dilemma's
Esme, who's 43, and her new partner of 55 already have nearly adult children of their own, but are wondering whether to try for a baby. Would it be fair to inflict it with such elderly parents since they would be quite old when it was a teenager?

What's so great about having young parents? True, they might be more sympathetic since they were only recently young themselves, but they can also be impatient, inexperienced, selfish and, when a child becomes a teenager, jealous. Or a young mum may vie to be a friend to her child rather than a mother; many's the child who feels resentful when their parents try to horn in on their social scene, insisting on sitting round the kitchen table gassing to the child's friends, imagining they are getting on like a house on fire with "young people."

But if you're born to older parents there are perhaps more specific disadvantages. Most readers with older parents mentioned the embarrassment of having white-haired wrinklies coming to pick them up from school - but then people in their forties and fifties look much younger now than they did a generation ago (and anyway children are always embarrassed by their parents in front of their friends. Their skirts are too short, their hats too flowery, their voices too loud. "Oh mum/dad, how could you!" is the wail of nearly every child after sports day).

The children of elderly parents will probably not enjoy the pleasures of having youthful grandparents to have them to stay; their dads may not play such vigorous football as other dads; and, as Esme points out, their parents will be old when they're teenagers and there's a real risk that just at an age when they ought to be out enjoying themselves they will be worrying about their parents' ailing health.

But the great advantage of having older parents is that while they're old they're also wise. Like grandparents they will be more relaxed, indulgent and tolerant than younger parents. Second-time-around older parents, like Esme, will have a chance to put right all the mistakes they made the first time round. They will be old enough to know that the world the child is growing into is vastly different from the one they know, and won't try to over-impose their views on their child.

Now, had Esme and her partner not had any children before, then yes, their age might be a great stress on a child. It's bad enough when a 40- year-old parent doesn't understand you or your music when you're a teenager. A 70-year-old who had never lived through the Sixties might have a completely hysterical reaction to the faintest whiff of drugs or pre-marital sex. But Esme and her partner have already seen three children through teenage years and are wise old owls who know from experience that the vast majority of children go through the terrible twos and teenage traumas and come out the other side just as nice as, if not nicer than, before.

Esme's pregnancy will not be trouble-free. She may have great difficulty even in conceiving at her age; if she does conceive she will suffer all the anxiety of tests for the older mum, for Downs Syndrome and other abnormalities.

But what tips the balance for me in favour of Esme trying for a baby is that she asks the question about whether it's fair to the child in the first place. Were she just having the child selfishly without even considering its feelings I would be tut-tutting in the background. But paradoxically it's precisely because she expresses doubts even before she has conceived that there is no doubt that she should go ahead. It's clear that she would always put the needs of the child above her own. She would be a great mum for any child to have.

READERS' REPLIES

Times have changed

My parents were in their 40s when I was born; my brother and sister were aged 14 and 10. I have a vivid memory of sitting in my school playground worrying that my parents would die whilst I was still young and that I would have no one to look after me. I thought my brother and sister would be too busy with their careers. I also desperately wanted to know of other children with similarly older parents and siblings. This, I think, would not be such a problem these days. My own children are at school with children who are looked after by grandparents and I know of mothers who have had babies at the same time as their daughters; there is no need to feel so different now.

Annie, Leeds

Kept young and alive

At the age of 42 I became pregnant when my older two sons were 16 and 19. My new husband was 52 with two sons in their early twenties. At the time we were devastated as we had not planned this event but had looked forward to exotic holidays, visits to the theatre, dining out etc. However my third son was born and was a delight to us, despite the sleepless nights and stresses babies bring.

We repeated the performance three years later. This time I had a beautiful baby girl who again was a poor sleeper. I am now 61 and my husband and I would not change our lives. We are certainly poorer but they have kept us young and alive. We have enjoyed visits to pantomimes, bucket-and-spade holidays, the dog, two cats and a succession of gerbils and hamsters all duly buried, with ceremony, in the garden. We have a battered home that our grandchildren like to visit, with games and toys and children's books for them to enjoy. We have a good relationship with them now they are teenagers. My husband and I feel we were given a second chance and as older parents we had more time and patience. We are very pleased the way they have grown up and they don't seem to be concerned at having to OAPs as parents.

Frances, Isle of Wight

Silly selfishness

Esme and her partner have both done their biological bit; and they should be content to have a mature relationship, without being granny-aged parents.

Esme states that she would be 60 when her child is 18. But, more to the point, she would be 50-57 when her embarrassed child was in primary school. I know about this! Our last child was born when I ws 38; and some of my daughter's primary school contemporaries used to say "do you live with your nan?" I, and therefore she, were not "normal" during that period, when children need to be to feel comfortable. This, as yet non-existent, child; a half-sibling, young enough to be its brothers' and sisters' child, should not be called into being. There is no reason for it, other than the unconsidered silly selfishness of its progenitors.

Margaret, Surrey

Enjoy life

There's no advice here, but maybe some consolation. My partner (53) and I (46) have six children between us, but none of "our own". We've been agonising about this for over a year, and each time my cycle comes round, we go through the pros and cons again and again, and again. Up to now at least our heads have won. Enjoy yourselves!

Nellie, London

Calmer and less stressed

Having older parents (65 & 75) than other kids felt, to me, that they were extra special. The understanding that normally only comes from favourite grandparents when young was rich in my mother and father, their extra maturity made them calmer and less stressed than friends' parents. Although I will not have them in my life as long as some people (I'm now 25), I do not wish for one moment that they were any younger. I love and respect them immensely.

Rich, Bristol

NEXT WEEK'S DILEMMA: UNSETTLED DAUGHTER

Dear Virginia,

My daughter, Mary, is 32 and apart from a two-year relationship with a man in her early twenties, shows no sign of settling down. She's had the odd boyfriend but it's always ended quickly. Although she has a wide circle of friends - mostly married - and a very interesting job, I know she would give anything to find someone special, but she finds it hard meeting single men. I would love grandchildren but most of all I worry for her. I'd like to offer her the present of membership of a dating agency, but my husband said I shouldn't even suggest it. Certainly she gets very irritated if I ask her about the men in her life, but last month she suddenly broke down in tears when she told me about her best friend getting married, saying she felt so different to everyone else. Do other mothers worry like I do? Or are there other thirty-something single girls who could advise on how they'd like a mother to behave? Would they appreciate a dating agency present or would they see it as interference?

Yours sincerely,

Louise

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Send relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, the 'Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182, by Tuesday morning. If you have any dilemmas you would like to share, let me know.

Comments