On ageing

My Back PagesI wrote a few weeks ago about my thoughts and feelings turning 34. Since reaching that grand old age, I have thought a lot more about ageing. When my mother was 34, I was four years old and my brother was about 18 months. Whilst I was in my twenties, I always thought that I would have children by the time I was 30, following in her footsteps. Thirty seemed like plenty old enough to have ‘done stuff’ and settled down.

Then, when I was 30, I ended an eight-year relationship and found myself single and childless in Brighton. As it turns out, Brighton is one of the best places to be single and childless. After the initial navel-gazing period subsided, I discovered the concept of ‘fun’. A little late, admittedly – but better late than never.

As a 34-year-old woman, it’s inevitable that one’s group of friends splits into two camps: those with and without children. I have nothing but admiration and, frankly, awe, for the ones in the first camp. Looking after kids is bloody hard work. I actually don’t know how they do it: it seems relentless and overwhelming, as well as obliterating one’s entire social life.

I am heartened by the fact that there are quite a few people in camp number two: women of my own age and up who, for some reason, don’t have children. Some of them may not want them at all; others are not currently in a relationship; some, like me, are still waiting for that time when they might feel ‘ready’. I know full well that one is never completely ‘ready’ for children, by the way: it seems to be a question of just closing your eyes and taking the plunge.

I must admit that I feel very ambivalent about having children. Not just because of the noise and the mess (although the latter in particular REALLY does nothing to sell the idea to me: when proud parents show pictures of their offspring covered in spaghetti, I have a hard time controlling my gag reflex). But it’s also the thought of putting yet more humans on our vastly over-populated planet. Ideologically, then, adoption might be a better idea, seeing as there are so many kids out there who are already here yet have no one to care for them properly.

The fact of the matter is, despite my age and the increasing prevalence of baby pictures in my Facebook newsfeed, my ovaries have yet to start rattling. I think I want children – my parents have always set an excellent example of what a happy family looks like and I can imagine it’s great when you get older to have your children round for Sunday dinner. I’m in a happy relationship and wouldn’t want kids with anyone else. I just haven’t had that ‘yes: now’ moment.

Back to ageing in general. I do think that my ambivalence about procreation is at least partly to do with the fact that I really don’t feel like I’m 34. When I think about the person I was in my twenties, Dylan’s My Back Pages always pops into my head: “Ah, but I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.” In some ways, of course, that’s bullshit: I’m actually a lot older and wiser and more confident than I was then. But at the same time, I do genuinely feel younger. Maybe I just need to get this ‘second youth’ out of my system before I can allow those ovaries to start rattling.

Do you have children? Or maybe not? Do you recognise any of this? As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts!

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21 thoughts on “On ageing

  1. Agree about not feeling my age and what I thought I would have done by now is different to where I am. Nonetheless I’m glad to be where I am now too!

  2. Anne, you don’t convince me on this one. Wanting children is something you simply know, you don’t have to think about it, or find “reasons” to postpone (your second youth). If you deep down know you want kids, I can only say: een slimme meid krijgt haar kind op tijd. Veel liefs, Ellen.

    • Dat is een mooie spreuk Ellen! Ik weet het echt nog niet op dit moment – maar ken ook veel goede voorbeelden van iets oudere moeders. Ik hou mezelf maar voor dat ik nog wel een beetje bedenktijd heb… Maar ook weer niet te lang 🙂

  3. The liberating thing about children is that they grow up and leave home…. At 43 I am child free again and get my social life back, maybe too late for raving, now I am more into caravanning!!

  4. I have 2 children – daughters – and they were (and remain) the hardest, most painful, most joyful, most confusing, most soul-wrenching and most soul-satisfying endeavor of my life. As a “young 34” or a childless person of any age, I suppose that probably sounds like crazed babble – and it might not instill high motivation to procreate – but, there are things you learn as a human, and things that expand your soul that simply cannot be learned or expanded unless you rear a child. “Being Mom” is something to be lived and felt to really understand completely. (and when it’s your child with the spaghetti mess, I guarantee you won’t gag and you’ll likely think it’s utterly the most delightful thing in the world. I know. Blame it on “parent-brain”; weirdness personified) You’ve hit the nail on the head though about the increased importance of offspring relative to our increase in years. I work in aging studies in the USA (we spell it without the e, btw, random fact). There’s a growing crises for elderly who do not have anyone to advocate and care for them in their later fragile years. People are meant to have people.
    Now that my children are grown and experiencing all the joys and angst of their 20s, I’m able to sit back from time to time and just drink them in. I marvel they turned out OK despite never having a ‘users manual’ and suffering a billion parental mistakes. My children are not only my future [hopefully] caregivers, they are most importantly my legacy to the world. I feel truly grieved for those who find themselves at the end of days with no posterity to carry on their stories and honor the memory of their life-force. I suppose what I’m trying to express is;
    “Don’t wait too long, dear. You won’t want to miss this. Honest.”
    Just my 2 cents for what it’s worth.

    • Thank you so much for your heartfelt response. I knew this one would probably get a few reactions! And it’s telling that none of the reactions from those who are already parents have been ‘yes, wait as long as you can or don’t do it at all because it’s awful’. Not that I’d expected that…! I know it’s an experience that only makes sense when you’re in the middle of it, not necessarily when you’re on the outside looking in. And you are very right that most of us will rely on our children to look after us when we’re old – much as I’d like to think that I’ll still be partying and running around when I’m 102. Your field of work is very important and interesting right now with all of us living longer. I do appreciate your advice and do take it seriously (although still sceptical about the spaghetti, I’ll have to reserve judgement on that one haha) – thanks for taking the time to write 🙂

  5. Hi Anne, as you know I have two kids. I don’t have any strong views on other women’s choice to or not to have children. However I wanted to just correct you on one minor point. You state that children obliterate your social life. Not true. It changes massively but it is not obliterated. Yes I don’t go out clubbing or to festivals (though I know lots of parents who do) but I have a very active social life. I have met many new people and made some fantastic friends as a result of my kids. Also they do start to grow up and not need to be attached to you 24/7. For example as you know you will be missing a night out this Sat and there will be 3 of us there with children. I promise the stage of staying in mopping up sick and spilt spaghettie does not last forever. In fact when it’s gone you also miss it because they are no longer little babies!

    • Thanks for reading Laura and for your response! I think I could have nuanced this post a bit more, with hindsight – but then I was rushing so just threw it out there to see what people would make of it. I know the social life comment was a bit harsh and I do know parents who manage to get out there (hopefully I’ll be one of those). And so far I’ve yet to meet any parents who wish they hadn’t had children, which must mean something… I think I will get there one day in the not too distant future – but I’ll probably be more relaxed and perhaps a better parent if I feel that I’ve had some time to enjoy myself before taking the plunge. I should have used my twenties for that, like most people, but no point regretting stuff like that. Anyway I am sorry I can’t be up north with all of you tomorrow! Have one for me 🙂

  6. I am also becoming 34 too soon and Brighton has been clutching me to its teet too long and family and housing stability on whole is rare. Finding freedom here seems easy but any true bohemian will struggle or be forced to become a drone in low paid work thus, this leaves those individuals as eternally pending or struggling parents. Has Brighton kept us young? Maybe getting out could really open doors to the more homely family small village vibe. I say we all exodus.

  7. Take me back 10 months and I would have pretty much agreed with u Anna. Looking at friends with kids I thought they were brave, nuts and inspiring all at once. Myself been a real party head and doing up to 12 festies in a summer would never have believed it if someone had said this time next year u will have a baby. So just after my 30th birthday my lil boy arrived and eventhough from time to time I miss the life I had before it only lasts a couple seconds for what I have now has so much more meaning and depth. I have never felt love, devotion and achievement like this before. Eventhough, I did have a long run of partying beforehand plus the late nights I spend out with friends has been great preparation for the sleepless nights I now endure haha. The time will come when its right and yes in the mean time go out and have a blast gal!!

    • Aw thank you Alicia, that’s a wonderful thing to hear. Super happy for you 🙂 I’ve just got my party head on but know it won’t last forever. That’s ok. I’ll probably be a better mum if I don’t think ‘I wish I’d partied more’! But we’ll see – sometimes life throws things at you. Enjoy it!!! X

  8. Hey Anne, I’ve just come back to the ‘connected world’ after a holiday in the woods with Maartje and without our two children. A couple of comments: first, it’s hard to rationalise something you haven’t experienced yet – that is, you will know how it feels only when you’re there. Second, your social life gets partly obliterated, partly something quite new comes up. It’s still social life, but of a different kind. We’ve now given ourselves a push to go to a concert per month after four years of much less, but it’s nothing compared to what life was before. However, it’s not limited to that: when I was going to become a father, I read a book about fatherhood saying that (especially for socially active people) you are a person before children and another person after. That is what I feel about myself: there was a me before Jan & Jonas, and another one now. Neither better nor worse – different.
    This year we took two weeks ‘off’ leaving the children to my parents, but going around in cities like New York or some remote Canadian woods, we kept saying: Jan would really love this! Jonas would enjoy this so much! … Yes, we have changed, and, despite all the pressure, happy about that. A big hug

    • Thank you Pietro, it’s really nice to read that. You are completely right that it’s not possible to analyse something when you haven’t actually experienced it. And becoming a parent is clearly not a ‘rational’ thing or something you can really prepare yourself for, that much I’ve come to realise. It’s been quite nice reading parents’ thoughts on here about what it’s like to have kids. I think I need to enjoy a little taste of selfish ‘freedom’ for a little while longer but I know at some point I’ll just have to take the plunge. I’ll report back from the other side. All the best to you, Maartje and the lovely boys xx

  9. Just get pregnant and let it be decided for you!
    I just gave birth to my daughter and second child 3,5 months ago. Due to hormones I decided I wanted 16 more children when she was about a month old. Fortunately I know what happens when a child reaches his or her first birthday: the homones have left the mother’s body and sense has more or less returned. By that time you have gotten used to having a child around and pick up your life where you left it. You are still then responsible for your own life and happiness. Of course things will have changed considerably, but I have experienced that I am still sensitive to thoughts on life’s fulfillment and individual needs. Being a mother is just part of who you are.
    Oh, and I detest cleaning up vomit and thrown up food. It’s disgusting!;-)

    • Thanks Laurinha en gefeliciteerd met de geboorte van je dochtertje, leuk zeg! Haha 16 more kids would have been quite busy. It’s been interesting hearing people’s thoughts here, particularly those who are parents. It’s not really changed my immediate feelings about having children – when I see someone else’s kids I like them but never have an immediate pang of ‘I want this too’ – but anecdotal evidence seems to suggest it doesn’t necessarily spell the end of one’s life so that’s heartening 🙂 Shame about the bodily fluids thing, I guess it comes with the territory though haha. Good to hear from you and all the best 🙂

  10. Children are hard work. And relentless! I love my son and we have a very close bond. I have no regrets that he is in my life. But I hadn’t originally wanted kids. And I have many girlfriends around my age who have opted not to have kids. They are happily married or in long term relationships and have decided that having kids isn’t for them. It changes your whole life – that’s neither good nor bad, it’s just that it puts your life on a different track and gives it a different focus. We go out with friends, and have friends over (those with and without kids). We travel quite a bit and though we usually take our son with us, we don’t always. I think it’s important to incorporate a child into your way of life, to bring them up the way you want to live. But of course you will do things differently, especially in the early years. It’s wonderful but you have to really want it. And if you don’t, that’s ok. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise!

    • Thank you – it’s really good to hear your thoughts. I’ve had quite a few reactions to this post and they’ve been really interesting, particularly from parents. It sounds like you’ve found a good balance of involving your son and also doing things together as a couple – I hope that I’ll find a similar balance if I do take the plunge. Really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, as always. All the best 🙂

  11. I am in camp number 2 Ann! I always have been & i’m not sure that will change. I feel very privileged to live in a society where, as a woman, I have more choice than even the generation before me did. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong thing to do, but just whatever feels right to you.

    • Thanks for your comment Marie, and for the Twitter follow! 🙂 And you are so very right about being in that privileged position, it’s so different in many other societies. Here’s to choice and freedom!

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