Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Predicting the End to Grandparenthood?

The occasion of my 40th high school reunion, was a chance to reflect on two things: how my classmates and I have aged and how almost none of my high school friends have grandchildren. As we mingled and shared family photos, classmates were showing toddler and teen photos of their children; I alone was showing photos of my grandchildren.

Why the dichotomy?

The lack of grandchildren is explained by simple math. In delaying marriage and childbirth significantly, my generation of boomers has thought it natural to wait until 35 or even 40 to marry and start a family. Careers, freedom to travel, searching for the perfect soul-mate are some of the common reasons for delaying…settling down. With life expectancy for men at 76 and women at 81, the odds of having much meaningful time with your grandchildren are slim indeed, if your adult child follows your example and delays marriage to 35 or older. The disappearance of grand-parenting would be a great loss for American families.

There are some serious consequences to delayed childbearing in addition to missing out on grandparenthood and they are: augmented infertility, which leads to elevated multiple births, which leads to increased rates of pre-term births and C-sections.

If my high school classmate got married at age 35 and her child is waiting until 35 to have her first child, then we’re about 12 years too early to be seeing pictures of her grandchildren, because just about everyone at the reunion was 58 years old.

People are passionate about this topic. Comments from outraged readers to a column that I authored on the consequences of delayed child-bearing include: “Pushy, busy-body parents of grown children continue to nag and harass them into having children they don’t want…ever consider that spawning is not the end-all and be-all of marriage, let alone of life?” Another reader declared, “Parents need to butt out of their children’s lives and if that means they don’t get any grandchildren, so be it.”

Hmmm, do you think I touched a nerve? What did I say that produced these reactions? I said that when parents are approached by their married adult children who say they plan to delay starting a family in order to establish their careers, own a home, and have fun traveling, the parents should not keep their opinions to themselves and say, do your own thing. At the risk of seeming like meddlers, parents should warn their adult children in strong terms that there are serious consequences to the decision of delaying child-bearing.

In my book, Creating Your Perfect Family Size, I encourage couples to proceed slowly and thoughtfully with their family size decision. In short: as many or as few, as long as you think it through.

The scenario that most concerns me and repeats itself when I counsel older couples is as follows: In order to make up for lost time and because a couple has a pre-determined family size, couples who delay child bearing until age 35 or older, will have rapid-fire children that are barely 15 months apart. That’s detrimental for the Mom’s health, family well-being and most of all the parents’ marriage. A space of 2-3 years between children is most beneficial.

Seeing my grandchildren is an affirmation that my wife and I have done a pretty decent job of parenting, which is demonstrated by our adult children deciding to start their own families. I’m no expert after five years of grandfathering, but I believe that the end to grand parenting would leave an enormous black hole in our emotional universe.