On Being a Middle-aged Parent

Parenting is hard. I feel well qualified to make that assessment. My wife and I started our family when we were in our early 20s. Now in our 40s (when did that happen?), we’ve arrived at the point where our older children are leaving home. Determined not to let us be empty-nesters until we’re ready for retirement, God blessed us with a new child just over a year ago.

We now find ourselves experiencing a broad spectrum of parenting all at once. Between our eldest daughter, who works for an insurance firm and pays her own bills, and our youngest son, who is still trying to figure out how his legs work, we have a Star Wars-loving 7-year-old, a 12-year-old just entering adolescence, two teenagers living at home and one away at college. That makes seven altogether (unless I lost count).

Someone asked us recently if having a baby at our age has been good for us. As anyone with children knows, infants are hard work. They demand your full attention day and night and there are no days off. When you become a parent, there is a monumental paradigm shift. You are no longer the most important person in your own life. From that moment forward, someone else’s needs always come before your own.

With infants, that need is immediate. They need feeding. They need changing. They need holding. They need rocking. They need, they need, they need, and you give and give and give. They have no respect for your schedule. They don’t care that you are exhausted. A day you manage to get four hours of sleep and a shower is considered a good day. Parenting an infant is like running a marathon you never trained for – while holding a screaming baby.

It’s one thing to endure all this in the vigor of your 20s. It’s quite another to do it in your 40s. You don’t weather sleepless nights quite as well. You are a bit more set in your ways. And you were so looking forward to the freedom that having older, more independent children allows.

One thing that comes from being older parents is the knowledge that this age of utter dependence is mercifully, if also heartbreakingly, brief. As children grow, certain things get easier. They learn to walk so you don’t have to carry them. They learn to talk so they can better communicate their needs. They learn to feed themselves, bathe themselves and dress themselves. Each step toward independence means a little more freedom for mom and dad. But it also breaks your heart a little.

Parenting requires sacrifice. We don’t put that on the cover of the brochure, but it needs to be acknowledged. Children make your life harder. If you are not ready to accept that, then you are not ready to be a parent and, frankly, you are not ready to be in an adult relationship. Spouses also make your life harder. Friends make your life harder. Any loving relationship will make your life harder because love means making sacrifices for the good of others. Jesus shows us this from the cross.

God is love, and this is what love looks like.

Babies make your life harder, but so do teenagers. So do adult children. Your older kids don’t need you as much, and that’s hard in a different way. Small children rely on you to fix all their problems, but their problems are generally fixable. Older children have problems you can’t fix, though you desperately want to. The day they move out, they are just as much your baby as the day you brought them home from the hospital, only loving them now is more complicated than keeping them clean and fed. You still have sleepless nights.

Why subject yourself to all this? Because children make your life unfathomably richer. With each new child I realize my heart has a greater capacity for love than I previously imagined. Each child allows me to experience the wonder of creation through another set of eyes. With each child my world is expanded. I learn something different about who I am and who my wife is. Each child is a unique blend of the two of us, whose very existence is an eternal testimony of our love.

Perhaps this is why God, who lacks nothing in Himself, decided to create so many children.

Looking only at the difficult aspects of parenting, it is easy to see how some might say it’s not worth it. But that would be like ending the gospel at the Passion; no one would call it good news. We have to look beyond the sacrifice to the new life that flows from it.

Parenting extends your existence beyond yourself in a way that forces you to be less selfish. It teaches you to consider the good of others, especially the vulnerable, and to prioritize others’ needs ahead of your own. It allows you to discover strength that you never knew you had. It teaches you patience and gentleness and shows you that it is possible to carry your cross with joy. To parent well is to discover what it means to love like God, who is both Father and Son.

Is it good for you? You bet. But it’s not easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is.


Deacon Matt’s new book The Devout Life: A Modern Guide to Practical Holiness with St. Francis de Sales is available from Sophia Institute Press.

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Deacon Matthew Newsome is the Catholic campus minister at Western Carolina University and the regional faith formation coordinator for the Smoky Mountain Vicariate. He is the author of The Devout Life: A Modern Guide to Practical Holiness with St. Francis de Sales (Sophia Institute Press, 2023).

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