“My friends and I are all in our mid-30s and while I’m still single, most of my friends are married and/or have kids already. My parents love grandchildren and have been constantly asking about my “plans” to settle down and have my own family because I’m at the “age” to do so. I’m ambivalent about this. On one hand, I don’t think it’s right to start a family just because of an artificial timeline that may be based on cultural or peer pressure. On the other hand, I have older friends who regretted not having kids earlier because they now feel too old and lethargic to interact with their kids. Is there a right answer to this?”
—Single at 30
Take relationship advice with a grain of salt
tldr: There is no right answer, but there is a way forward that feels right to you.
I trust that your older friends and family members are genuine in sharing their relationship advice, and don’t want you to miss out on quality time with your future kids. But other people’s opinions should not be the main reason for your decisions
Like many other life-changing decisions, such as changing careers and moving to a new city, the decision to have a child requires careful planning and preparation.
SHIFTING CULTURAL NORMS
I appreciate that you are aware of the external pressures from your parents and peers. It’s understandable to want to follow a prescribed path that does feels authentic to you.
There are cultural factors at play, as you mentioned, that adds to the weight of the pressure.
In a Pew research study, Asian Americans were found to prioritize family-oriented values, such as being a good parent and having a good marriage, more than other ethnic and white groups.
Traditionally, these cultural factors played a key functional role. Having children was not only essential to continuing the lineage. But filial piety also ensured that the elders are taken care of by their family at old age.
I can relate to modern resonances of these values as a Taiwanese first generation.
However, the current generation is challenging these preconceptions of what ‘settling down’ should look like. You might feel alienated by being the only single person in your network sans children.
However, 0n a larger scale, you are not alone.
Many individuals are having children at a later age in life, contrary to what the relationship advice from your family and friends might otherwise indicate.
Following the new demographic trends
Globally, the mean age of women at first childbirth has been on a steady rise in the last four decades. The data from the National Vital Statistics System in 2014 shows that Asian or Pacific Islander mothers had the oldest average age at first birth.
This shift is caused by many factors, including access to education and social policies, that allow individuals to make intentional childbearing decisions.
The overall delayed transition to adulthood also impacts the choice to postpone parenthood. The median age, at which people consider themselves to have “joined adulthood,” is currently on the rise. In 1996, the median age in Canada was 35; this year, it’s 41.
As these trends continue, cultural and societal norms are bound to shift.
The choice to embark on marriage and parenthood is not a simple choice. Sometimes having the luxury of choice is both a privilege and a challenge.
Embracing Diverse forms of family
Just as there is no “right” way to decide if you should put kids on your to-do list, there is also no right way to become a parent.
As societal and cultural norms evolve, marriage and parenthood are no longer synonymous. Family forms have diversified and the chronological pipeline from dating to marriage, to having children is no longer the only route to parenthood.
Through recognizing the many iterations of what a relationship or family unit could look like, you are helping to propel a much needed societal and cultural shift.
While one consideration might be whether or not you have a stable partner, some individuals also choose to become single parents even before walking down the aisle.
Adoption, assisted reproduction (in vitro or surrogate) are all viable options, though each not without challenges and financial means.
It is helpful to learn about a spectrum of experiences, as well as how different family structures or fertility journeys work.
A question as old as time
Another concern you brought up is aging. Whether it is our overall energy level, well-being or fertility, these biological factors vary from individual to individual, based on their lifestyles as well as genetics.
You can be older but still feel youthful and energetic. Your physiological “biological” age does not necessarily equate to your chronological “actual” age, which is equivalent to the years that have passed since your birth date.
Fortunately, there are many medical advances that aid in dealing with a variety of issues, as well as the knowledge of how we can maintain and improve our long-term health. Perhaps those years of healthy eating and exercising at the gym will finally pay off!
Besides, each individual is so unique and has our own predisposed conditions and history. The relationship advice and biological considerations, which are kindly offered by your family and friends, may not necessarily apply to your situation.
As I chase around my three-year-old, I agree that taking care of a toddler is physically exhausting. However, once she hits the teenage years, I appreciate that it will likely morph into more of a mental and emotional challenge.
That’s why it is important to pay attention to your own needs and wants in order to stay grounded even in the toughest times.
So take this time to consider different versions of what family life might look like for you. Figure out which one aligns best with your personal values.
follow your own relationship advice
Instead of focusing on someone’s marital status, we should refocus the conversations on how to build healthy relationships and support each other to find contentment and fulfillment.
Regardless of what lifestyle we choose to pursue.
When contemplating the important question of ‘settling down,’ identify what the building blocks of your desired partner and family dynamics are.
What kind of relationship do you want to develop with your loved ones?What is the environment you want your kids to grow up with should you start your own family?
This is your opportunity to redefine what an ideal marriage or family should look like. As well as what kind of values you would like to pass on to the next generation.
Some grandparents I know like to joke about how they enjoy the privilege of having fun with their grandchildren and being able to return them to their parents at the end of the day.
This goes to show that while your parents and extended family will likely play a prominent role in your child’s life, you will become their primary role model and gatekeeper. Starting a family is 100% a personal choice.
I hope when or if you do start a family, it is at the best possible time for you. Meanwhile, stay on top of that healthy regime!
Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments here. Or, subscribe to our newsletter to get Kiki’s advice straight to your inbox on the last Sunday of every month.
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