DR. RAMEY: What’s the best age to have a child?

Older moms make better parents was one conclusion from a study lasting over 15 years that was just published in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology. Simple questions sometimes have complex answers, and prospective parents need to be careful before making a decision to delay having children based only on this research.

This project began in 1995 and studied more than 6,000 kids and 4,741 moms in Denmark. Older moms’ children had fewer behavioral, social, and emotional problems when the kids were 7 and 11 years of age. There were no differences when the kids were 15 years old. Throughout childhood, older moms were also less likely to need to reprimand their kids verbally.

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One interpretation of these results is that older individuals are more mature and better prepared to deal with the challenges of parenting. However, delaying childbirth is not without its risks, both to the baby and the mom.

While age matters, it’s more important to consider the following factors.

1. Relationships. Kids thrive in an environment with stable and attentive parents. Do you have stable and caring relationships with friends, family, and most importantly with your spouse? Raising children is tough work. How do you solve problems, manage stress, and deal with intense feelings?

Don’t even think about having a child as a way to improve your relationship with your spouse. It doesn’t work, and your child will be the casualty.

2. Financial stability. Parenting is expensive, with families spending around $13,000 a year on child-rearing expenses. Don't minimize the impact of these financial pressures. Arguments about money are one of the most common sources of disagreements between partners.

3. Career plans for you and your partner. While many companies are developing more family-friendly parental leave policies, raising kids will impact your career.

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Accept the reality that you can’t do everything. Once you have a child, late meetings and work on weekends are incredibly difficult. Some mistakenly use the word “balance” to describe the challenge of figuring out how to be a great spouse, parent, employee and also take care of yourself.

You can’t balance all of these tasks. You’ll eventually set priorities, and figure out how to accomplish what’s most important to you. However, don’t mislead yourself into thinking these demands will remain in balance. Kids are a risk to your relationship with your spouse, which is not something you can put on pause until the kids are older.

Don’t be discouraged from having children. Make a decision that’s right for you with a full appreciation for the joys and challenges.

Next Week: How Happy are American Kids?

Dr. Ramey is the Executive Director of Dayton Children’s Pediatric Center for Mental Health Resources and can be contacted at Rameyg@childrensdayton.org.

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