In a previous article, we briefly discussed possible physical/emotional advantages and disadvantages of pregnancies after the age of 35 since reports indicate that first-time parents of the 2000s are older compared to the past generations. As the clinicians and psychologists continue researching the implications of late parenthood, there is another question that requires answers: how is late parenthood affecting children’s development?
Starting from a medical standpoint, women who choose to undergo treatments in order to become pregnant after the age of 30, may expose the baby to the risk of developing neurological disorders such as autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). In fact, clinical data indicate that 8.3% children born as a result of IVF presented birth defects. This may occur as a result of the artificial reproductive technology as well as the quality of the eggs. Interestingly though, a recent Swedish study suggests that old fathers (and not mothers) pass on longer telomeres (essential parts of human cells that affect how our cells age) to their children, which increases the longevity of the offspring.
Nevertheless, the emotional aspect of growing up with old parents is often overlooked and therefore, little is known about the psycho-social implications of it. While there is no clear psychological understanding to which extent children may be emotionally affected by parents’ age, we found adults who shared their stories of growing up with old parents.
As such, Kaitlyn Wylde on Bustle.com recalls that as a young child she felt “embarrassed, ashamed, and envious” of her friends, whose parents were more active and more involved in the outdoor activities. Additional to those emotions, she was also resentful that her parents or family gatherings were different and somehow in smaller numbers compared to her playmates. However, as she grew older she realised that her parents were not stressed about financial aspects or career struggles as her friends’ parents and therefore, she felt blessed to receive more quality time and attention as a child. Yet, this sense of gratitude is overshadowed by the fear of not having her parents at her wedding, not seeing her parents enjoying the status of grandparents or watching her professionally developing.
Similarly, Anne L. Hogue-Boucher whose parents were in their early 40s when they had her, considers that the downside of growing with old parents is not having them around when you accomplish great things, not receiving support when you are in trouble or not having the opportunity to simply just hang out and have fun. On the other hand, same as Kaitlyn, Anne believes that she was lucky to have old parents as they instilled her many core values and maturity through invaluable lessons and precious moments.
While it would be wrong assuming that children with old parents are more likely to experience depressive episodes as adults, it is highly necessary to recognise the long-term effects on the emotional and social skills. As noticed in both stories, the fear of losing their parents seems to be a constant feeling as well as the regret of not being able to share precious moments/milestones. In association with these descriptions, few studies have identified that adolescents of old parents are more likely to present poorer social and emotional functioning. As scientific results are still not offering a clear understanding, it could be assumed that one of the plausible causes of such disadvantage is the reduced parental involvement. In fact, data suggest that children with highly involved parents had enhanced social functioning and fewer behaviour problems.
Certainly, the complexity of the subject deserves more attention and further research in order to identify the effects of late parenthood on all the parts involved.
The purpose of the article is not to dishearten couples or individuals who for various reasons have chosen to postpone parenthood, yet it is highly necessary to be aware of both pros and cons of the experience. Parenthood is a life-changing experience on so many levels and like every other aspect of our lives, it should be beneficial, joyful and positive.