The average age American mothers have their first child was 25 in 2006, up from 21.4 in 1970 according to the CDC. Among college-educated women, the average age of first-childbirth is 30, according to a report by The Atlantic.
The Atlantic article illustrates that postponing marriage is a good thing for college-educated women’s bottom line (less so for men). They’re more likely to establish careers and earn their own money and less likely to have a child out of wedlock. Studies show that unmarried couples who have a child are far more likely to split up than parents who wed.
But on the other end, the risks of childbirth begin to increase after age 35, as does the risk of running into fertility issues. There are also social factors to consider, like whether your parents will be around to be grandparents to your baby. My own mother had me at 39 and my younger brother at 45. I only got to know my maternal grandmother well; I never knew my grandfathers and my dad’s mom developed Alzheimer’s Disease and passed away when I was a boy.
So what’s the right move? When should you plan to have kids? Obviously, it’s up to you, but I’m going to make the case that you should get on it sooner rather than later. That may seem odd coming from a financial advice website. (Shouldn’t I be financially secure before bringing another mouth into the world?) To a point, yes, but don’t over-think it.
Uh, kids? No, thanks
If you are like I was in my twenties, the thought of becoming a parent is more terrifying than your 20 years of student loan payments, the chance you’ll still be an “assistant to the assistant” on your 30th birthday and the prospect you’re un-datable and thus will die sad and alone amid a dozen cats and stacks of hoarded magazines. Combined.
As a new parent of two, let me assure you: That fear is appropriate.
Yes, there are days every parent wants to drop the kids off at some unsuspecting relative’s place and disappear. Fortunately for children everywhere, most parents do the right thing: We suck it up, down another glass of cabernet, and keep on working the only job in the world that’s 24/7 and unpaid.
But somehow – through my infant son’s sleepless nights and my 3-year old daughter’s marathon tantrums (“I DON’T want to…[insert any activity here]!”) – I can’t imagine not having kids. I mean, I can, and I picture it as a never-ending romantic, boozy beach vacation with my wife. But coming back to reality, I realize that in just a few short years, becoming a parent has made me into a stronger, more selfless and all-around better person.
Because scarier than foregoing sleep, a social life, and whatever else you want to accomplish in the hours between sleep and work, is the financial responsibility that comes with birthing another human being into the world.
I’m not just talking about the well-documented costs of having children. (Hint: They’re expensive.) When you bring a dependent into your life, you up the ante in the poker game of personal finance. Your financial decisions will now affect somebody else as much as – or possibly more – than they affect you.
You’re never ready
This, I think, is one of three common reasons people delay having children to 35 or even 40. The others being to prolong pre-parental bliss or to minimize the fallout of motherhood on a woman’s career – unfortunately, still a valid concern.
So here comes my paradoxical advice: If you’re in your late 20s or early 30s, don’t put off having kids because “you’re not quite ready.” Because trust me, you’re never ready!
Now I’m not saying unemployed 20-year olds should go have babies. And certainly if you’re going through tough times (either in a relationship or with money) and you decide to have a baby to try and fix them, you’re not going to have a good time.
But if you have a decent job, a roof over your head, and a supporting partner, I don’t see what should stop you from having kids.
Yes, providing for children adds another big line item to your budget. You’ll be shelling out for diapers and car seats and future tuition payments. The good news – if you can call it that – is that you’ll be spending far less on dining out, entertainment, and travel!
But we humans are good at “making it work” when it needs to work. The added responsibility of being a parent makes the process of managing money a bit more clear: Because your priorities are clear, so too become the sacrifices.
Giving up “you time”
To be certain, having kids earlier means giving up your alone time. Though Lauren and I are jealous of childless couples’ week-long vacations in Europe or Napa, here’s the thing: We’re going to do that stuff in our 50s when we (hopefully) have a lot more money!
Life involves tradeoffs, so if you absolutely can’t say goodbye to the party lifestyle or your free time just yet, you know yourself best. For us, sacrificing these things now to be younger parents was the right choice.
Factoring in your career
To the women of Money Under 30, I’m sorry: The decisions and discrimination you’ll face when you decide to become a mom are intractable.
If you decide to become a full-time mom, you’ll deal with friends who unfortunately look down on you. If you decide to go back to work, you’ll wrestle with guilt over leaving your child and you’ll deal with the unfair double standard that a man who leaves work early to pick up the kids is a “super-involved dad” while a mom who takes a couple hours off to take her baby to the doctor “isn’t committed to the company.”
Ambitious women often put off having kids until they’ve reached the executive position they’ve been working toward. That’s one way to do it; you may no longer have to prove you’re management material every day, but you’re an older parent with riskier pregnancies and a lot more responsibility at work.
The other option is to have your kids early enough that you can get back into the workforce and compete. Yes, you’ll have to butt heads with younger colleagues, but if you’re good, you could still rise to the top.
Every couple must make their own decision about when to have children. Unfortunately, trying to balance that decision with certain career fields can be heartbreakingly difficult.
We opted to dive head-first as soon as we got married so we could have a little more youthful energy with which to parent, but what about you? Have you decided to have kids at a particular age for specific reasons? Why or why not?
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