I can vividly recall the moment I realized I was different from the majority of other children in my class. I didn’t have a birthmark or wear glasses, just a few of the things that can mark you out as ‘weird’ in year four. “Your Dad is really old, he’s older than my granddad” sneered fellow pupils. Yes, aged eight my crime was to have older parents. In comparison to the hip crowd gathered round the school gates, my dad fell into the “well old” category, having become a father aged fifty three.
Recent studies show that in just a decade the number of women having children in their forties has risen by 61 per cent. My own mother gave birth two months shy of her 40th birthday, surrounded by warnings concerning possible birth defects and the stigma of being the oldest woman on the ward. I believe my parents gave me a better upbringing not despite of their age, but because of it.
I was cherished by my supposedly ancient parents and had an idyllic childhood. The experience that came with my Dad’s age made him a better father, both in terms of his calm nature and endless patience with me. My parents had travelled widely and experienced challenging careers. I was never part of a juggling-act between promotions and playgroup, and knew I had their undivided attention. Because of such life experience my parents were better geared to coping with me, especially as I didn’t sleep through the night till the age of three.
The pressure of a difficult child, work commitments, and unfilled expectations may have broken a younger couple. My parents were never desperate to escape to a previous life of parties and romantic meals, though. While I’m sure they craved a break once in a while, for the most part they were truly ready to settle down and watch Blue Peter with me. I’m not sure younger parents would have felt quite as dedicated or resolute in this decision.
As a young adult I now come to my parents for advice. My friends often joke about the wisdom of ‘Mama House’, without really considering why my mother is so accomplished in steering me clear of trouble. It can be irritating at times, but the fact that my parents have 'been there and done that' has got me out of some sticky situations.
Both my parents still work in teaching, despite their age, partly to fund me through university. People wonder why they aren't going on cruises and playing golf in their retirement -but there's little chance of that. I believe having a child so late in life kept my parents young. They are far fitter then my partner’s grandparents, who are actually younger. Neither mum nor dad are ready to put their feet up, perhaps because they’ve been running round after me when they were supposedly too old to do so. I am amazingly proud of them for that.
Sometimes friends ask if I’m concerned about my parents dying. Surely it’s unfair to have a child when you know age is against you, they reason. This may be a straightforward argument, but death doesn’t always follow the rules of logic. Several of my friends have lost parents at a very young age, so obsessing over my parents dying is both futile and morbid. The fact that I’ve never really considered such an event surely demonstrates how little age matters when it comes to being to a good parent.
I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my Dad may not live to walk me up the aisle, especially as he underwent serious heart surgery in recent years. He resolutely informed me that I should marry the person who is right for me though, even if the wait means the father of the bride ends up missing the ceremony. And that kind of advice is what makes older parents bloody marvellous.