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Austin American Statesman review – as published March 22, 2008

Two new books tackle older moms, only children 'Ready: Why Women are Embracing the New Later Motherhood' and 'The Future of Your Only Child' have plenty to offer.
Saturday, March 22, 2008

As someone who had her first child after age 35, I'm always surprised at how some people assume that this was some sort of master plan based on career and other lifestyle choices that revolved around whirlwind travel, nights out and other glamorous side effects of a childless environment. Well, no. I just didn't find the man I wanted to marry and have a family with until I was in my early 30s. And as any of my beleaguered girlfriends will tell you, it wasn't for lack of looking.

That's probably why I raised an eyebrow when I came across "Ready: Why Women are Embracing the New Later Motherhood" ($26, Basic Books) by the University of Houston's Elizabeth Gregory, who will be at BookPeople today. At first glance, the title seemed to indicate a movement of some sort, an organized agenda.

But just a few pages into it, my skepticism subsided. In her conversational and crisp tone, Gregory provides a compelling look beyond the U.S. statistics, which show that in 2005, one in seven babies was born to a woman 35 or older.

When Gregory, director of the Women's Studies Program and associate professor of English, had her first child at 39, she expected to be the oldest mom in the playgroup and was surprised when that was rarely the case. She researched the statistics and, curious, surveyed 113 moms who became moms between ages 35 and 56, either naturally, with the help of fertility treatments or through adoption.

What Gregory found was that they were all "ready to focus on their child's development rather than their own."

The vignettes of these women supplement Gregory's examination of how this trend affects — and is affected by — society, the work place, family and more.

She doesn't soft-pedal around the obvious drawbacks to late motherhood. There are fertility challenges; older women might tire more easily than they did in their 20s (I know I do); and there's a greater chance the child won't get to know grandparents and other beloved older relatives.

But the benefits are hard to ignore. Women who have their first child later often have more stable marriages, greater self-confidence, a higher education, financial stability and more flexibility with work, she finds. Gregory's examination of the workplace is especially interesting. She writes that because they're often already high up on that ladder, women have earned clout that translates into more flexibility, time off and understanding than they would have if they were just starting out professionally. She questions why part-time work still has such a stigma attached to it, when clearly so many women and families — and, in turn, society — could benefit from such arrangements.

Other chapters explore stay-at-home moms, situations beyond the traditional nuclear family, fertility, adoption and, my favorite, the last chapter: "Fifty is the New Thirty? Health, Looks, Evolution and the New Line of Later Moms."

At the park last weekend, I struck up a conversation with a woman who became a new mom in her 40s and now has two beautiful girls. As we pushed our kids in the swing, we talked about the necessity to have children in quick succession for older moms who want to have more than one child.

In fact, according to Gregory, "Predictions are that 30 percent of families started today will end up with one child, total."

Austin author Carl E. Pickhardt has written a new book to serve as a guide for parents of those only children. "The Future of Your Only Child," ($14.95, Palgrave Macmillan) came out a few weeks ago. Pickhardt himself is a middle child and a father of four, but as a psychologist and parenting expert, he's fascinated by the dynamics in one-child households.

As Pickhardt writes, "The only child is not simply shaped by all he gets from parents; he's also shaped by all he doesn't get — sibling jealousy, comparison, competition and conflict, for example. What is NOT experienced can have formative effects."

As someone who's considering stopping at one child, I've found Pickhardt's tome to be insightful and helpful. Of course, finding time to read any parenting book can be a challenge, but sometimes a fresh perspective serves as a reminder of how important it is to be a positive influence on the little people we're raising.


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