When is the right time to have a child?

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Five Babies are born every minute in the United States (1920)
I want to be an offbeat mom. It has been my plan to grow up, get married, and have kids. Now at twenty-seven, I feel like I’m behind on all of the above and wonder how one “knows” when it is the right time to have a child. Or, is there no right time?

Many parents inform me that if you “wait until you are ready” it “will never happen.” The general consensus is that parents make their families work regardless of the obstacles presented to them. Am I being foolish by waiting until I feel financially secure before reproducing?

Ariel says…

Such a great question. I’ve got a slightly warped perspective on the matter, since it took me five years of trying to finally conceive — five years where we saved up and made sure we felt really financially ready to have a child.

I think back to when I first started wanting a baby at age 25, and I compare my earning potential then (I was making $500/month editing a rave magazine) vs. now (if I wanted to go back to corporate life, I’d be interviewing for Marketing Manager jobs at Micro$oft) and I feel like … maybe one silver lining of infertility was that it forced me to wait — and while I waited, I worked and saved.

But given the option, would I have had the baby in my mid-20s? YES. A million times yes. Not to get all OMG TICKING BIOLOGICAL CLOCK on you, but there’s no denying that conception and birth are usually easier in your 20s than your 30s.

Then again, as someone who’s worked on her career for over a decade, I also gotta say it’s really nice to have a solid foundation to support my family. Not that I couldn’t have gotten to this point if I’d had a child at 25, but any young working mother will tell you — it’s no walk in the park.

I’m not sure I have a clear answer — on a certain level I do agree with your parents. There’s no perfect time, and especially with the way Americans think about money … there’s NEVER enough. And the baby industrial complex looooooves to tell you that babies cost a freaking fortune, when the reality is that thanks to handmedowns and second-hands and ingenuity, you just don’t need 90% of the crap you worry about needing to save for. Then again, it’s nice to be putting money into my son’s college fund.

But! I’m just one perspective (mid-30s, infertility sufferer, middle class, etc). What about Stephanie, a mom in her 20s?

Stephanie says…

I love this question! While I totally understand your motivations to wait until you’re financially secure, in my experience, financial security isn’t always…quite so secure. As Ariel said, you quickly discover that babies don’t require NEARLY as much as the media and other parents make you think they do, and you can find some really awesome stuff second-hand or at thrift stores and estate sales. In fact, I’d say the first 12 months are pretty easy on the wallet–you’d be amazed by the deals you can find online! I think the toddler years will prove to be a bit more pricey, but that’s because of decisions we’re making for Jasper (putting him in Montessori, mostly) that aren’t decisions every parent chooses to make.

Sean and I conceived Jasper while still in college–intentionally. I got pregnant in August, and we graduated in December. Granted, we did think that it would take a little bit longer than our first try to make a baby, but we were thinking months, not years. My point: we had always discussed that IF we had children in the first place, we would have them young. This wasn’t something we spent weeks or months debating — it was kind of something we just knew. If it was going to happen, we wanted to do it now, and not later.

Pre-graduation, neither of us had a truly realistic idea of what the outside world would be like, job-wise. Both of us had worked part-time jobs for years (since age 15) and a variety of places (fast food, waiting tables, coffee shops, etc.), but we had never really tried to get full-time employment. Fast forward to graduation, a cross-country move, and discovering no one will hire a woman who is a fresh graduate (with a Sociology degree, no less) and 20 weeks pregnant in a recession, and BOOM. Instant “male has to get a job and FAST” scenario.

This didn’t exactly pan out the way we thought it would, and after moving BACK across the country, things got a little better. Neither of us are making tons of money (I work from home as a photographer & OBM editor, while Sean is a student and works part-time on-campus), but we’re also really great planners and savers.

We don’t spend money while out much (the baby really helps there, as well, and we tend to go to more free things than we used to), and we definitely don’t eat out–we cook and eat nearly all of our meals at home. On top of that, we’re very food-conscious, and don’t buy a lot of junk food when we’re at the store. Budgeting can be your BEST friend, and also allow you to still do really fun things and travel — you just have to stay aware of what you do and do not have.

And finally, I hate to echo what you’ve already heard, but I am a firm believer in the “no time is THE right time” philosophy of child-bearing — or maybe that should be “every time is THE right time,” since I like to keep it upbeat. I listened to my body, which was screaming “BABY. NOW. WOMAN.”, and Sean agreed, and that was the most thought we put into conceiving. This probably isn’t a path most people are comfortable with, but we’re not big schedulers or planners — just pretty decent budgeters.

And so, there are two perspectives — one from a 30-something mom who waited (albeit against her choice) and one from a 20-something mom who didn’t. Offbeat Mamas, what say you? Is there a RIGHT time to have a child?

Comments on When is the right time to have a child?

  1. I had my first at 38 and am now expecting my second at 41. To me it`s a great time to be parents. Stable careers, we own an income property and I’m far more zen, relaxed and (I hope!) have more wisdom than before. It helps that here in Quebec we get a year of paid maternity leave and public 7$/day daycare. Oh and my husband is 10 years younger.

    I’m surprised to not hear more people who waited until their late 30s. I know here in (more liberal) Canada and in Europe people generally wait longer than in the (more conservative) US. Almost everyone we know waited past 35

  2. As a person who grew up poor, my opinion is to wait until you’re financially secure. Kids can and are painfully aware of a lack of resources at a very young age. I won’t bore you with anecdotes of a sparse childhood, but I resented my parents for burdening themselves with 4 kids that they could not support comfortably. I remember wishing I hadn’t been born as early as my elementary school days. How sad.

  3. There are way to many comments to read through, but for most of the comments I’ve read nothing has matched my situation so I’m looking for some advice. My parents are supportive with whatever I choose and hubby’s parents have tried to stay neutral to avoid being pushy.
    I am almost 30, husband will be 38 next year. Married 4 years, owned our house 3 years and have been together 8+ years.
    Financially we are not 100%, house mortgage takes up 50% of our income and have made that work for the 2 of us for a few years.
    I have never really wanted kids but wasn’t against it either. Found out at 14 that due to a condition I may or may not be able to ever have kids – maybe I’ve mentally prepared myself for the worst? But I am completely happy thinking of our future with no kids and just pets for the rest of our lives. Hubby has always wanted kids.
    We discussed this topic many times before we got married, as I was on the fence, I figured that day would come when I would just know I was ready to have kids.
    It hasn’t happened…. and there is so much pressure from hubby that I am getting stressed. I always had intentions of giving him kids but I don’t know if I will ever be mentally ready.
    I know my husband would sacrifice anything to help out if we had kids and we even talked about me going back to work and he would stay at home. Which is fine with me. But I physically and mentally don’t know if I want that.
    As hubby is getting older and his dad was an older dad, he doesn’t want to be like his father. With no energy for grandkids etc.
    Am I crazy to not want kids? I feel selfish and I don’t know how much longer I can continue to be selfish with out my husband resenting me. I don’t want kids and resent him either.
    Definitely in a pickle….

  4. I had my son at 33 and while I think now ‘gosh why didn’t we do this 10 years ago, what was I so afraid of?”, if we’d done it 10 years ago then the gene lottery wouldn’t have produced our son.

    Sorry sounds a bit mystical but I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m glad we waited until we felt ready (and not when the grandparents thought we were ready!!!! ;o) ). I should also point it out wasn’t financial position that made us feel ready. I earned waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more in my mid20s on the corporate hamster wheel but changed to a more fulfilling (and less well paid) career in my late 20s.

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