Once upon a time, getting married and starting a family in your 20s was the norm, but these days people are choosing to have children much later in life – especially men. (The number of men having children over 50 has risen by almost two-thirds in the past 16 years, according to the Office for National Statistics.)
This means the number of teenagers with fathers collecting their pensions will shoot up. But what’s it like to be a pensioner with young children? Or indeed to grow up as the child of a much older parent? We asked our readers to share their experiences.
Kate: ‘I was always anticipating my dad’s death’
Kate is 28 now and her dad was 58 when she was born
I was the youngest child of his second marriage with my mum, who was much younger. Despite his age and being from a totally different generation, he was very contemporary in his views and very worldly wise. I miss my consultations with him dearly.
My dad never had great health and for as long as I can remember I have always expected him to die. He had breathing problems from working in smoky clubs and developed cancer in later life. I never remember getting annoyed that he was unable to go on rollercoasters or go swimming with me when I was younger but I do remember getting frustrated as he got older (I was in my early 20s) and became forgetful and repeated himself – all of which I now feel immense guilt for.
I called ambulances and attended him in hospital countless times and he fought a tough battle. It was hard to lose a parent when I was young, although I think it’s difficult whatever age you are. He went three years ago next month. I say “went” because I think he’d had enough. He signed his “do not resuscitate” order, I have a lot of respect for that. Because I’d spent my entire life anticipating his death I coped well. I remember getting the call to go to the hospital and seemingly taking it all in my stride. But that isn’t to say I didn’t hurt. I still do.
Vicky: ‘With age comes financial security, a huge benefit’
Vicky is 17 and her father was 49 when she was born. Her mother was 28
Growing up I thought my dad was pretty young, he has aged really well and until I was about 12 I believed he was in his early 30s. I felt really shocked when I realised he wasn’t as young as the other dads. For a few months directly after I would cry at night because I thought he was going to die soon.
But, despite the fact he’s older, he still acts like a child sometimes, and I don’t think age has made much difference. I suppose the generation gap means our values and beliefs can differ (it took a while explaining the LGBTQ+ acronym) which can cause tension and confusion, but a happy medium can always be reached. It’s pretty fascinating hearing him talk about the first vinyls he bought and the deceased celebrities he saw play live too.
Growing up I’d say we did more things together than the average family. With age comes financial security which is a huge benefit. He retired a year after I was born, and my mum works part-time so I was lucky enough to go skiing several times and to visit places like Egypt and China. How many teenagers can say they’ve done that with both their parents?
Silvette: ‘Sometimes I worry about the years ahead’
Silvette is now 49 and she had her son when she was 44
I don’t think my age does, or will affect my relationship with my child. Being an older mother does have its disadvantages: for example, sometimes I get tired more quickly and I worry about how many years there are ahead. Sometimes I even worry whether I as an elderly person, and he as a teenager, will be able to understand and live well with each other. Nevertheless, I don’t allow such disadvantages to overcome the desire to provide as much love and attention as possible to John.
I am more attached to the positives, which include that it keeps me young. Also, maturity has given me the understanding that my child’s needs must always come first. I no longer think as I did when I was younger and still travelling or exploring the world. I am finding motherhood a lovely and unique experience. It’s not only because I am a mature mother, or that it has happened only in my 40s, but also because I have never had to experience such an amount of love for someone at same time as the fear of losing him.
Anonymous: ‘Caring for my elderly parent is costing me my life’
Aged 30, with a father who had them at 56 (their mother was 32)
Having an older parent does give you a unique perspective on history, and an early lesson in mortality and compassion as you see your aunts and uncles, your dad’s cousins and friends at the end of their lives (I’ve attended far, far more funerals than weddings in my lifetime, and medical frailty doesn’t freak me out at all). I feel horrible about even thinking that.
But now having one elderly parent, and loving them and supporting them, is coming awfully close to costing me my own family and career. I tell myself, you are the “sandwich” generation with your career, spouse, school-aged kids and elderly parents, and you should quit your idiotic complaining: you have it all. That is my perspective. I love my mum and dad, but I do not think that becoming a parent in your 40s or 50s should be undertaken lightly or without significant planning and realistic forethought.
Phil: ‘My son is now 11 and he is my best mate’
Phil is now 62 years old and had his son at 51
My first wife had died after some years and that’s when I met Daniel’s mother, and we got married. We also decided that we would like to have a child, only the one. My wife was 41 when Daniel was born and I was 51.
My son is now 11 and he is my best mate. He was born in Spain but he is very proud that his dad is English and he always describes himself as Spanglish. He speaks English with a Scouse accent, like me, and when we visit England he mixes seamlessly with other English kids.
I was already retired when Daniel was born and as I am an “amo de casa” (house husband) I have lots of time to spend with him and we do lots of things together. I don’t think I would have had the patience when I was younger, although he was my first and only child. The downside, of course, is that he will not have me as long as I have had my parents who are both still alive. So we try to do as much as we can now while I still can. Last summer, for example, I accompanied him on all the water slides at Siam Park in Tenerife and, believe me, I’m still suffering.
I can’t really remember now a time when my son was not in my life and he never ceases to amaze me. He is the love of my life. I never worried about having a child later in life, since now I have more patience and more time to spend with him.
Anonymous: ‘I won’t know my daughter in her middle age’
Aged 63 and had their first child at 52
My daughter, now 10, is very aware that I am as old or older than her friends’ grandparents. She also occasionally gets upset at the thought of my dying before she reaches adulthood. On the other hand, there’s a connection between us that I don’t think would have been possible if I were 20 or 30 years younger. It’s hard to define but it’s an easy, joking friendship that I don’t think I would have been able to nurture had I not had the perspective of my years. The disadvantage is mainly that I probably won’t know my daughter in her middle age. I’d love to see how she turns out but that probably won’t be the case.