More women are choos­ing to de­lay moth­er­hood

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOSH DULANEY Staff Writer jdu­laney@oklahoman.com

As some of her friends and peers are at­tend­ing high school and col­lege grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies for their chil­dren, Ali­cia Cur­rin-Moore of Ok­la­homa City is hap­pily wran­gling her two young sons.

Ev­ery­thing has gone ac­cord­ing to plan so far for the 45-year-old le­gal an­a­lyst, who had her first baby at age 35.

“In wait­ing, I was a more grounded per­son,” she said. “I wanted to have chil­dren af­ter I was mar­ried, and I didn’t get mar­ried un­til later in life, be­cause I was wait­ing for the per­fect per­son, who is my cur­rent hus­band. I went to col­lege and worked. There was a pe­riod of time when I wasn’t in­ter­ested in get­ting mar­ried. I think it was want­ing to en­joy life a lit­tle bit.”

Cur­rin-Moore is among the grow­ing trend of women who have or will wait later in life to have their first child.

The me­dian age of new moth­ers in the U.S. is 26 years old, com­pared to 23 in 1994, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

In part, the change is due to declines in births to teens. But Pew re­searchers point to other fac­tors as well.

“The Great Re­ces­sion in­ten­si­fied this shift to­ward later moth­er­hood, which has been driven in the longer term by in­creases in ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment and women’s la­bor force par­tic­i­pa­tion, as well as de­lays in mar­riage,” says Gretchen Liv­ingston, se­nior re­searcher. “Given these so­cial and

cul­tural shifts, it seems likely that the post­pone­ment of child­bear­ing will con­tinue.”

In an­a­lyz­ing cen­sus data, Pew also re­ported that the share of U.S. women at the end of their child­bear­ing years who have ever given birth was higher in 2016 than it had been 10 years ear­lier, with 86 per­cent of women ages 40 to 44 be­ing moth­ers, com­pared with 80 per­cent in 2006.

Women are also hav­ing more chil­dren. Over­all, women have 2.07 chil­dren dur­ing their lives on av­er­age, which is up from 1.86 in 2006, the low­est num­ber on record, Pew re­ports.

Fam­ily size has grown among moth­ers, as well. In 2016, moth­ers at the end of their child­bear­ing years had had about 2.42 chil­dren, com­pared with a low of 2.31 in 2008, ac­cord­ing to Pew.

Cur­rin-Moore, who con­trib­utes to the Ok­la­homa City Moms Blog, may have been a trend­set­ter. In 2016, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion re­ported that the birthrate for women ages 30 to 34 eclipsed that of those ages 25 to 29.

The birthrate for women ages 30 to 34 was about 103 per 1,000. The rate for women ages 25 to 29 was 102 per 1,000.

Be­com­ing a mother at an older age has led to in­ter­est­ing din­ner talks for Cur­rin-Moore, who is a for­mer teacher, and her sons.

One of them came home from school and men­tioned his class was asked to talk to their par­ents about where they were dur­ing the Ok­la­homa City bomb­ing. Cur­rin-Moore told her son she was teach­ing kinder­garten, pro­tect­ing her stu­dents against what many feared would be more at­tacks.

“He came back the next day and said most of friends’ moms were in mid­dle school,” Cur­rinMoore said.

Pros and cons

Ex­perts say there can be ben­e­fits to wait­ing later to start a fam­ily, es­pe­cially when both part­ners are es­tab­lished in their ca­reers.

In those in­stances, the fam­ily fi­nances are sta­ble, which pro­vides a good foun­da­tion for child-rear­ing.

“There’s not one right way to do it, but what peo­ple need to un­der­stand is we have a so­ci­ety that sets us up to think we can have it all,” said Nathan Hardy, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Fam­ily Ser­vices at Ok­la­homa State Univer­sity. “Many fam­i­lies are sur­prised by the nu­mer­ous chal­lenges that come with hav­ing chil­dren later in life. You want a ca­reer and you want chil­dren, and those ex­pec­ta­tions are not al­ways cleanly met.”

In ad­di­tion to the health risk, women who put off hav­ing chil­dren un­til later face psy­cho­log­i­cal chal­lenges, in­clud­ing re­gret over not start­ing sooner, whether they are putting their ca­reers ahead of their kids, and watch­ing their peers ap­proach the empty-nest part of their lives, Hardy said.

For older first-time moth­ers who want to re­main in the work­force, jug­gling child care and work, ne­go­ti­at­ing do­mes­tic roles with their hus­bands, and sim­ply hav­ing the en­ergy to keep up with their chil­dren can be a daunt­ing task.

“Of­ten times they are at the peak of their ca­reers and deal­ing with teenagers at the same time,” Hardy said. “Most peo­ple come to de­cide they can’t do it all, and they have to make a choice. Some de­cide their ca­reer days are over, and that tran­si­tion can be hard, go­ing from a ca­reer to be­com­ing a full-time mother.”

Older first-time moth­ers who are still work­ing gen­er­ally fare bet­ter when ex­tended fam­ily is avail­able to pro­vide child care and other sup­port, Hardy said.

“But some­times their par­ents are also old and can strug­gle with help­ing out,” he said. “They are older par­ents who al­ready strug­gled rais­ing young chil­dren them­selves, and are now grand­par­ents who are older. It’s some­thing to watch out for, es­pe­cially as this be­comes the norm. It can be a big prob­lem.”

In Ok­la­homa, the teen birthrate re­mains among the high­est in the na­tion. The same holds true for birthrates at age 20 to 24, where only Ar­kan­sas and Mis­sis­sippi have higher birthrates.

Brit­tni Brown, a Moore res­i­dent, was among her peers across the coun­try who waited un­til 26 to have her first child, a daugh­ter. She’s preg­nant with her sec­ond.

Brown grad­u­ated and mar­ried four months later. The hon­ey­moon pro­duced the first kid. Brown said 26 was the per­fect age for her to start hav­ing chil­dren.

“I al­ways thought I would have kids younger,” she said. “I am happy that I will be 44 when my child is 18 and grad­u­at­ing. I will still feel young. I’m glad my par­ents will have grand­chil­dren while still young, and be ac­tive and watch them grow up.”

The old stereo­type of par­ents push­ing their chil­dren to have their grand­kids is still around, but not as much as it used to be, Brown said. She never felt that pres­sure from her folks.

In­stead, she’s formed the fam­ily she al­ways wanted, when she wanted. Brown’s hus­band works in out­side sales. She blogs for the OKC Moms web­site.

“I al­ways wanted to be a stay-at-home mom,” Brown said. “I’m thank­ful for that.”

[PHOTO BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN]

Ali­cia Cur­rin-Moore jokes with her sons, Ma­son, 10, left, and Myles, 9, on April 6 in the OPUBCO Stu­dio in Ok­la­homa City.

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