The Pros and Cons of Co-Parenting as an Older Adult

While some younger adults (in their twenties) may consider co-parenting or a “known donor” relationship, the majority of adults considering a parenting partnership are in their thirties or perhaps their forties – or older! Given that the profile of the “modern family” tends to include older parents than its “traditional family” counterpart, more and more older adults are thinking about having children for the first time – particularly those where the adults have created a co-parenting or “known donor” situation for themselves.

There are unique considerations – both pros and cons – that older adults who are thinking about becoming parents should consider – both for themselves and for their children.

The Benefits of Co-Parenting as an Older Adult:

(1) Emotional security. Psychologists posit that the broader perspectives of older parents – a result of a greater amount of life experience – provide stronger “inner resources” during times of stress and make them more likely to absorb volatile experiences without passing along this volatility of emotions to their children. Older parents are also less likely to be as focused on “finding themselves” as younger parents.

As put by Dr. Jerome Kagan, a psychology professor at Harvard University, “Older parents’ temperaments may benefit their children. Older mothers tend to be calmer, more rational and are more relaxed with their children.  As a result, there is likely to be less conflict and anxiety in the child.”

(2) Financial security. Most older adults are likely to have greater financial resources than younger parents, which means that their children will have a greater likelihood of being provided with opportunities that the parents may not have been able to afford as younger parents (for example, private schools, tutors, study and travel abroad, etc).

Additionally, the lower emphasis on financial ladder-climbing means that decisions about the best interests of the family – and of the children – can be made with less consideration on financial needs.  So, for example, while younger parents may decide to pull a child out of a school district so they can move to a less-desirable city in order to take an important job promotion, older parents may approach this decision with less of a need for the promotion (and may opt to stay local instead).

(3) Greater focus on the children.  Psychologists have found that older parents tend to focus more on the needs of their children, and are more engaged on taking care of their children, than younger parents. Older parents – particularly co-parents who have gone far out of their way to have their child – are less likely to take their children for granted at any point of the parenting process.

According to Dr. Iris Kern, a professor of social welfare at the University of the District of Columbia who has studied older mothers: “Older parents often pay greater attention to their children, expose them to more varied experiences and are less likely to divorce. They also tend to be more economically secure. When their playmates’ fathers and mothers are thinking about promotions, mortgages and their own identities, children of older parents are more likely to take center stage.”

The Drawbacks of C0-Parenting as an Older Adult:

(1) Lack of energy for traditional parenting roles. While playing active sports like tennis, soccer, or basketball – or some rough-and-tumble games with your child – is a typical parenting role, some older parents may find themselves frustrated or upset at their inability to handle this role with the same gusto as a younger parent would be able. Children of older parents may also be disappointed by their parents’ inability to engage in the same level of energetic play as their friends’ parents.

(2) A generational divide in values and trend awareness. The broad age difference that exists between older parents and their children can sometimes mean that older parents may be less connected to emerging social (and parenting) trends than their younger parenting counterparts. In other words, older parents risk being less “cool” – and therefore less connected to the interests of their children’s generation.

However, given that co-parents tend to be progressive and aware of emerging social trends given their “modern family” structure, there’s probably a lower likelihood of older co-parents being “uncool” than their traditional married counterparts.

(3) A greater burden on your children at a younger age. While teenagers are likely to be embarrassed about their parents regardless of their parents’ age, teens of older parents are likely to be embarrassed on the issue of their parents’ age more specifically, and they may feel less connected to their parents than their peers with younger parents.

More problematic is the possibility that older parents may become a burden on their children more quickly than their peers. Children of older parents are much more likely to be faced with medical and other decision-making responsibilities for their parents at a much younger age than their peers. While most children may need to start caring for their parents during their 40s and later, children of older parents may be in their 20s when they need to spend time and emotional energy dealing with issues related to their aging parents – just at the point where their focus is on their jobs and relationships. They are also much more likely to be forced to deal with the emotional turmoil of losing their parents at a younger age than their peers (and certainly their grandparents).

So while older parenting – an issue of particular relevance for many co-parenting relationships – has its ups and downs, the ultimate question is: is it better to be an older parent as opposed to not being a parent at all?  Perhaps the famous photographer Annie Liebovitz answers this question best: “I was a really young fifty and didn’t have any trouble with my first child.  At fifty eight, with three young children, I feel my age. Do it sooner if you can. I don’t regret a moment though. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”