Starting Families Later In Life Could Cause 'Grandparent Deficit' In a recent piece for Time magazine, Susanna Schrobsdorff presents an unexpected challenge for people starting families later in life.

Starting Families Later In Life Could Cause 'Grandparent Deficit'

Starting Families Later In Life Could Cause 'Grandparent Deficit'

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In a recent piece for Time magazine, Susanna Schrobsdorff presents an unexpected challenge for people starting families later in life. She tells NPR's Arun Rath about the variable she calls the grandparent deficit.


In a recent piece for Time magazine, Susanna Schrobsdorff discusses an often overlooked challenge for people starting families later in life - a variable she calls the grandparent deficit.

SUSANNA SCHROBSDORFF: I'm one of the first generations of women to have children significantly later than their parents. As our kids are born, we don't have the support of our parents, as we might have if we'd had kids younger. And it's something a lot of us just didn't consider when we were thinking about our biological clocks and our life plans.

RATH: And you wrote about how your thinking about this came together a few months ago when you were visiting your father. Can you tell us about that day?

SCHROBSDORFF: Sure. I was visiting my dad. He's in an assisted living home in Washington, D.C. And my sister brought her daughter, who is in kindergarten, and she was bouncing around the dining room. And there are a lot of older women in their 80s and even 90s and hundreds sitting there, and they were just taken with her. And they kept asking, is this your great-granddaughter, to my dad, who's got dementia and couldn't quite answer. But when we explained that it was the granddaughter, I think that she just looked so young in the context of this place. And I think a generation ago, she would've been a great-granddaughter, but now she's the granddaughter.

RATH: You know, you and I are pretty much the same generation, and everything you wrote about felt very familiar to me. My wife and I didn't meet until we were in our 30s. And we actually - when we were planning our family, it wasn't just our own ages we took into account. We actually thought about the grandparent factor you're talking about as a reason to get started sooner than later. Do you think a lot more people like us, who are having kids later in life, are having that as part of their planning conversation?

SCHROBSDORFF: Absolutely. And I think that one thing I thought about is that if my children have children as late as I did, there's a double gap because if they don't have kids until their late 30s, early 40s, I will be in my 80s by the time I have a toddler grandchild. And I kept thinking, well, will I be the babysitter, or will I need the babysitter?

RATH: So, Susanna, would you advise your own children, then - do you plan to advise them to have kids earlier?

SCHROBSDORFF: Well, I want them to have everything. I want them to have a great career and go to graduate school and do everything that they want to do the way I did and travel. But I think I might end up being one of those moms who pushes her kids to have grandchildren. In fact, a couple of people wrote in and said, did my mother pay you to write this article?

RATH: (Laughter).

SCHROBSDORFF: And so I think - I think my selling point on that is that a lot of people talk about how difficult it is to lean in when you have a new baby or when you're - if you have kids, when you're just building your career. I would argue that it is easily as difficult to have little kids, a fully blown, intense career and also be caring for your parents in the way that a lot of us have to care for people with dementia or other physical problems. So my argument is that if you have kids earlier, it can help you.

RATH: Right. I mean, it sounds - maybe it sounds selfish, but for a lot of people, a lot of families rely on grandparents for support with child care. And the older one is, the harder that gets.

SCHROBSDORFF: Yeah. Or at least, you could leave your children with your parents for a week and have time with your partner and get a break. Now I think a lot of us are juggling where, you know, I'm calling to get supplies for my dad, or my sister's talking to his aides to change his medication. And so it's another responsibility on the level of a kid.

RATH: You know, you're not advocating directly for people to have children younger. And, you know, it's a tricky thing because women are still put upon more than men to make this choice between children and career. And it feels like this is another factor which just makes it harder to be able to balance everything.

SCHROBSDORFF: Absolutely. I felt bad writing the article because...


SCHROBSDORFF: ...We write a lot of articles about biological clocks and should you freeze your eggs you young woman. And this just, in the calculus of modern life, I've just added a huge, enormously difficult variable. Well, what about your parents, and what - do you want them to help take care of your kids? So I would never advocate having kids earlier, but maybe I would advise saying, like, think about this one factor if you have that opportunity. Some of us, you know, we didn't meet our partners until later in life, so it's not even a choice.

RATH: Susanna Schrobsdorff is an assistant managing editor at Time. Her piece, "The Grandparent Deficit: Fertility Isn't The Only Biological Clock," ran recently in Time. Susanna, thanks very much.


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