I was contacted recently by a site called Mothering in the Middle, wondering if I would be interested in being a regular contributor to their blog about “midlife” parenting. Their site deals specifically with older parents, or rather with people who became parents closer to middle age than middle school. When you get pregnant at 35 or older and they check off “advanced maternal age” on your record, then this is the site for you. And yes, since I turned 37 yesterday, I suppose I qualify as pretty close to middle age, but I am not having any current babies. My kids are practically adults, at least in their own 5 and 8 year old minds, and I had them in my late 20’s/early 30’s. I didn’t know if I met the requirement.
I voiced my concerns to the woman who runs the site, She-Ra Spearo, and confirmed to her that I was not dealing with things like IVF treatments, or being asked if I was the children’s grandfather, or other issues that might be talking points for people in their 40’s who have babies. What could I possible have to say about midlife parenting? And she told me that age is all a state of mind. If I felt like a middle-aged parent, then I was one. The number was unimportant. Did I feel like I belonged on that site? Did I identify with the articles written there? Were these my peers on an emotional level? I asked for a few days to think about it, and then I searched my soul, looking for its age.
As I pondered what my true place in the universe was, I recalled an experience I had had at my wife’s office holiday party a few months ago. You see, my wife and I are two very different people in many ways. This is good. It balances us out. And one way that we are different is in the way that we choose our peer groups. Ever since high school and college, my wife has been naturally drawn to people who are older than she is. At work, she gravitates towards the slightly older folks. As we both hovered around age 35, all of her friends started to turn 40. My friends, on the other hand, are all turning 30.
If my wife skews 5 years older, I skew 5 years younger. My singing friends from the young artists programs, my grad school friends, the people from various jobs that I have had, all seem to be on the younger side. And when we went to the holiday party and had to choose people to sit with, I instinctively tried to gather the people in their 20’s to our table. I did not succeed. Now, before I go any further I want to say that everyone at my table was awesome, and I had a good time at the dinner. But that being said, as we discussed retirement accounts, home improvement, and what our kids were doing, I couldn’t help but steal a few longing glances at the next table over. “The kids table,” my table jokingly called it. They were a little more raucous over there, laughing loudly, jumping around, talking about young people things, and I felt very clearly that they were “my people.” I was at the wrong table.
My wife had a fantastic time, talking about wine and other adult things, and I wistfully wondered what I could possibly have to contribute to such an established group of certified adults. But then it hit me, as I sat having polite conversations with other grown-ups: I did not belong at the kids’ table. What did I have in common with them? They would see right away that I was an impostor. I am nearing 40. I have two kids. I can’t sit there and talk about who wants to hook up with who, or which bar is the best at 2 AM. All the stories I have are about my children, and classical music rehearsals and concerts. And do you know who loves to hear stories about your kids and opera? Grown-ups. As much as I felt the pull of that other table, I didn’t belong there. Not anymore. It was better that I was not allowed to sit with them. I would have only embarrassed myself.
With this in mind, I wrote back to She-Ra and declined her offer. I would not become a regular writer for her site. Not only did I not really have the time, I definitely did not identify with being an older parent of younger children. In my mind, I am still 25. Even though I know now that I am not, there is a part of me that will always believe I am very young, and I will continue to surround my self with young people, or other old people who also believe that they are young. I am not, in spirit, a middle aged parent.
She-Ra accepted my answer, but we came to a compromise. There are certainly many parenting issues that affect all generations universally, and so it would be very appropriate for me to write once in a while about things I am thinking about that would also be applicable to parents a decade or two older than myself. I will, probably every two or three months, write a piece for them as I am inspired, and my first article was published today. It’s called “Parenting For the Wrong Generation,” and I’d love for you to check it out. There will be more to come as I explore the side of me that maybe does feel like it belongs at the adult table. But the rest of the time I will be right here, writing and posting away as usual, under the delusion that I just finished college a few years ago, and that high schoolers think I am cool.