We are in our mid-40s. Busy with our careers and multiple city changes, we chose to have our child late: He’s just 5. Obviously, we are his world, and for both of us he’s our first priority. But I worry whether that does not circumscribe his world to us and maybe, in some way, not prepare him for a time when we aren’t around. We don’t have a large family to fall back on, though we have a close-knit circle of friends—there again, though, most of the children are older than our son. What would you suggest we do?
No doubt, his world is currently you and your world is him. But quite naturally, whether you are a young or older parent, this changes. Children make (and should be encouraged to make) bonds with other significant adults, favourite aunts and uncles, and godparents.
Yes, you have a valid question mark in your mind: After us, what? First, no more does one need to assume that old age equals ill health and incapacity. You could be quite a sprightly and energetic parent till late into your life. And death is a famous prankster, so you don’t have to necessarily assume that you won’t be around for your child after his 20s.
Buddies: Children need grown-up friends.
Second, it is also the quality of time that you spend with him that has to count, and this will last him well beyond your lifetime. A child brought up in a secure and loving environment by middle-aged parents is more likely to be emotionally anchored and prepared for different situations, and has a big advantage over any child who has an unstable home with young parents. While physical and financial support and being there “long enough” is a primary concern for older parents, so much can be gifted to your child in terms of being emotionally present. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean older parents should cosset and spoil their children, but that they should provide far-reaching emotional security in mature and well-thought-out ways.
Do encourage your son, gradually, to develop good, strong, subsidiary, but important, relationships with other adults. This is something all parents should pay attention to anyway as part of giving your child access to other caring adults. So many adults have deep and sustaining relationships with aunts, uncles, or friends of parents, well after their parents have died. That is another kind of wealth you can provide your child. And this comes from your first investing in the friendships you have.
Second, you do have a greater responsibility to remain fit, physically, emotionally and financially, and you should work towards this steadily and positively.
Avoid, at any point, holding “we won’t be around forever you know” kind of conversations with your son, even in later years. Also avoid referring to yourselves as “oldies” and talking about how young other parents are in comparison, etc.
Obviously, you have not entered parenthood casually or by default. It is a well-thought-out and composed decision. I urge you to maintain the same equanimity and self-assurance when you are beset by anxieties, small and big, about your child’s future.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.Send Gouri your queries at firstname.lastname@example.org