This story is dedicated to all the older parents out there...
A study out of Denmark that tracked 4,741 mothers ranging from 17 to 47 years old, found that those who'd waited until later in life to have children were more likely to create an environment that led to happier and more successful children.
Specifically, the study found that parents who had reached "older maternal age," which was defined variably but appears to mean becoming a parent in the 30s or 40s, were less likely to yell at their children or impose physical punishment than younger parents.
That, in turn, led to "improved psychosocial health in families beyond the preschool years," and "fewer behavioral, social and emotional difficulties in children at age 7 and at age 11."
The older mom advantage
In fairness, the effect tended to wear off by the time children turned 15. However, you'll note that a 17-year-old who becomes a mother would be 32 when the child turned 15.
So it's unclear whether the "older mom advantage" disappears later in life, or whether it's a factor of younger moms simply becoming older moms themselves. Also, teenagers amirite?
None of this is really a surprise. As the researchers noted:
With a few notable exceptions, empirical studies generally find adaptive benefits of older maternal age when examining psychosocial aspects of the transition to parenthood, such as lower levels of pregnancy worry, more positive affect toward parenting, and more positive parenting behaviors.
(I removed the scholarly citations, because who are we kidding? But you can find the whole thing here.)
Most moms? Over 30
As my colleague Julie Scagell pointed out in an article on the study on Scary Mommy, "Women have historically been told getting pregnant later in life is going to be harder on us and our babies. We get the proverbial 'clock is ticking' conversation from our great aunt at the family reunion -- a reminder that we, and our eggs, aren't getting any younger."
Much like in the United States, however, the researchers pointed out that older moms are more of a norm now they then were not long ago. The majority of first-time Danish moms are over 30, and there are four times as many first-time 40-year-old moms as there were in 1985.
For all these benefits however, as an older dad myself, allow me to testify that being an older mom is no cakewalk. We can start with all the terms that OB-GYNs use ("advanced maternal age" and "geriatric pregnancy," to start with, which almost seems like they're going out of their way to be mean).And then add to it that when you become a parent in your 40s, all the little physical aches and pains that come with being an adult simply hurt a little bit more.
Between sleep deprivation and natural hypochondria, I was convinced last year that a recurring pain in my arm was probably cancer, until my doctor pointed out, no that's because you always carry your 20-pound daughter on your left side.
But the study makes sense, if only for the fact that most of us mellow out a bit as we get older. Things simply don't bother us as much as they did when we were younger, and maybe we're a little less likely to freak out or overreact to the daily crises of parenting.
And it turns out, that's good for our kids.