GUEST BLOG POST: The Later Mom Paradox: Grateful To Have Kids, But...by Holly Sklar
Because of the way I became a mom later in life – via IVF after several miscarriages – I count myself lucky to have kids at all. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a deeper longing than the one I had to be a parent. After each setback my husband and I experienced in our quest for kids, I became more determined to create a family, somehow or other. Had my IVF not been successful, I probably would have gone down the road to adoption. I would have been full of gratitude to have gotten one healthy child, but I wound up with twins, a boy and a girl. I often say I hit the jackpot. Despite the grief and pain along the way, the wait was worth it.
I might have had children earlier in life, but I didn’t start dating my husband until my thirty-fifth birthday. We moved in together about a year later, and by the time we got engaged, planned a wedding, actually got hitched, went on a honeymoon, and decided we were ready to try to start a family, I was just shy of 38. My only successful pregnancy began three years later, and I’d hit forty-one by the day I gave birth.
All this preamble to parenthood made me appreciate finally getting there in a different way than I might have if I’d done so earlier in life. So does having lost both of my parents before my children arrived. One of the unfortunate circumstances that sometimes comes with being a Later Mom is that sharing the kids with your own parents may not happen. A lot of my Later Mom friends have lost one parent; very few have lost both. My kids only have one set of grandparents – my in-laws. I’ve made sure to foster a close bond between my kids and the grandparents they do have. I’m grateful for my in-laws, and at the same time, wistful about what my kids are missing, as well as what my parents missed.
Not having my parents around has made me a somewhat different parent than I might have been otherwise. I feel an obligation to do the sorts of things with my kids that my parents did with my brother and me. Some of those are big things, like taking them to Muir Woods last Thanksgiving to instill an appreciation of nature and the grandeur of something bigger, older, and longer-lasting than ourselves. Some of them are smaller, like taking them out for Chinese food in downtown L.A. because my parents took my brother and I to Chinese restaurants every Sunday night on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Like my mom, I take the kids to museums and street fairs and cultural festivals; I take them to baseball games because that was something I shared with my dad. I savor this stuff, I notice it as it happens; on these excursions, I try hard to be in the moment, because I’m overly aware that the moments don’t last.
And even though my gratitude at getting to be a parent is great, I resent the loss of personal time I've experienced since becoming a parent. I had a life before I had kids. I was more wrapped up in my career, and tried to do some very ambitious things (e.g., I wrote, sold and had optioned several screenplays, but have no time for that now). I traveled more for pleasure. I would meet friends across town to hear live music, try a new restaurant, go on a hike or a bike ride. And I’d often do so on the spur of the moment. I tried cooking new recipes for myself and my husband on a regular basis; it was a fun and tasty hobby. My husband and I didn’t have to make official date nights; we just went out. We splurged on theater tickets or concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. We stayed out later. We hosted parties and barbecues at home for friends. We also gave each other space to read books, write creatively, just go out for a walk. We had a great sense of our potential: the world was before us. And when we needed quiet, we could find it at home. Down time, time alone – we had it more than we knew.
Now, well, you know the drill. We’re lucky to manage a couple of date nights a month, when we can get a sitter. We drop way more money on those dates because we’re paying for the sitter. It’s only quiet at home when the kids are asleep, and we’re too damn tired, between work and parenting, to do much creative even when there is quiet. We cook mostly what the kids will eat – they’re picky – instead of new, adventurous dishes. I rarely meet a friend for a hike, and it often takes a dozen emails between us to coordinate. Forget biking: my bike’s tires have been flat since the kids were born. Live music or theater requires a big commitment, and even if we make it, there’s no guarantee we won’t have to sell those Springsteen tickets because someone has inconveniently come down with stomach flu. I don’t know what down time is: there’s always something to do for the kids or around the house in the rare moments when I’m not working or sleeping. As for time alone -- what’s that?
Even though my kids don’t conspire to deprive me of all the things I miss about my pre-kids life, the fact is, their very existence means I don’t get to do many of those things – at least not while my kids are still small. I know I shouldn’t resent them. It’s contradictory: I just wrote here about why I’m so grateful for them, and how much I appreciate having them at all. But there it is. I am not just grateful mom, I’m also cranky, pissed off mom, because mom has to “do” for everyone else, and has little to no time to do anything for mom.
Maybe all moms, Later Moms or not, feel this strange combination of gratitude and resentment at times. But Later Moms sure know what we’re missing, having been childless longer. I know the solution is a little more me time. What parenting expert doesn’t recommend that? They all say you’ll be a better parent if you get some time to yourself. But they never say how you’re supposed to get it.
I’ll never regret having had kids. I adore them when they’re not being impossible, and I’m willing to put up with them when they are. They fact that they’re even here is nothing short of a biological miracle. My appreciation of them ultimately outweighs my resentment. But I also understand why, in last year’s movie DATE NIGHT, the Tina Fey character described her ideal fantasy as being alone in a quiet hotel room with a magazine and a Fresca. Right on.
Holly Sklar married at 37, got pregnant with twins at 40, and thus became a late-blooming mom. A movie studio story analyst , she attempts to work, nurture the kids and the marriage, and writes in the cracks in between. She is a member of the Los Angeles chapter of Motherhood Later and blogs at www.latebloomingmom.com.