Carolyn Hax is away. In her absence, we are offering columns from her archive.
Dear Carolyn: I’m 35 and my husband is 51. Would it be stupid for us to have a baby?
Depends. So I’ll just repeat my standard advice to anyone wrestling with the decision to have children: Would you want you as parents?
Include potential best and worst cases in your reasoning. If the answer is anything but a non-delusional yes, then it would be selfish/immoral/irresponsible to have kids.
Carolyn: As people, we’re fine (maybe even great). As potential parents, we have a lot to offer. I’m just worried about our (his) age(s).
Like I said, it’s about what you would be comfortable choosing for yourself if you were that child. Let’s say neither of you dies prematurely. Then your child would be a young adult by the time Dad dies. Does that sound like something you could live with, as a child?
Let’s say your husband has a long illness preceding that non-premature death – something for which older people are at higher risk. Then it could affect your child’s adolescence. How does your imagined child handle that?
Of course, serious illnesses, accidents and other causes of premature death aren’t famous for their ability to discriminate, and do sometimes strike the young parents of young children. Likewise, the risk of premature death is higher, say, among members of the military than it is for civilians. Does that mean people in the service shouldn’t have children? People who smoke shouldn’t have kids?
I could also go down the path of the nature of older parenthood. I just came across a reader’s comment that his/her parents, who were 35 and 47 when s/he was born, “were too old to get on the ground and roughhouse with me.” But I can tell you, as a mom who started having kids at 35 and spends plenty of time getting piled upon by said kids, that’s not just a factor of age. That’s also about physical condition, temperament, carry-over from one’s own childhood, etc.
Older parents are often more mature and more available to their kids. Except the ones who, ah, aren’t.
So, that’s why my answer to you won’t get any more decisive. Whether you’d want you as parents covers everything: how you’ll play with your kids; how you’ll pay for kids; how you’ll wear your age; how each of you would handle it if one of you got sick or died; how you’ll handle discipline, education – everything.
You do your best to foresee the life you two can offer a child, and the measures you’d take in the face of the unforeseen. Then, you decide – not rationalize – whether it’s a life you’d want yourself. To my mind, at least, that’s the beginning and the end of the test.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com.