The debate: Should you wait to have kids?

Two parents face off on the topic of when it's the right time to become a parent.

older-younger-mom

Illustration: Miki Sato

“Yes, you should wait to have kids”
Jason McBride, father of one

I was voted Best Future Parent in my high-school yearbook. A dubious honour, perhaps (especially when you’re 17), but it’s something I was inordinately proud of: I loved kids, had always been good with them, and was looking forward to having my own. I was pretty sure, however, that this future family was quite a ways off. In the ambitious, if amorphous, life plan I drew up for myself, I would first travel the world as a swashbuckling foreign correspondent, write a novel or two, and then start a family. I estimated I’d be about 30 when I had my first child, which, back then, seemed ancient.

Turns out, I was about 13 years off. My wife and I had our first child, a son, when I was 43. I’d like to say that postponing fatherhood was a decision made carefully and deliberately, but I’ve been a late bloomer in many areas of life, and frankly, it just took a really long time for me to meet someone who I loved enough to have kids with. (I never did become a foreign correspondent, by the way. I did eventually become a journalist, and I’m still working on those novels.)

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Knowing what I know now, though, I’m confident that waiting to have kids was absolutely the right choice. Like many men of my generation – you’ve seen the Judd Apatow movies — I was a bit slow to grow up. I’m not sure I had the maturity to be a father at the age of 30, and I would venture that a lot of guys, for better or worse, are in the same perpetual-adolescent phase: too self-involved, too unreliable, too happy playing video games in pot-smoke-filled basement apartments. Man-boys can make for fun babysitters, but fatherhood requires a true acceptance and desire for responsibility and commitment. I know a fair number of “old dads” now, and they, more so than the guys who had kids younger, really want to be fathers. They embrace the role with a convert’s zeal.

Delaying fatherhood also permits time to indulge in the kinds of experiences – travelling the world, building a career, exploring various romantic relationships – that can make you a better, wiser and more interesting parent. You might move more slowly than the other dads on the playground, but you’ll be able to tell much better stories around the campfire.

“No, you shouldn’t wait to have kids”
Emily Dimmell, mother of four

In my pre-adulthood master plan, I was convinced I could find a husband, become a veterinarian (somehow without any science or math skills), build a career and have my first baby by 26. I wanted at least three before I turned 30. In reality, I had my first baby at 23. I soon married my then-boyfriend, but I didn’t become a veterinarian — I became a work-at-home mom. By the time I was 28, we had four kids. Crazy? Perhaps. Regrets? Absolutely none.

Sure, before our first child was born, we were scared. But the moment my son was placed on my chest, it made total sense. We just clicked, like two pieces of a puzzle. It was truly fate for me to become his mother. We recently celebrated our little guy’s seventh birthday, and our youngest is two.

Why waste your prime child-bearing years while you waffle back and forth, wondering when to have kids? I knew what I wanted, so I made it happen.

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I also don’t think you need to be established or well off to raise a family. We started out on a tight budget, but that means we taught our children how to save at the grocery store, and that we’re never above shopping consignment. They don’t get everything they want, and that’s a good thing.

As a twentysomething mom, my body bounced back from pregnancy and childbirth. I have the energy of a teenager, whether I’m out late with my girlfriends or changing diapers and sheets in the middle of the night. I’m always up early the next day, full of spark and ambition. We go for bike rides and hold dance parties in the living room before 8 a.m. You’d be amazed at how much fun we have before morning naptime.

I don’t feel like my husband and I missed out on our youth, and the fact that I’m a young mother of four does not define my existence. I still have my own “when I grow up” dreams. Kids need to know their parents still have passion and drive, and to see us work hard to achieve our goals.

Another advantage is the ability to enjoy our future grandchildren. (I could be a grandma by the time I’m 45!) My husband and I look forward to being fortysomething empty nesters, still in love and trying new adventures.

A version of this article appeared in our November 2013 issue with the headline “Should you wait to have kids,” p. 138.

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