LONGER LIVES AND THE FUTURE OF FAMILY
By Sonia Arrison/
Are you an older parent, a young parent, or not a parent at all? Today, all these options are possible and acceptable, making ideas about the ‘traditional’ family obsolete.
While the average age of first-time mothers is on the rise, younger mothers continue to flourish and a movement called ‘childfree’ – those who purposely choose not to have children – has been born. The result is an expansion of extremes and a cornucopia of family structures – a trend that will continue as lifespans extend.
At one extreme stands Indian woman Rajo Devi Lohan, who through IVF and a donated egg, became the world’s oldest mother in 2008 when she gave birth to her first child at the age of 69. Now in her mid-seventies, the happy mother told the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper that she is determined to live until her daughter is married. US celebrities are also pushing the extremes of motherhood, though not quite as far.
For instance, model Cheryl Tiegs had twins via surrogate at age 52, actress Laura Linney gave birth to her first child at 49 years, and Kelly Preston had a baby at 48. That’s only the short list – there are many more that could be named. Some famous fathers push the age of parenthood even further. Rupert Murdoch was 72 when his daughter Chloe was born. Comedian Steve Martin became a first time Dad at 67, and Larry King was 67 when son Cannon was born. Of course, it’s not just celebrities that are having children at older ages. In the US, pregnancy rates for women between the ages of 40 and 44 climbed by 22 percent between 2000 and 2008.
So how will the growing number of older parents impact society? First, the good news: older parents tend to be more financially secure, patient, and confident – important components of providing a stable and rich environment for kids to learn and grow.
One potential downside for those hoping for a large family is that older parents might have trouble conceiving a second time, possibly leaving their child without a sibling. A different path would be to have children at a young age, which many continue to do, leading to the opposite outcome – an extremely large family.
You might think that a family with six generations is hard to find, but just type ‘six generations of family’ into Google, and you will come up with multiple news stories. There are families in Florida, Virginia,Utah, and Ontario, Canada who have happily shared their stories of being part of multigenerational households.
These families not only have a great-grandma and a great-great-grandma, but also a great-great-great-grandma. How confusing and chaotic could that become? Most of us can only imagine, but according to Bette Goodson of Virginia, it’s actually quite wonderful.
“We have all managed to stay out of each other’s business,” she said. “You would think there would be a lot of meddling, but there really isn’t.”
The longer people live, and the better reproductive technologies become, the more we will see of both older parents and large multigenerational families. There will also be combinations in the future that we haven’t seen yet, such as siblings with many decades between them.
Someday, there may be a story written about a woman who has a baby at age 16 and then another baby when that same mother is a septuagenarian. The resulting siblings may have a very different relationship than siblings typically do today. As human health expectancy extends, the concept of family or a family tree will drastically change.
And, of course, there will also be those who decide that it isn’t necessary to have children at all. For those in the childfree movement, it will be just fine to experience only a few generations at once.