And now a call to arms for older mothers. This comes from Elizabeth Gregory, who studies contemporary families at the University of Houston and is the author of “Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood,” (Basic Books), a new edition of which was just published this month.
I contacted Gregory after the Post published an essay by Nona Willis Aronowitz about the downsides of delaying childbirth, a piece that resonated with me, as both a daughter of older parents and an older mother.
In it, Aronowitz talks about growing up with older, more financially and emotionally mature parents who were also more physically dependent on her sooner than her peers’ parents.
After writing about the issue myself, I asked Gregory, too, to weigh in. I expected she might defend the choice of women to delay childbirth and, as many commenters to my original post on the subject did, point out that parents can and often do maintain hearty health into old age.
What I didn’t expect was this forceful pitch:
“We absolutely need to change the options for Americans planning families so that they don’t have to wait until they’re making a fortune to afford kids — and so a woman’s hope of a satisfying career doesn’t depend on her not having children while she’s climbing the work ladder (and, incidentally, is most fertile),” Gregory wrote to me.
“Fine if she wants to wait, but not fine if she’s forced to when she feels otherwise ready for family. Delay into their thirties and forties has served many — women and men — as a shadow benefits system, a workaround in a family-unfriendly world. But it’s not the goal in itself.
“The good news is we can make change. And that’s because so many women have waited already. By delaying their kids by a little or a lot, those first waves of contracepting women and men post birth control blazed the trail through the old status quo to get women educated and established at work, and to get our voices heard for the first time in human history, in business, in government and in society. Hallelujah! Delay was the stepping stone.
“Millions of educated women with clout, bank accounts of their own, and the vote are now poised to just say “forgettaboutit” to the view that only rich kids deserve a good education and health care (the system we’re working with now) and to a whole lot more in our world that doesn’t make sense for women or kids, and that we had small say in constructing.
“The downside to delay of family that we’ve heard most about to date is age-based infertility — which kicks in increasingly as women reach their late thirties and early forties. But many women do have families later, often very happy ones.
“The problems Aronowitz and D’Arcy emphasize come even later — after the new family has arrived, when the old family that you’ve taken for granted all along starts needing extra care and eventually dying. Or further down the line, when kids of the first generations of later parents have to start caring for their parents even before they have kids of their own.
“These are big problems, but they are small potatoes next to the woes that contraception has addressed and that the first generations’ delay can remedy.
“Not to ignore the pains of infertility or elder-care struggles or of not being able to consult with our moms about childrearing. Rather to use that pain and the portent of such pain to bring the upcoming generation of young women out in the street banging the drums for change — with the older generations by their sides singing the chorus.
“Time to stop punishing women for having kids and then blaming them when they don’t. All the later moms, all the contracepting boomer women, this is our moment to share the wealth we’ve enjoyed, a wealth not just of cash but of heretofore unknown opportunity, with the younger women. To hand down not just a new set of problems, but a new set of solutions. And it is time for the younger women to use the new status we’ve earned to demand those solutions:Fair wages. Good affordable childcare for all. Equal representation. Equal education regardless of local property tax base. A national elder care network. Jobs engines all.
“Stop taking ‘unrealistic’ or ‘wait until we have a woman president’ for an answer, and make it so.
“We can do it! Just as our mothers and grandmothers did when called to action in decades past. We just have to know our own strength, and use it collectively. “
What do you think? Is the increasing trend to delay childbirth a symptom of a political system that isn’t recognizing the needs of parents?
If so, what steps can we take together to change it?