As more parents decide to marry later, students find advantages and disadvantages

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Peter “Duffy” Mahoney met his wife in Seattle during the 1990 Goodwill Games. He worked as the U.S. team leader, and she served as a certified athletic trainer working with one of the teams. They met again two years later at the Barcelona Olympic training camp and married the following year.

Mr. Mahoney was 48.

Four years later, when he was 52, he had junior Meghan Mahoney; four years after that, at the age of 56, Ryan Mahoney was born.

“We planned on having kids after a year or so of marriage, but it took a couple years,” Mr. Mahoney said. “The fact is that Megan will be 18 when I turn 70, and then she’ll be a freshman in college.”

Mr. Mahoney is an extreme case in the rapidly growing trend of later marriage and subsequent later parenting. According to the Center for Disease Control, the average age of first-time parents has risen four years from that of 1970, to the late 20s. This tendency toward later parenting is closely connected with the growing inclination toward later marriage; Pew Research reported in a 2011 study that the median age for first marriage has risen about six years.

Older parenting, according to counselor Stephanie Payne, can have both advantages and disadvantages.

“There are definitely a lot of trickledown effects that I don’t think people think about when they make that decision to wait and have kids later,” Payne said. “I think we’re in a society right now where it’s all about me. And I’m going to go out and have fun and establish my career, and then some time later I’ll settle down and have kids.”

However, Payne said the case of parents waiting until after launching their careers to have kids holds benefits for the children.

“They’ve had a chance to become more established in their careers, maybe they’ve saved some money, they’ve established themselves in a good school system,” she said. “And that, I think, can definitely be an advantage for kids.”

With advanced age comes other benefits. Not only is the financial situation more stable, but also the parents may have more time to spend with their children.

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“If I had children when I was young and career-building and on the road and working quite a bit, then I would not have nearly as much as I do now for my kids,” Mr. Mahoney said. “I’m a better father because I spend much more time at my children’s events, and I have the time to do so now that I’ve got a fully established career. Whereas when I was young and in my 30s, I was a college coach and on the road most weekends, recruiting, I wouldn’t have had nearly as much time, and I don’t think I would have been as good a father for my children.”

Meghan said she spent some time with her parents as a child at their respective workplaces.

“My mom is an athletic trainer, so both of my parents work full-time,” she said. “But my mom took me to the high school she works at, and I basically grew up in the training room with all the high school kids, watching my mom work.”

However, such advancement in career is not all beneficial. Payne said retirement might be an issue for older parents with students who are just heading to college.

For the older parent, particularly those around advanced childbearing age who have their children after the age of 40, Payne said that overlapping college tuition, social security and retirement can be a problem.

“I think that would probably have an effect on whether they made their decision to retire then, knowing that they’ve got a huge tuition bill to cover for four more years, or even two more years,” Payne said. “I can see that it would hold off retirement at least until the kid is out of college.”

Mr. Mahoney, now 67 and collecting social security, said he does not plan to retire for some time.

“Whether it’s (because of) the economics of our society, or that people are just healthier and live longer, I have no plan of retiring,” he said. “Right now, I don’t see me stopping working, because I am quite healthy and I love my work.”

Mr. Mahoney said his advanced career provides security and benefits for his children and household. He also said his age allows for emotional stability that younger parents may not have.

“I have a very balanced approach (to parenting),” he said. “I have the patience of an older person. The advantage to having been to 40 countries around the world is that I have a very different worldview. I’m very understanding and accommodating of what my children might do, and I think that’s a factor of older age.”

According to Payne, one downside of older age parenting is that children often do not have the opportunity to meet their grandparents.

“It definitely affects whether you know your grandparents or not, because if your parents are old, your grandparents may not still be living,” she said.

“(Meghan) knows her maternal grandparents, because they’re still alive, but my mom and dad passed away back in 1991 and 1992, so Meghan didn’t ever know my parents,” Mr. Mahoney said.

Meghan said she regrets not being able to get to know her paternal grandparents.

“They sounded like nice people,” she said. At the same time, she said she doesn’t spend very much time with her maternal grandparents.

Payne said students with older parents may have to support them while first establishing themselves.

“Having an older parent could affect (the kid’s) freedom, to some degree, in their 20s,” she said. “If you’ve got older parents that have some health issues, then that could really have an effect on your ability to enjoy your twenties in ways that other people are enjoying it.”

Meghan said she isn’t worried about it. “Since my mom is so much younger than my dad, she’ll be able to help, too,” she said.

“I never really think about that, because even though my dad is so old, he just seems really young to me. But I have had those thoughts before.”

Mr. Mahoney, too, said he is not anxious about the future.

“I don’t have any expectations,” Mr. Mahoney said. “I just want her to be happy, I want Ryan to be happy, pick good schools, have a good education and just be good people.”

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