- My friend and I have known each other for over 35 years.
- She had her daughter at 27 and I had mine at 42, 17 years apart.
- Despite the age difference, we realized that we have many things in common when it comes to raising them.
Irritability, congestion and restlessness. I was wondering if these were symptoms of my baby getting his first tooth or that he had COVID.
I called my best friend from high school, Molly, to get her input, even though she had never been a mom to a baby during a pandemic. She answered my call while she was sitting in the dentist’s office, waiting for her daughter to come out of a wisdom teeth extraction. about the past two years, our relationship has seen a resurgence as we share the joys and worries of being a mother to our daughters. But while I stocked up on plasters and knee pads as my daughter learned to walk, Molly racked up sleepless nights waiting for her new driver to come home.
Molly and I are both 44 years old but raising daughters 17 years apart. We have been friends for 35 years. In our teens, we traded babysitting jobs, always imagining that we would be raising children of the same age. His daughter is almost 19 years old and mine is 2.
Society often assumes that we will raise our children differently because we become mothers at different ages, but research shows that age cannot predict parenting style. Although we became mothers almost two decades apart, the challenges and milestones we face as mothers will be more similar than different.
Mental health and social support play a bigger role than age
The same week I dropped my daughter off at her first preschool, Molly dropped her freshman off at college. We call each other describing the coincidental knots in our throats mourning our mutual losses. Although my daughter knew that she had not disappeared, she worried me that she did not trust her to return. And even though Molly knew her daughter wasn’t missing, she worried about coming home and all that it entails. While our minds can learn as children that objects still exist, even if they can’t be felt, our hearts never seem to learn object permanence, no matter our age.
Talk to amy lewin, a clinical psychologist and professor of family sciences at the University of Maryland who co-authored an article reporting a longitudinal study on parenting styles. She examined mothers of 2-year-olds to determine if certain factors influence parenting practices. Mothers were categorized by the age they first became mothers: teen mothers (18 years or younger), emerging adult mothers (19-25), and adult mothers (26 years or older).
When maternal education, poverty status, and race were controlled for, the researchers found that certain practices appeared to be correlated with age. For example, adult mothers had a more positive regard for their children than did emerging adult mothers who had a more positive regard for their children than adolescent mothers. However, Lewin said factors such as a mother’s attachment history, mental health and social support have a much greater impact on parenting behaviors than age. “These are aggregate data, so while we can see this pattern at the population level, there is enormous individual variation,” Lewin said.
Some things are the same regardless of age.
Some aspects of motherhood are timeless, regardless of the age at which we became mothers or the age of the daughters we raised. The means by which we do it may change, but the goal is the same. We want to encourage them to dream. We want to protect them. We want them to feel seen. We want them to learn healthy boundaries. The values that my friend and I share far exceed the age at which we became mothers.
The technology that we will have used with our daughters at the same age will vary, but not the objective: security, for example. When Molly’s daughter was 2 years old, she would watch her sleep on a baby monitor on her nightstand. I use an app on my iPhone linked to a camera in her room. Now Molly tracks her daughter’s whereabouts through an app on her phone. She knows how fast she drives and when she gets to her bedroom. When my daughter is in college, who knows what kind of technology I will use to monitor her safety.
The era in which we become parents shapes our parenting practices around safety. My daughter was born during the COVID pandemic and Molly’s daughter was born right after 9/11.
There are so many important factors that determine one’s parenting style, and age is just one of them. Ultimately, we each forge our own path as parents despite the way society tries to assign us certain “tracks” based on age.