I was reading a story on the Daily Mail of how a simple question from a 4-year-old made UK TV Broadcaster Esther Rantzen rethink her whole life. And it had the same effect on me.
One day, while building a fort with her grandson Benji in the lounge, Rantzen went off to find another cushion.
Benji raced after her asking, “Are you leaving, Etta?”
Rantzen replied, “No, I’m staying.”
“For ever?” he asked.
She says that this question was like a shot to her heart. She couldn’t answer him because she says, “the truth is too painful.”
Rantzen, who is 76 years old, is a highly regarded broadcaster in the UK who spent a majority of her life paving the way for the women on screen today. But, with the average life expectancy of women in the UK being just over 80, Rantzen realizes that if she lives until the age of 82, Benji will only be 10. And If she lives until she’s 90; however, he would be 18. But it’s still very doubtful she’d be able to attend his wedding (she’d likely be over 100 by then!).
Being only 43 years old myself, you’d think it wouldn’t affect me. But it did. See, my secret fear is that I waited too late to have children. And, like Rantzen, I’m afraid that I will face the consequences of this just as I begin to fall in love with my grandchildren.
Of course fate plays its part: I didn’t meet my husband until I was 28, we married when I was 31, and I had my first child at 33. My daughter was born when I was 37; but if she has a child at the same age I had her, I will be 74. Chances are, I won’t see that grandchild’s 18th birthday either or, if I do, I’ll be 92.
It is a thought that never occurred to me while I was having my own children. I left a gap of four and a half years between each, mainly because of work reasons — and, in truth, the thought of being at home with two small children all day terrified me. I needed company, adult interaction, and I wasn’t able to afford childcare for them both. So, I waited until my son was almost ready to start school, and then I had my daughter. There wasn’t a single moment when I wondered how this plan of spacing them out would impact my twilight years.
A 2015 study by the Office of National Statistics in the UK shows that the number of women over 40 having babies has now surpassed those under 20 for the first time in almost 70 years. And in the States, the number of women having kids after the age of 35 is on the rise, according to a CDC report. Interestingly, the report also shows a correlation between first time older mothers who are, generally, more educated and likely to have higher incomes than women of the younger reproductive ages. Of course, this is to be expected. After all, we are only the second generation to “have it all” — access to contraception, means to attend college, and the opportunity for careers.
To have these choices — something that our mothers and grandmothers never had — makes settling down not always the first and foremost thought in our minds. We didn’t have to get married to leave home. We were already leaving home to head off to college or start our first job — or, even, to move in with our partner.
But freedom has a price.
By choosing to have children later, it is more likely that we will have grandchildren later, too. Therefore, it will leave us less time on this planet with them.
Recently while dropping my kids off to school, I was chatting with a friend’s dad (70 years young, himself), and he told me that being a grandparent was the most wonderful thing. He reveled that it was something quite unexpected — to share pure joy with a child, without having the responsibility. Being related to them, loving them with all your heart, but not having to partake in any of the daily grind.
I’ve watched my own dad (who wasn’t the world’s best father) turn into one of the most devoted grandpas on the planet. Grandparenting looks like the golden ticket.
Which is why I can empathize when Rantzen says:
“I can’t remake my life. It would be wrong to dismiss the work I did with such passion. But if only I had known my grandchildren would fill my heart with such joy, perhaps I would have decided to start my family 10 years earlier, whatever that did to my career.”
As I watch my children grow, I try to put aside the gnawing thought that one day I might not be there to enjoy their children. Instead, I try to focus on enjoying every single minute that I have with them. And I’ll do the same with my grandchildren, whenever that time comes.