Goldilocks and the three mothers

This one's too young, this one's too old ... but which one is just right?


Catherine Price
January 16, 2008 12:45AM (UTC)

I have a question: When, exactly, is the right time to get pregnant? I ask because from what I can tell from the news these days, there isn't one. We've got Jamie Lynn Spears making headlines for being pregnant at 16, and Nicole Kidman with a bun in the oven at 40. And now today's Washington Post has a long article about the challenges of being pregnant in your 20s.

Or, to be more specific, it's a piece about college-educated women having kids before their friends (most of whom apparently are popping out their offspring in their early 30s). What strikes me as odd about this article is the reversal it represents from my parents' generation -- when my mother had me at 36, she was definitely on the older side. I imagine she had moments of feeling as if she was being stared at by the 20-something moms in Central Park, just as the main character in the Post's story, a 27-year-old woman named Erin Rexroth, says she wonders if the women at her son's day-care center think she's his baby sitter.

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Some statistics pointed out by the piece are interesting -- like, for example, that "in metro areas nationwide, including cities and suburbs, 13 percent of men and 31 percent of women ages 25 to 29 with four-year college degrees have had children," according to 2000-06 social survey data, while 49 percent of men and 62 percent of women in the same age group with less education have had kids. But with that said, many of the difficulties encountered by the Post's interviewees don't really seem to have much to do with their ages -- they have to do with the challenges any parents would face, like finding childcare, not getting enough sleep, not being able to travel at the drop of a hat, feeling isolated from childless peers and having difficulty balancing career aspirations with their roles as parents. And other challenges -- like timing your children so that they're old enough to sleep through the night by the time you make partner at your law firm -- seem to have more to do with socioeconomic status and education levels than age itself.

I think what gets me about articles like this is that, by obsessing over how old the parents are, they make us lose sight of the fact that parenting is difficult at any age. Instead of discussing the differences between getting pregnant when you're 28 and 31, wouldn't it be more productive to write about efforts to make childcare more accessible? Or companies that are trying to create more parent-friendly workplaces? Those are improvements parents would appreciate, regardless of how old they were.


Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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