“There is no greater challenge than to have someone relying upon you.”
— Kingman Brewster, Jr.
While the majority of children are born to fathers ages 20-34, becoming a later-in-life dad is a distinct trend. Current research indicates that since 1980, birth rates have increased 40 percent for men 35-49.
I’m 40 myself, with an 18-month-old daughter, and believe me, becoming a father challenges you in unexpected ways, especially becoming a father later in life. Physically, emotionally, and financially, a baby can come as a shock to the established pattern of an older father’s life. If you are about to become a later-in-life dad, here are some challenges you might face in the months ahead.
Getting Enough Sleep
Gone are the days of staying up late, getting up early and being able to run all day long. As older dads we need to “ration our rest” so we have the energy to keep up with our kids as they get older (and even more so during those first few sleepless weeks.)
The advice that’s been given to newbie moms for years is just as good for us: Rest when the baby rests … and discover the joy of power napping! Getting to bed on time and maintaining a healthy sleep pattern includes:
• A proper diet and plenty of exercise
• A comfortable mattress, as soft or firm as required
• A conducive sleeping environment (dark, quiet and relaxing)
There are going to be enough late nights, sick nights and 3 a.m. wake-up calls that can’t be avoided, so make the most of every other opportunity.
Having Little in Common With Younger Parents
As embarrassing as it is to admit, I have a hard time following the conversations of my peers at playgroup. I don’t know their bands, I’m not up on their lingo, and I couldn’t care less about the latest video games.
Instead of focusing on our differences, I try to start conversations on topics we might share an interest in, like sports, hobbies, and of course, the one thing we all have in common — kids. The upside, and there’s always an upside, is that many of my “old” friends have kids who are babysitting age!
Change Is More Difficult
Let’s face it, the older we get, the more we are set in our ways. When I was 20, I was ready for anything, usually. I could have a bag packed for a road trip in minutes, or be ready to move by the end of a weekend. Not anymore.
Now, I like to have a little time to think about changes, to consider my options and form a game plan.
Is this a bad thing? Not at all!
I make better decisions and less mistakes at 40 than I did at 20. So, give yourself some time to make a plan. Start as early as you can (pre-pregnancy, if possible) and do some reading, take some notes and start making some plans.
Lack of Stamina
A number of later-in-life dads have told me their biggest concern was being unable to keep up with a toddler at 42, or a teenager at 55. I think this is a valid concern, and it’s one that I’ve certainly experienced myself.
Luckily, this is an easy one to fix. If you’re a dad over 40, get to the gym several times a week, take a hard look at your diet and make improvements, start walking more and sitting less. Not only will you have the energy for your kids, but you’ll look better, feel better and stick around longer, as well!
Many guys in their 40s are in their peak earning years, having achieved a certain level of success in their career. It may be more difficult at this point to start taking time off for children, but even if you can’t be a stay-at-home dad, it doesn’t mean you have to be in the office 70 hours a week.
More and more businesses are waking up to the realization that job-sharing and telecommuting often is better for the company, better for the employee and better for the bottom line. Most stay-at-home dads I know are also (like me) work-at-home dads.
So, explore your options!
Finally, to end on a positive note, older dads often benefit from having had more time to gather additional life experience and learn problem-solving skills. So take a deep breath and get ready for the rewards of being a later-in-life father — that first smile, first step, first word and all the other “firsts” that lie ahead. These are the gold medals for being a dad.