving. I do suspect I am more tired, but that could also be from not getting a consistent night’s sleep since my first was born. I think the hardest part is that part of me would love to have another child, but realistically I think it would be very challenging, again because I’m already so tired, and so is my husband, who just turned 50.

    The whole playground scene bothered me much more when I was childless than it does now. My life is very busy and full, and as much as I used to long to be able to go to the playground and fit in with the other women who had children, it just isn’t as important to me now that I actually have the children to go and do it. For a number of years of motherhood, I felt the sting of being older than everyone else and having a hard time finding a circle of friends… but then life happened and I stopped focusing on it (started homeschooling and that takes literally all my time and energy). Then when I wasn’t looking, Heavenly Father blessed me with a calling that gave me friends to work with. Two of them are a bit younger than me but their children are quite a bit older, the other is much younger than I am with kids the same age. But we are so busy working together that age really seems irrelevant. The focus isn’t on our children, it’s on what we are trying to accomplish, and the friendships have progressed naturally from there.

    P.S.Shelah, I was in your Wymount ward, I recognized you when I visited your blog. And congratulations on your adoptions and your beautiful children; I am an adoptive mom.

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