Getting married, planning a family, having a baby…all these events brim with joy and a sense of youthfulness. These are times that we see as new beginnings and fresh starts, so what happens when some of us ‘start’ further down the line than is usual?
The trend to get married later or have children later in life is one that is growing with every passing year. While it is more obvious in secular society, there are a growing number of ‘late bloomers’ within the Muslim community. Some find themselves in this position due to circumstance, while others have chosen to study or pursue their personal goals first. Regardless of how they get there, the challenges they face once they do are the same.
Does this make me a bad Muslim?
This is the question that every man and woman – the latter more so – asks themselves when they make the decision to wait a little longer for either marriage or children. The recommendation in Islam is for early marriages and no one argues against this. However, Islam also gives every individual the right to make the best choice that suits them personally. Sometimes, that choice involves waiting.
The consequences of this delay are felt more by women than men. A woman who marries in her late-twenties or early thirties is fully aware of the fact that she will be looking to have children in her mid-thirties or later. For many, this is a cause of sadness, regret or even despair. It’s not all bad news though. There have been plenty of studies conducted on the impact of younger vs. older parents on children and so far there has been no noticeable effect of parental age on how emotionally and mentally healthy a child turns out. Good parenting at the end of the day is about just that: parenting well.
Both Sides of the Coin
Every decision in life has its pros and cons, and choosing to be ‘mature’ parents is no different. If you are deciding to wait for a few years to have children or are already on your way to becoming/have become an older parent, here are some aspects that you may want to consider.
The Good Stuff
Enough cannot be said about how essential and positive a role this plays in parenting. As we grow, we learn through our life experiences skills about communication, patience, flexibility and resilience. We are more spiritually aware and have had time to find ourselves within our faith and beliefs. All these are great assets in parenting skills as well as priceless lessons to pass on to children.
With age comes an appreciation for the value of time, of experiences, of memories. When we are younger, time seems to stretch out endlessly ahead of us and this makes us overlook the ‘smaller’ things in life. A comment often made by older parents is how much they appreciate and marvel at the miracle that is a child and how every day of watching them grow is a blessing.“Older parents are some of the most grateful people I know,” says Robin Gorman Newman, founder of motherhoodlater.com, a community for midlife moms.
This appreciation of time is of paramount importance in Islam and older parents might be in a better position to pass on this valuable habit to their children from a young age.
A lot of young people become parents simply as a consequence of being married. It’s a natural next step. With older parents, the choice to have children has been thought about, discussed and planned, which means that they are more prepared for what lies ahead. They have had the chance to see other people’s children grow up and to compare different styles of upbringing. These parents are more confident in the choices they make regarding their children and thus instil a greater security in them.
- Regained youth
Children keep us young. Their innocence is infectious. Around them, we smile more often, we play, and we remember our own childhood. Having children at an older age almost renews one’s youthful spirit, in some ways, reviving us and bringing home the important aspects of life that we may have forgotten over the years. The Prophet Muhammad(s) used to stop and play with children on the streets. He encouraged his companions to spend time with children, to learn from their purity of intentions. There is no better teacher than one’s own child.
There is no way to hide from the fact: mature parents will be elderly while their children are still young. It’s a hard and tough thing to deal with. They may miss a lot of things that younger parents get to enjoy: seeing their children become parents; becoming grandparents; seeing their children achieve success in career or life. Even if they do see these things, they may not be able to enjoy them as they would have if they were younger. Their children may lose one or both of them while still young.
- Generation / Cultural Gap
There is a potentially huge gap in the culture of both life and religion. With times changing literally overnight, every year widens the space between ‘old’ and ‘new’, between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’. Apart from technology, the rate of dissemination of Islamic knowledge is increasing by the day. The knowledge and understanding that children will have will be far beyond what their parents did, and this difference will only increase with the difference in their ages.
- Less Energy
People in their forties simply don’t have the energy or stamina that they did in their twenties and thirties. Keeping up with an energetic toddler is harder with age and by the time a child is at an age when their energy is at its peak, it might be harder for older parents to keep up and play sports or join in the activities their children take an interest in.
On a religious front, undertaking the lengthier acts of worship may be something that mature parents did in their youth. Depending on their age, they may not be able to set an example of this for their children simply because it is beyond their ability.
- Becoming a Burden
This is probably a fear every parent has, but older parents worry twice as much about it. They already face the reality of old age and knowing that their children might have to support their infirmities while still young is a shadow that hangs over their heads.
A Time for everything
All things considered, the main thing to remember is that children are a blessing from God. Each child comes when they are meant to into this world, complete with their own sustenance and purpose. A parent – whether old or young – has a crucial role in that child’s life and will have an impact on their hereafter as well.
If you have chosen to have a child at an older age, you have to be aware of the positive and negative aspects of that choice. However, you also have to have full faith in God’s reasons for giving you that child and what He expects of you. Being the best parent is all about being the best ‘you’.