I remember the day I announced to my two best friends that I was having a kid. It was two weeks shy of my 26th birthday, and they were the first people I was going to after my husband, even before my mother. As I don’t have any real ones, they were always like the sisters I never had, and I wanted to have a moment of pure joy with them before I was overridden with tears and logistical planning from my mother. I asked them out to dinner at our favorite Thai place, and by the time I said “no” when the waiter asked if I wanted a glass for the bottle of wine, they knew. As the good news rolled out, I watched their faces go from “confused” to concerned” to “falsely happy.” They plastered on smiles and I raised my glass of Diet Coke to toast with them.
“But… you’re so young,” one of them said. The other looked at her disapprovingly, as though she was giving away their secret, but I knew that they both felt the same way. In fact, there was something almost refreshing about the fact that they were so open about it.
The thing is, I am so young, but that’s part of the reason why having a child now was so important to me. My own mother, as wonderful as she is, did not have me until her late 30s. She was a career woman before that was even really a thing, and she didn’t put “having children” very high on her list of priorities until very late. After she had me — a complicated pregnancy and birth — she felt that she couldn’t have any more. She occasionally talks about regretting having just the one, but I know that she’s very happy. Because of her dedication to her work, she has a life of success and comfort, and she and my father are as much teammates as they are romantic partners. Her life is nothing to look down on.
But I know what it feels like to grow up with a mother who is much older, and very involved with her work. She wasn’t running around playing with me, both because she didn’t have a ton of energy and because she didn’t want to mess up her office clothes. At every milestone, she was amongst the oldest parents there, and people would occasionally ask if she was my grandmother. Now, at only 27, my mom is entering her late 60s and the fact that she won’t be around forever is very, very real.
Because I had my child young, she’s at the appropriate age to be a grandparent, but if I had waited as long as she did, she would be in her early 80s at his first birthday. She would have missed, well… possibly everything. And it’s not only important for me that my son has a rich life with multiple generations, but that she is not exhausted by spending an hour with him.
For myself, I want to be active, and full of life, and ready for every moment I have with him. I also want to be able to scale back on work for the first years of his life without feeling like I’ll be too old to get back into the groove of things when he’s in day care or school full time. I want this to be a part of my life that can fit in well with everything — and that I’ll have time for — rather than a moment that I save up until everything is “perfect” and arguably start too late.
Many of my girlfriends think that I’m missing out, that I’m selling myself short. But what they don’t understand, and what they might never understand, is that as much as you plan for and work on your professional life, creating the kind of home and family you want is a project you have to dedicate yourself to. I have been looking for a “serious” partner since I was 21, because I didn’t want to waste time with someone who didn’t want the same things. I agreed early on with my husband what we both wanted, and how much we were willing to dedicate to child-raising. I worked out with my mother how much she and my dad would want to take my kid. Every other weekend and occasionally for two week-long spans, they take him and it’s a great moment for both of us. It works out well, and I’m still able to go out and be the 20-something I was before. But, like anything in life, it takes work and patience and good planning.
I guess I just believe in getting an early start.