More women are deciding to hold off on having children until they are older and more stable in various areas of life (career, money, relationship), and this trend has caught the eye of a researcher at the University of Huddersfield. Kirsty Budds has been studying the topic of “delayed motherhood” and all the implications it has for older mothers.
According to a university press release, Budds suggests that having children later is not the “selfish choice” that it’s been made out to be. Her findings indicate that, contrary to what some may believe, that women are not necessarily choosing to be older mothers, they are not putting their careers before everything else, and they are not trying to put themselves and their children at risk for health problems.
“For a lot of women, it isn’t a selfish choice but is based around careful decisions, careful negotiations, and life circumstances, such as the right partner and the right financial position,” Budds stated in the press release. “These women are effectively responsibly trying to produce the best situation in which to have children, which is encouraged societally, but then they are chastised because they are giving birth when older, when it is more risky.”
She said the idea that older mothers face more of a health risk is changing; women used to be told that 35 the cutoff to ensure optimal health, but now they are hearing that they are probably safe having children up until their 40s.
Part of Budds’ research involved looking at newspaper articles that discussed the topic of delayed motherhood, and she found that many articles described older mothers as being selfish for choosing their careers over children. Other articles emphasized a “motherhood mandate,” where women are expected to put motherhood first before all other occupations. The media are struggling with the concept of women “having it all.”
When Budds interviewed older mothers, she found that most had experiences that were pretty similar to those of younger mothers.
Previous studies have also broached the topic of delayed motherhood. An article in the Daily Mail discusses a research study that states women who delay motherhood until after they’re settled in their careers are more at risk for postnatal depression. “Older mothers are more likely to ‘over-prepare’ for their first-born and struggle when things don’t go as planned,” according to the article.
Other articles and experts suggest delayed motherhood can be beneficial to mothers. Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author, wrote in a blog post for a leading psychology website that “40 is the new 20” for having children. She cites research that suggests older mothers tend to live longer, they’re more emotionally ready for motherhood, and they have a more stable marriage and support network. Older mothers are also more able to overcome challenges, be open to flexibility, be healthier and have healthier children, and avoid risky behaviors, which is linked to more education and stability.
Lisa Bahar, a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional clinical counselor, said she doesn’t necessarily think older mothers are stigmatized and the recipients of prejudice. It mainly depends on what the social norm is at the time, and how her close social community reacts.
“If it is a norm in her community, then the stigma may be less negative than if it is not the norm,” Bahar said in an email. “People will always have their opinions. It is really up to the mother to decide if she agrees with those opinions, and if she does not, then take an empowered step to make a choice that she is comfortable with. If she is truly honest with herself and is making a decision that is based on her own maternal, spiritual, relational, and personal choice, then she is more likely to be able to manage the effects of judgment and prejudice.”
Delayed motherhood may actually have uplifting mental health consequences for mothers. “The mental health aspect is likely to be more positive if the pregnancy is planned and it is something she wants,” Bahar said. “Her priorities will shift. It is wise, if she is delaying motherhood, to seek pre-pregnancy counseling to explore areas within herself that she will by definition of being a mother change. Preparation is psychological as well as physical. The more insight she has about the reality of bringing life into the world, and the natural maternal instincts that she may encounter as she shifts her priorities, are worth exploration.”
“I have observed that those mothers that delay having a child tend to be more satisfied than not, since they are making an empowered choice,” she added.
In the United States at least, it is becoming increasingly more common for mothers to wait until they are older to have children, which could help provide more support and understanding for delayed motherhood. “The stigma of motherhood and traditional family is shifting, and the normality of women delaying motherhood is a movement at this very time in our history,” Bahar said. “Therefore, it is really up to the mother to make an informed decision medically for herself and the child as she prepares to delay having children. Stigmas are lifted by a shift in norm.”
“If a mother feels that she would like to have a child later than sooner, then concerning herself with stigma is a set-up for judgment and expectation, which can bring much disappointment and resentment,” she added. “Therefore, the more consideration a woman makes as she decides this part of her life … it is wise to seek education and understanding about the effects of her choice to delay, which will set the foundation for more comfort with her decision versus the judgment of what other individuals or groups might feel.”
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