I was waiting on line at the drug store when a middle-aged woman (45? 48? 50?) walked in through the automatic doors toting a young toddler on her hip. The two 40-something women in front of me exchanged glances.
“Do you think she’s the mom or the Grandma?” one woman whispered.
“You can never tell these days,” replied the other. “It’s just wrong to have babies that old.” (She practically spit the word “wrong.”)
After I finished paying, I passed by that same mom-and-child duo standing on a different line. The child, maybe 2 years old, took the woman’s face in her hands — her tiny fingers wrapped in grey-streaked hair — and kissed her on her cheek. Then the other. They both giggled, exchanging I love yous and probably more kisses, as I walked out.
I don’t know if that woman was her mother. Or her grandmother. Or her aunt. Or her nannie. But it crosses people’s minds, doesn’t it? Probably more than we know, considering most of our judgments are bottled up in our heads, passing through so quickly and instinctively that we don’t even know they’re coming. Those two chatty women in the drug store had acted almost offended when whispering about the “older mom,” as if it directly affected their lives.
Although I’ve shared my opinion about purposefully getting pregnant at a much older age, I honestly don’t think that older mothers are lesser mothers. You might think that they have less energy, that they’re less healthy, that they have a shorter time to live, but unless you know those things about a particular mom, those assumptions make me cringe. These things might be true for a bulk of older moms, but there are absolutely exceptions. How do I know this? Because we’re exceptions.
Women silently judge you and assume that youth equals immaturity. That you don’t have the money to support a child, the wisdom to share with a child, the ambition to be successful. They assume that you were irresponsible, naive, reckless — possibly all three. Strangers think a young face means teen mom, and teen moms end up on welfare, jail or television. And even on a very basic level, your non-parent friends might slightly pity you for your lack of freedom and funds.
I want to be clear: Just because we share why being a young mom can be pretty rad — despite the assumptions and the growing trend to do otherwise — that doesn’t mean that it’s a universally better situation. There are reasons to be grateful (our fertility! our youthful bodies! our abundance of years ahead!), but older women have lists of their own — as they should. Because every mother, every woman, deserves to feel support and encouragement in her choices. What’s right for them, isn’t right for us. Logically it goes both ways.
All we know — all that we can know — is that our younger age doesn’t automatically make us unfit parents. Logically it goes both ways.