HEALTH NEWS

Challenges of Starting a Family After 40

Written by Cathy Cassata on March 9, 2017

starting at family after 40

Hoda Kotb of the “Today Show” adopted a child at age 52.

Actor George Clooney is anticipating fatherhood for the first time at age 55.

Celebrities may get the headlines, but they aren’t the only ones embracing parenthood at an older age.

According to a National Vital Statistics Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more women over age 40 are having children, with a 2 percent increase in births by women 40 to 44 during 2014. Women over 50 also had more babies in 2014 than 2013.

Illinois residents Maura Collins and her husband, Todd Beidler, were 40 and 43 when they had their first child.

“We got married later in life, so starting a family in our 40s is just the way things went for us,” Collins told Healthline.

Family After 40

Maura Collins and Todd Beidler and their two children Image source: Maura Collins

Yet the couple does consider how their age could present challenges.

“We both recognize that we are always going to be among the older parents at our children’s games or school events, but we’re very cognizant of staying healthy as much as we can control so we can keep up with the kids and enjoy them physically as much as possible,” said Collins. “My husband has done the math and when our youngest child graduates college, he’ll be 67. While that’s a little scary to think about since with age comes physical and health concerns, the math wasn’t going to prevent us from having children.”

So was the case for California residents Matt and Jenny, who adopted their first child when they were 53 years old and their second child when they were 54.

After trying to conceive naturally and through IVF for nearly 12 years, they decided to adopt through the Los Angeles County foster care system.

“Another couple we knew were going down that path. Their story inspired us,” Matt told Healthline.

The couple, who didn’t want their full names revealed, fostered two children who ultimately were reunified with their biological parents. However, the next two children they fostered were placed with them permanently.

Read more: Tips for first-time foster parents »

Older parents and adoption

Adoptive parents like the Matt and Jenny are not uncommon, says Megan Lestino, vice president of public policy and education at the National Council for Adoption.

“Older adults come to adoption through different routes. Sometimes they come to us through infertility and other times they have older children in the home and realize they have the time and finances to raise another child,” Lestino told Healthline.

She notes that while not always the case, adoptive parents tend to be older.

Although the United States does not have a federal regulation regarding a maximum age at which a parent can adopt, Lestino says it’s up to the states to determine the age of parents for both infant and foster adoption.

Many states will require parents to be at least 18 to 21 years old and a certain amount of years older than the child they’re adopting.

“Typically there’s no age limit on the other end,” Lestino says. “As long as parents are capable of parenting the child they’re being matched with, in most cases there aren’t rules around age. Adoption professionals can see that with age comes a certain level of resilience, responsibility, and experience that can be beneficial to parenting. As long as they’re physically capable of caring for the needs of a child, age is neutral.”

Matt and Jenny can attest.

When they were screened by a private adoption agency, “they were more concerned with how stable we were as individuals and as a couple, what our motivations were to foster and eventually adopt. We were required to do health screenings and background checks. Point being, our age was not an issue,” said Matt.

However, the couple thinks about how they’ll be in their 70s when their children are in their 20s.

“I also considered, perhaps a little cynically, that our chances of being alive when our children are graduating college are at least as good or maybe better than that of bio-parents half our age who are hard drug users,” notes Matt.

When it comes to open adoption, in which the birth parents choose adoptive parents for their child, age may be more of an issue, explains Lestino.

“Some birth parents may consider health and age while others may see age as experience, so it depends on their preferences. In most cases, age is a consideration birth parents are aware of, but it’s more about what comes with age than age itself,” she said.

Greg Eubanks, president and chief executive officer of the World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP), agrees with Lestino’s sentiment.

However, he says many adoption agencies have policies about age. For instance, WACAP requires that there is at most a 48-year difference between a child’s age and the youngest parent.

“The main reason is that children from adoption have faced all kinds of losses so we want to set them up with the best family as possible. If we see a family who is well into their 50s, we do need to consider issues regarding health, ability to parent, and where the parents will be when the child is nearing the teenage years and becoming more active,” Eubanks told Healthline.

He adds that older parents make ideal parents for older children.

“Parents who are older tend to have more patience, they have more life experience, and are more tolerant. These are all great qualities for older children. And with older children, older parents may not have to deal with the exhaustion that comes with say, a toddler,” Eubanks said.

For older parents who want to adopt from a country outside of the United States, age may or may not become a barrier.

Each country sets their own age requirements with some countries setting strict maximum age limits and others having more flexible standards.

For instance, in China, adoptive parents have to be at least 30, and married couples over 50 years of age can adopt, but the age difference between the child and younger spouse can’t be more than 50 years.

Read more: Women freezing eggs so they can have children later in life »

Parenting through surrogacy

Adoption seemed far-fetched for Sparky Campanella, a 56-year-old man in California.

“I considered it, but found it impossible for a single man to adopt a baby. I could find places that would allow me to adopt 2 years and up, but I wanted those two years since they are important in terms of a child’s development,” Campanella told Healthline. “Plus, the genetic tie initially wasn’t that important to me, but I found it more important as I went through the process.”

After the death of his father five years ago, Campanella says the desire to become a parent became strong.

“My mom had died before that, and at some point after my dad’s death, being at the end of the line and seeing the importance of family at the end of life, something changed in me,” he said.

Campanella was married in his early 30s, but neither he nor his ex-wife seriously considered a family.

“We were into our careers and we thought maybe someday, but things didn’t work out. Then we got divorced,” he said.

While Campanella dated women with children over the years, he says he often felt like a third wheel.

At 53 years old, he began looking into egg donors and surrogate mothers.

“When I found my egg donors profile it all crystalized. I saw someone who actually reminded me of my ex-wife in terms of looks and intelligence and background,” Campanella says.

He chose the egg donor and found a surrogate. In 2015, his son, Rhys, was born. Campanella was 54.

“In terms of my age being a limitation on me being a good father, I don’t think it is. I’m good in health and have a lot of energy,” he says.

Read more: Exercise tips for older adults »

Challenges, benefits of older parents

Campanella, Collins, Matt, and Jenny all agree that staying healthy is a concern for them, and therefore they take extra care of themselves.

They also agree that the physical demands of being an older parent can take a toll.

In fact, Susan Bartell, PhD, a New York-based psychologist and author who specializes in parenting, says many older parents she sees are tired.

“It’s tough to take care of a baby when your body and brain aren’t quite prepared for the job,” Bartell told Healthline.

Matt says he and his wife wake up most mornings sore.

“I joke that despite playing football and having bad skiing accidents when I was younger, I was never as sore as I am now,” he said. “Nothing that some ibuprofen and hugs from the little ones won’t fix.”

Collins admits that it would be physically easier to raise children if she were 10 years younger.

“I think the sleep deprivation would be easier if we were younger since we’d probably bounce back easier,” she said.

Campanella adds that parenting never ends.

“This is relentless and there’s a mental and physical exhaustion to it, but there’s also an amazing experience and a privilege that I wouldn’t give up,” he said.

When it comes to how other, younger parents of their children’s peers might view them, none of the parents are concerned. 

“Our perception is that families are becoming more and more diverse. Also, we see that starting a family in the ‘traditional’ way isn’t necessarily a guarantee of a happy, stable family. If it were, there wouldn’t be such a dire need for foster parents,” said Matt.

Collins agrees and believes she can relate to younger parents.

“I can still hold a conversation with younger parents, and I do see some older parents of my generation, so it’s not a massive divide,” she said. “Today, kids are open minded to different types of families. Most importantly, they love you unconditionally, so being there for them and as present as possible is what’s most important.”

Campanella sought out new friends once becoming a parent.

“Making friends with single moms really helped. We are in the same situation. Especially since the only family and support I have left is my brother who lives out East,” he said.

Bartell notes that older parents like Campanella often face the challenge of finding support outside of family.

“The new parents’ parents are much older, so there is likely less support from grandparents,” she said.

Being more established in their career and financially stable has allowed Campanella and Collins the opportunity to pay for support through childcare as well as the ability to work from home part-time.

Though Bartell says that’s not always the case.

“[Older parents] are more entrenched in a career and lifestyle and so it is more difficult to be as flexible in parenting as it often requires. This is stressful for new parents,” she says.

Finding balance with work, a social life, and personal time is a challenge for any parent, argues Matt.

“I’d expect you would hear that from parents in their 20s,” he said.

Read more: A man can become a father at 75, but should he? »

Biggest benefit of being older

Life experience is the greatest benefit of being an older parent, according to Campanella, Collins, and Matt.

“I spent a lot of time on myself, therapists, workshops, journaling, and life experiences, so I do feel that maturity and perspective helps me parent,” Campanella said.

Collins says she lived a fulfilling life during her 20s and 30s.

“I have no regrets socially or professionally. I don’t look back and wish I could do more now, and I can share all those experiences with the kids,” she said.

Matt believes he and his wife are better parents today than they could have been in their younger days.

“We have a lot to offer our girls in terms of life experience, values, creativity,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve finally realized that the world doesn’t revolve around me, and that everything I do, say, or even think has some impact on the world. I think those are good things to pass on to children.”

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