I like to joke that there's a huge difference in the way my husband parented his first born versus the way we parent our youngest. Except it's not really a joke; he's an equally good but more relaxed and confident parent now, in his 40s, than he was then, in his 20s.
As a brand new parent in the early 1990s, he was a vegetarian who fed his toddler "not dogs" and soy butter and I think I remember him saying she didn't get to eat anything with refined sugar. She listened to "The Playground" on WERS-FM but rarely watched anything on TV.
Fast forward to the arrival of his fifth child in 2006.
Our now-3-year-old was licking steak from his daddy's fork at 6 months. We smear real butter on his (whole wheat) toast, and top it off with homemade jam or cinnamon and (refined) sugar. While he does listen to "The Playground," he also spends time in front of the tube with his older siblings. Watching "SpongeBob Squarepants." And "Blues Clues." And "Team Umizoomi." But, yes, "Spongebob Squarepants."
Over at Babble.com, Ariel Gore writes about becoming a mother, first at 18, and then again at 38. "When I was a teen mom with an infant, people often mistook me for my daughter’s nanny," she writes. But by the time her second baby came along, 20 years later, people assumed she was his grandmother, she says.
"Most people I meet assume that parenting when we’re older is intrinsically better or easier," Gore continues. “ 'Congratulations on the improved circumstances,' ” more than few people told me when I got pregnant with #2. But of course there is no better or easier."
Statistically speaking, first-time moms are getting older. In 1970s, the average age of a first-time mom was 21.4; by 2006, it was 25, according to an August 2009 report by the National Center for Health Statistics. In 1970, 1 out of 100 babies were born to first-time moms who were older than 35; by 2006, that had changed to 1 in 12. (Moms who become first-time parents post-menopause are a tiny fraction of the minority.) In 1970, 36 percent of births were to mothers younger than 20; in 2006, that figure had dropped to 21 percent.
I had my first baby when I was 32. Friends called me a semi-new mom, since I'd already been step parenting for five years by then; my first baby was also my fourth child. People didn't assume I was my stepkids' nanny but, oddly enough, once I began toting a baby along with our big kids people would gawk at the age gap and, ocassionally, ask if they all had the same father. ("Yes," I told someone once. "But they have different mothers." What makes people think it's OK to ask something like that, anyway?)
How old were you when you became a parent for the first time? Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently? Older parents, do you ever wish you had started earlier?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.