Liz Hoggard: We are too quick to judge older mothers

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The Independent Online

Society has a new hate object. She hasn't murdered anyone, or stolen anything. She is fit and healthy. She spent most of her life working as a special needs teacher. So what has she done to incur such wrath?

She had a baby at 57 and possibly intends to try to have another; this time with the help of London Women's Clinic, where senior staff voted in favour of treating Susan Tollefsen.

Please could we stop this double standard about older mothers? No one calls 60-something dads John Humphrys or Jonathan Dimbleby selfish and creepy. Gordon Brown was 54. And you know why – because they happen to be married to younger women. So the implication is that their age doesn't matter. A gorgeous, caring lady will make it all right – when Daddy is no longer with us.

Of course the welfare of the child is everything. But Ms Tollefsen's partner, Nick Mayer, is 11 years her junior, so he's there as the consistent care giver (just like the younger wife). He's also the biological parent of two-year-old Freya.

Arguably there might be a cut-off point, when parenting is less easy for a pensioner. The body slows (though, historically, many grandparents have brought up children in times of adversity). But that's beside the point. Why are women's bodies subject to such vicious scrutiny, when no one mentions the fact that older dads have knee operations and ulcers too.

Having a late baby is not the thing I need to do personally. In your 40s we all have different projects. But it's still a sexist and hypocritical old world that condemns women for doing exactly what men do "naturally".

I have friends who spent years in the assisted conception unit – or travelling to Spain for cutting-edge fertility treatments. They're not pretending it's easy. But you only have to see their radiant faces – and remarkably well-behaved children – to know something is working. Plus they're keen to break taboos.

Their children won't be "special", with an awkward, shadowy history. Almost from the cradle, they understand that they're the product of a donor egg or sperm. "A very kind man and lady helped mummy and daddy to have you," they're told.

You may not agree with Ms Tollefsen's stance. You may think she is frankly barmy wanting to play with Lego and wipe noses when she could be holidaying in Greece or playing the sexy cougar. Maybe there are enough children in the world, who need adopting and nurturing already.

But no one is pointing the finger at men. Instead we applaud an ageing lothario when he settles down and becomes Mr Mum (thank you Michael Douglas and Warren Beatty). Research has shown that older fathers can be less tolerant of their children, seeing them as impulsive and overactive. And one study reported that offspring of older fathers have a significantly increased risk of autism, while the mother's age did not affect autism risk.

Fertility is such an issue of grief. Many people don't find the right partner until late. Or take years (and a lot of therapy) to feel like proper grown-up parent material. Do we really want to punish them twice?

Screen romance made a fool of my generation

I loved every minute of Love Story – from Ali MacGraw's severe parting and mini-kilts to the do-it-yourself-wedding. We swooned over Ryan O'Neal intoning, "What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me." But you know that movie sold women of my generation a pup. Romance is not like that.

The papers may be full of tributes to Erich Segal who wrote the screenplay for the 1970 film. Apparently he was a classical scholar and poet. But I'd argue he was a far more dangerous chick flick writer than the whole Mills and Boon oeuvre put together. Like most seven-year-old girls I grew up believing men liked feisty, working-class girls with dark hair and killer glasses. Even when they're difficult and hate sport and win all the verbal duels. And die. Oh boy did I have a lot to learn. As for the immortal quote from the book: "Love means never having to say you're sorry" – every star-crossed lover soon finds out, it means saying sorry every day.

Mixed schooling brings emotional intelligence

So boys are better at art and dance, and emotions when there are no girls around?

A new US study claims that boys get demoralised when their female counterparts do better earlier – and that single-sex schools give boys the chance to develop without pressure to conform to a macho stereotype. But is segregating teenagers really the best thing? Yes, you get to focus in a gender-free atmosphere, but by the time you get to college or into the real world, you have no idea how to socialise with the opposite sex.

I went to a mixed comprehensive but they streamed us after 14 (to make it easier for the PE timetable!) and I ended up with no idea how to talk to boys. They were literally an alien species. Yes male and female students may have different learning styles that need to be accommodated (scientists increasingly agree we're hard-wired differently), but I'd argue that true emotional intelligence comes from learning about each other in the rough and tumble of life.

* As a hopeless, undomesticated vegetarian, I lived on sprout au gratin for years. Nutritious, but unaesthetic. But now, hurrah, we have the "flower sprout" – the humble Brussels has been crossed with curly kale to create the first new vegetable of the new decade. Be warned, dear guests at my next dinner party, you'll be eating triffid.