My eldest son, who was born six weeks after my 28th birthday, is now as old as I was when pregnant with him. The inner workings of my body had hijacked my brain that year, compelled me to reproduce and then, once I’d given birth, evaporated. I suddenly could not recall why I’d felt such urgency to start a family before I was 30.
Partly a reflection of generational changes, along with individual choices, my parents were much younger — 19 and 20 — when they had me, their first child. In comparison, my three eldest sons, all in their 20s, are nowhere close to becoming parents, reflecting yet more generational shifts and personal decisions.
It’s also possible I messed up my chances of ever becoming a grandparent when I gave birth to my fourth and fifth children at ages 44 and 46. My boys were 16, 13 and 9 when their next sibling, another brother, was born. All were old enough to help out and thus learned just how much work babies require.
The first several years after the births of my last two children, the house was full of teens, tweens and tots. The big boys became naturals with their younger siblings, tending to them often without direction or even much thought. In fact, I sometimes had to tell my third son to back down and let me do the parenting.
Those early years I also tried to replicate aspects of the older boys’ childhoods, including summer vacations, schooling and holiday traditions, with my littlest two. I wanted them all to share some collective memories so that the fourth and fifth children would be co-equal siblings with the first three.
After a few years, I realized these efforts were unnecessary.
No, the younger children do not have the same relationship with their older brothers as those three do with one another. But all five have a sibling relationship of their own that is equally embraced and secure.
And when the big boys began heading off to college, one or two always remained in Akron. My eldest graduated from the University of Michigan and moved back home three years before my third son matriculated at Ohio State University.
The differences between being a mom in my 30s versus my 50s weren’t obvious when my household included young adults. My youngest two children are lucky to have had five people raising them. It was a noisy, full home and mostly a lot of fun.
But suddenly, just after we’d all hunkered together during the COVID shut down, everything changed. I raise my children to be independent, work hard and chase after their dreams. And by golly, if nothing else, that portion of my parenting has been an overwhelming success.
The summer of 2020, I separated from my youngest children’s father just as the last of my first three moved far from Akron. My two littles now live with just one adult at a time as their dad and I alternate custodial weeks.
My energy, or lack thereof, is the primary difference I have observed as an older mom now alone with young children. This is not necessarily bad — Elsa from “Frozen” could come to me for a few lessons on how to let it go. It also means I’m less gung-ho about monitoring the completion of homework and chores.
I never overbooked my first three kids. Children need downtime and I have always needed to pursue goals beyond parenting. That said, I plan even fewer lessons, sports or activities with my youngest two children, and they generally entertain themselves. At 55 I’m not quite a free-range parent, but I’m also not far from it.
Other things, however, remain constant: my home is video-game free and we don’t watch TV on school nights. And when my youngest son complains of boredom or won’t leave me alone when I’m working, I give him additional chores — a deterrent as powerful as it ever was.
I’ve mulled over whether I’m as good a parent to the younger two as I was with the eldest three. I’ve decided it’s a false comparison. I’m a different mother today because I’m a different person than I was 20 years ago.
While my 30-something self was a more hands-on parent, one approach isn’t necessarily better than the other. I also remind myself that most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were youngest children, which is to say they did well enough.
Meanwhile, my attentions, however scant, to my bumper-crop kids take some of the pressure off of my eldest three to hurry up and give me grandchildren. For now.
This column was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on October 3, 2021.