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A Family Affair: When life doesn’t always go as planned
Feb. 10, 2022 7:00 am
I’m about to turn 40.
And it’s kind of a weird feeling. The only real birthday I remember my parents celebrating when I was growing up was my mom’s 40th birthday. I was 14 at the time, and my aunt decorated out house with black balloons letting all the neighbors know that my mom was about to be 40.
My life at 40 looks much different than my mom’s. When she turned 40 she was already a mom to five children and my youngest sister would come along about six months later. When I turn 40, I’ll have an 18-month year old son, and a new daughter in about a month.
When she turned 40, my mom had been married for about 17 years – I’ll be married just three. When my mom turned 40 she lived only 20 miles from where she grew up – I’ll be more than 2,000 miles away.
For the most part, my mom met what is considered the developmental milestones for relationship. She got married in her 20s, stayed close to her family, and if my youngest sister hadn’t been a surprise, had completed her family in her mid 30s.
I was single until I was 37, haven’t lived close to family in more than a decade, and by most measures, I’ll be considered an old dad.
But there are lots of similarities between my mom and I at 40. Most importantly, we love our spouses and our kids. We are committed to being good parents and partners, and we’ve oriented our lives to build family that is connected and close.
Too often there are expectations that happy families can only be built if we follow a developmental script. We need to get married in our 20s and have and raise kids in your 30s. If we aren’t married by a certain age, we have some how missed out on the opportunity to build a life and family that we really want.
This is a fear that all too many bring to my therapy room. They have in their minds that if certain things don’t happen by a certain age, they won’t be able to have those things.
But this just isn’t the case. Happy marriages and family can be built at any age and in many ways. If we put pressure on ourselves to meet a certain culture idea about what age things should be happening, we may miss out on opportunities or settle for something that may not bring us what we hope for in the future.
While I still feel a bit weird turning 40, I would not change the way my life has played out. My wife and my kids were worth the wait.
Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and University of Iowa professor. He co-hosts the Attached Podcast. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org