04 February, 2013

Staying young

“My kids keep me young” - a comment I have often heard from parents.  It is a comment that makes me cringe, that smug implication that a parent is by definition more youthful than me, that assumption that I am old before my time, that I can't relate to the youth of today, because I am not a parent.  It’s a comment we have probably all heard, and I know that those of us without kids have often wondered, and sometimes blogged, whether not having kids has either prematurely aged us, or at least prevented us from keeping up with "kids these days."

As I mentioned in a previous post, over the last month or two I have had my 21 year old niece (and her cousin who is around the same age), staying with us for a few days here, a few days there, as she’s been exploring the country of her birth.  We’ve always been close, and can pretty much talk about anything.  So having her in the country for so long has been a joy to me.

I was thinking about our relationship, and realised that maybe I am able to relate to her in ways the mothers of my generation* might not be able to relate to their daughters, simply because they have that generational mother-daughter relationship, a relationship full of responsibility, of power and authority (whether intentional or not), of duty and guilt, of role behaviours, of punishment and reward.  Whereas our relationship is, I like to think, much more that of two people who have decided they like each other.  We don't slot into generational roles. We talk openly about life and aspirations, and about things that she feels unable to share with her parents.  Seeing her off at the airport the other day, I joked about “our generation.”  And she corrected me –whilst I’m the same generation as her parents, she doesn't include us in the generational stereotypes she applies to her parents.  She feels we understand her and, I think, the world she lives in.  (Which is not to say she doesn't think we're ancient! She is 21 after all.)  Or at least, I think she feels we make an effort to understand her.  And she knows I don’t have any judgements or expectations of her behaviour, and that I’m there for her, to support her, in whatever she decides to do in the future.  All I want for her is for her to be happy.  I don’t have any “standards of success” she has to live up to. She doesn’t have to worry about disappointing me, in the way she might fear disappointing her parents.   Our relationship simply doesn't have that "parent filter."  And so it feels more equal.  Age doesn't come into it.

And when I think about my own lifestyle, without children, I realise that I don’t live my life any differently now than when I did when I was 30.  We keep up with technology because it is something my husband and I are interested in.  And we don’t have children to rely on to reprogramme the TV, or fix the laptop, or set up the iPad, like some of my friends whose knowledge of technology has stalled since they had children.  We have to do it ourselves, or not at all.  And “not at all” is not an option for us.  Likewise we stay aware of modern music – I work out at a gym and see the music videos on the big screen as I sweat; we keep up with all the modern movies and TV programmes (OK, we might not have known who Shaun the Sheep was until my sister/niece introduced us, but I can live with that as I chuckle away at Glee or The Big Bang Theory); and we try to remain very aware of the world.  It is an attitudinal thing – not having children has nothing to do with staying current, being aware of modern society, or enthusiastically embracing new technology.  In fact, not having children is a great motivator to stay current.  Because if we don't, we have no-one to drag us back into the 21st century.  

But having a 21 year old around has also made me feel very old. Explaining (as I mentioned in a previous post) to her that 1998 was not the dark ages in terms of social policy, and trying to get her to understand that in many ways I fear that young woman have less freedom now than I did in the 1980s or 90s, has made me feel positively ancient.  Try telling a 21 year old that 15 years is not a long time, let alone getting her to understand that the 1980s were relatively recent!  I've felt very middle-aged; I feel as if I’ve aged 10 years in just the last two weeks.  In ways, it has been a rude awakening.  Is this how my friends with kids feel? Without children around, I don’t have that constant reminder that I am no longer young (until I look in the mirror, that is).  I don’t have the label “mother of adult children” or even scarier, “grandmother” as some of my circle have already.  I don’t look at my children and remember them as babies or their first day of school, and feel the intervening years.  I don't feel the passing of time in that way.  I just feel the way I feel, as old or as young as I feel on any given day. I feel just like I did when I was 30.  And that is quite liberating.

* I know this is a gross generalisation, and I can think of at least one friend (also a blog reader) who seems to have a very candid relationship with her daughter (of the same age as my niece).


  1. All kids make me feel old. And by kids, I mean anyone who was born after I graduated from high school. But, I keep up with technology somewhat. And I will try to continue, since my mom and her technology issues make me CRAZY!!! And I can usually relate somewhat to people younger than me. But once my daughter gets a little older, I'm sure I will have to hold back a little or risk embarrassing her.

    My aunts (who had no children) were both easy and difficult to relate to. They were very much older than me (one was probably 50 years older and the other maybe 45), so that may have been a factor. I really appreciated their counsel because, while my mother would fight for what she thought I should have academically, my aunts were the ones who were encouraging. Although, my one aunt wanted me to be a diplomat, and it took her until I was in my 20s before she would acknowledge what a horrible fit that would have been!

  2. I never understood the "kids keep me young" since in my experience, the mommy role always seems to age and change them for the worse when they immerse themselves in the role of "mommy" and no longer identify themselves as a wife, artist, or whatever.

    I alternate between feeling "old" and feeling exactly the same as I was in my 20s. I still love video games, cartoons, stay up way too late sometimes. I am constantly discovering new music I love and keep up with what is going on in the world. Then I get around the 20-somethings, and it's like they are a different species and it makes me feel out of touch.
    I have a group of "kids" at my work that love to come hang out at my desk and like talking to me, and I seem to be the one they call when they have questions about how stuff works with programs and design stuff. It took a little while to get that they look at me as sort of a mentor figure... since I would never have seen myself in this role, it was flabbergasting to me to realize that. That made me feel both flattered, and old. But not a bad old, a "wow, I'm the example that they look up to" experienced teacher role of "old." I'm okay with that.

    As long as I still feel like myself in my head, I'm good.

  3. Yes, I have heard a comment "My kids keep me young" way too often. And this comment always irritates me. Obviously because it implies that I am old since not having kids to keep me young. And secondly, because it is not true.
    I am 40 which means that vast majority of women that I know have kids in an age group 3 - 10. I have always thought (and still think) that kids make women older (lack of sleep, lack of me-time, lots of stress). So the comment "My kids keep me young" is just a general saying that makes mothers feel better.

    I spent whole Saturday afternoon with my DH's 17-year-old nephew, teaching him German. It was lovely. He had bad notes a year ago, so I started to teach him. The grades improved singifically. I like having a nice project together with a teenage boy. But talking to him, I always feel old. But not old in a bad meaning of the word. After all, I wouldn't want to be 17 again (just to think that there was a time when I thought that having a broken heart (after 2 weeks of dating) was the most horrible thing that can happen to you, makes me smile).

  4. your post brought back this memory: http://poffertj.blogspot.nl/2009/12/snow.html

    Age is such a personal thing... Early thirties I had to rewire my thinking about age: people started to think my 3 year younger brother was older than me (because had he lost most of his hair) and then my early menopause was announcing itself.
    I guess part of age is your body too, and I agree with Klara that sleepless nights don't help
    The/an other part might be mindfulness? The ability to look at the world with open eyes?

    (and in contrast, my current pregnancy brain with cleaning urges makes me feel centuries old ;-), or my need to take naps...)

  5. Ahhh...hmmm...where to start? My Mom is 32 years older than me, but she's "moderate enough" not to be a traditional Chinese Indo woman/mother. In fact, I can say that many friends of mine have told me many times over how lucky I am to have a mother like that and how they wished their mothers were like mine. So I must say that when I grieved over IF, I grieved over the possibility of wanting to be that kind of mother to my kids (even though deep inside I know that my Mom and I have different personalities and I can never be the way she is, still during TTC days I hoped I could impart some of her wisdom to our children).

    Anyway, you're right about the dynamics between you and your niece versus her parents and her. I'm glad you have a niece like that whom you get along well. :-)

    I rarely hear "My kids keep me young", though. In fact, my own mother has said over and over again, "Do you think having kids is fun? Think twice! It's easy to help the kids grow by feeding them good food, but it's very difficult to guide them and train them into responsible adults."

  6. "And when I think about my own lifestyle, without children, I realise that I don’t live my life any differently now than when I did when I was 30."

    You nailed it- I'm in my 40's, and I hadn't felt any different from when I was in my 20's or 30's. I'm still active and geeky (will be going to Comic Con this year!). Sometimes I hear folks say "my kids keep me young", yet I observe the parents having bags under their eyes, going to bed early and saying they don't have energy to handle their kids.

    Recently I had two kids from a cousin visiting me; before they visited me, the cousin warned me that they'd wear me out. By the end of week, the cousin came to pick them up, we were already planning for another weekend visit! I didn't feel tired, I felt re-energized! Was nice to go geeky with the kids (they felt they couldn't connect with their parents about Dr. Who, Star Trek and comic books.) So in a way, I had a realization, would I be the same person as a mother? I don't know.

    So I'm glad you have the connection with your niece! :) She feels she can be herself with you and she knows that.

  7. Yep... there are many days that I still feel like I'm in my 20s. And then...! Someone (slightly older than me) was saying they found themselves having to explain Sputnik to a younger person recently. I recently blogged about reading Rod Stewart's memoir, and how one of my 20-something coworkers had heard of him, but had never heard the song "Maggie May." (!!) It's stuff like that that makes me feel ancient.

    I know parents like to say their kids keep them young... but I've also seen plenty of parents age pretty quickly... especially once the kids become teenagers, lol. ; )

  8. My 19 year old niece's boyfriend (also 19), commented that she and I behave as though we were sisters. My niece had made a similar comment before. I was 23 when she was born, but she calls me by my nickname, not Aunt so and so... We've always been very playful, and I've usually played the role of encouraging her parents to let her do things... like getting her license on her 16th birthday (which is what I did). As far as music and tv programs go, however... I do feel that her mom is more up to date than I am. I think that for the mothers of teenage girls, being trendy like their daughters, watching the same programs and listening to the same music, even wearing the same clothes, is a way of bonding with their kids. I really prefer reading to almost anything I can watch on tv. I can go days and days without turning on the television. I do point my niece and nephew to books I've read that they might enjoy. I'm really bad with music, too... really, really bad at keeping up with trends. I taught high school for several years, and new the slang, dances, music that "my kids" liked, but I wasn't compelled to imitate them. :) So, I really don't know what it means that "kids keep you young?"... I think it's the kind of thing people say to themselves to make themselves feel better. I think laughing, keeping a positive attitude and enjoying life as much as possible is key to keeping everybody young.

  9. You know, I hate that too. There are so many annoying cliche sayings like that and I find them so obnoxious. And people say "oh you get to relive your childhood through your kids..and they keep you fresh and young" - but honestly, now that I am around people who have children on a regular basis I see that parents actually seem really tired, that they don't have time for exercise and cooking or other things to take care of themselves and like they are aging faster than people who don't have kids. So, I entirely write this off. But, I imagine people say this because it is a coping mechanism. In those hard times, they are look for some thing to encourage them and push themselves forward.

  10. Speaking as someone who has a child, that cliche is a total lie. I'd take cool aunt any day over trying to keep up with every bit of kid minutiae mine is interested in. (and I hope this doesn't come across as me being ungrateful for my mom status - I am very grateful but I know how much insanity I put myself through getting here) You folk are absolutely right that it's bunk.