My children have an ongoing ritual at dinnertime. Even though they know the answer, the question is always the same.
“Mommy, how old are you?”
“You know how old I am.” I reply.
“Are you 25? 36? 42? 58? 100?”
It is possible that I tell them that I’m 25.
As a twelve-year-old kid I remember thinking, “My mom is old” (sorry mom)! In my tween defense, my best friend’s mom was young. Really young. As in, had her when she was 16 years old, young. Fast forward a few years and I did not have my first child until I was 35. I was almost 5 years older than my mom was when she had me, the baby of the family. Who’s the old mom now?
While I know that it is important to embrace and celebrate the wisdom, patience and yes, even the wrinkles, that age brings, I’m not going to lie. I do have fleeting moments when I wish that I had my kids when I was younger. I long for the energy that I had in my twenties as I try (and fail) to catch my 8-year-old when playing tag. I miss being able to pull an all-nighter and still function as a normal human being the next day.
But now, according to a new study published in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology, my children and I have reason to appreciate that I am an “older mom.” Researchers at the Aarhus University in Denmark found that older moms tend to discipline more gently than their younger counterparts, and their children are better for it.
The study of 4741 Danish mothers analyzed data obtained through face-to-face interviews and self-report questionnaires when their children were 7, 11 and 15 years of age. The psychologists involved concluded that, “Older maternal age was associated with less frequent use of verbal and physical sanctions towards children at age 7 and 11.” By age 15 they found that the “association remained significant for” scolding but not for physical discipline.
This more gentle and positive parenting approach has a direct impact on the well-being of the children. Being raised in an environment with less yelling and less harsh punishment results in happier, more stable children. Researchers discovered that 7 and 11-year-old children with older mothers have “fewer behavioral, social and emotional difficulties.” This however, did not translate into the teenage years.
The study controlled for factors such as education, income, financial and relationship stability and attributed the results to the psychological maturity that comes with age.
In a press release to the Science Daily, study author Dion Sommer gave some explanation for the results.
“We know that people become more mentally flexible with age, are more tolerant of other people, and thrive better emotionally themselves.”
He went on to say, “This style of parenting can thereby contribute to a positive psychosocial environment which affects the children’s upbringing.”
Couple this research with previous studies on the benefits of having children later in life and it would seem that being an older mom is not all bad. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that older moms are more likely to live to be 90. Another study conducted by the London School of Economics concluded that children born to older women were taller (a measure of overall health), smarter, and more likely to go to university. Other research has shown that older mothers have healthier children, with better language development and with fewer emotional and social issues.
While this is good news for all the women who have, or who will be having, their kids at an advanced maternal age, it does not negate that there are still serious health risks that can occur in later life pregnancies. Older women are more likely to suffer miscarriages, high-risk pregnancies, premature births and a higher rate of birth defects.
Just like with most things in life there are pros and cons to when you choose to have children. It is also true that good mothers with happy, well-adjusted children, can be found at any age.