It’s the era of the silver father. Many parents look for stability and financial security before having children. Also, rising divorce rates, second families and assisted fertility techniques mean that parents are getting older, but what does that mean for kids and family life?
With Chris Evans (52) and Daniel Craig (50) both set to become Dads again this year, it seems that parenthood is definitely not a young man’s game. In fact, these expectant dads are young bucks compared to famous fathers like Donald Trump (62) and Robert DeNiro (68), not to mention Mick Jagger who at 72 definitely showed he was no Jumpin’-Jack-Flash-in-the-pan.
Are Forty or Fifty The New Thirty?
It’s not just celebrities that are having babies later in life. In America, research shows that, on average, fathers are getting older and UK studies confirm a similar trend. More men over forty are having children than those in their twenties and the number of dads aged between twenty and twenty-four has dropped by ten per cent.
It’s a pattern that has caught my attention because Keith and I had our daughter Poppy a little later in life. We weren’t at Rolling Stone vintage, nowhere near, just further on than many of our friends and colleagues. For us, it was a really positive experience, and we’re not alone. David Kesterton from the Family Planning Association told the BBC: “Forty is the new thirty. Both men and women feel they have the energy for parenting later in life.”
He’s right. Cash, careers and confidence can make parenting a whole lot easier when you’re older. But, despite that, a conversation from the brilliant film ‘When Harry met Sally’ keeps going around in my brain:
Sally: I’m gonna be forty.
Harry: In eight years.
Sally: But it’s there. It’s just sitting there, like some big dead end. And it’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had kids when he was 73.
Harry: Yeah, but he was too old to pick them up.
Age is more than a number; it brings lots of positive life skills but it can also affect your health. So, I thought I’d look into the good and bad bits of being an older dad, so that Chris and Daniel know exactly what to expect:
The Good Stuff
Life Experience: We live and we learn. Older parents have a lifetime of knowledge and knowhow to offer their children. BBC journalist John Simpson had his son Rafe at 61. He told the Telegraph that experience has made him a calmer parent, saying:
“Unlike when my daughters were young, I don’t sweat the small stuff, hammering him to eat his vegetables or hold his fork properly or tidy his room, but I have tried to get him interested in the wonder of life, of history, of the way the world is. He still thinks it’s cool that I go to places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and he gives me an extra reason to make sure I come back safely”.
Family First: There are plenty of positives when older men become fathers. I’ve seen it in my family and friendship groups and Michael Eisenberg, an expert from Stanford University agrees. In general, their relationships are more stable, they have better jobs and are more likely to live together with their family so that they raise their children and support the mum.
Time to Share: Busy lives and forging ahead with careers can put a strain on family life. Even in today’s era of equality and emancipation, much of the baby-work is left to the mum when she’s on maternity leave (and sometimes afterwards too!)
Older fathers, whether it’s their first family or one created with a new relationship, may be more likely to relish sharing the caring duties. John Simpson agrees, “I believe myself to be a much better father this time around than I was when my two daughters by my first marriage were born. All our friends were having kids then – there was nothing remarkable about the process, and I didn’t feel the need to feed them or change their nappies. That was women’s work in those days”.
Financial Security: Money doesn’t buy happiness but it can make life easier. Older parents are more likely to be in established careers, have settled housing and a financial cushion to fall back on. This can help reduce the strain on the family when there’s maternity leave, baby paraphernalia to buy and a new little mouth to feed. I’m pretty sure that Daniel Craig’s new Bond contract as well as Rachel Weisz’s stellar career will be a help with all those baby bills!
The Bad Bits
Health Concerns: Increasing age brings a rising risk of chronic health concerns and disease. Parenthood in the early forties is less of a problem, but sadly the odds of Mick Jagger making it to his eight child Deveraux’s wedding are statistically lower than someone who is twenty-something. That’s a difficult prospect for both parent and child.
Fit for anything? Babies are hard work. The sleepless nights, the colic and the lack of down-time can be debilitating. The first few months can be, well, there’s no other word for it… knackering. Yes, older people can be fit and healthy, but it does get harder to cope with the sheer bone-numbing exhaustion with increasing age.
Impacts on the Baby: There’s loads of stories in the papers about the potential risks of being an older mum. As an ‘elderly’ mother you’re offered screening and advice about the chances of the baby being affected by a chromosomal condition. But there is very little awareness about any health problems that could be linked to advancing age in men.
There is some evidence that the children of fathers over forty may have increased risks of low academic achievement, autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. The researchers don’t fully understand the reasons. It could be a deterioration in the sperm (in the same way as older eggs are more likely to have abnormalities) or it could simply be that some men who become fathers later on, do so because of social difficulties that have delayed starting a family. These traits could be passed on to the next generation.
That sounds frightening but Dr Yacoub Kalaf, from Guy’s Hospital says that the risk is small:
“Careers, experience, family – they all dictate when you start having children. If the choice is between taking a small risk or not having a child together, the couple will always opt for going for a child.”
Together with the rest of the YPD team I wish Chris and Natasha, Daniel and Rachel all the very best with their pregnancy adventures. A child is an incredible gift at any age- but maybe even more so when they come later on in your reproductive life.