Ten Tips for Parents of a Smart Child

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All children are entitled to a fair chance to live up to their potential. That includes intellectually bright and gifted kids. After all, they’re the most likely to cure cancer, become wise leaders, create another Google or iPhone. Especially if you feel the schools aren’t adequately helping your child live up to his or her potential, these tips for parents might help, even help a lot.

Do nothing. What, do nothing?! Yes. The good news is that bright and gifted kids left to their own devices usually have the brainpower to come up with activities for themselves that are appropriately difficult and of interest at that time. We as parents, or even educators, are just guessing. So don’t over-schedule your child. Allow him or her time to imagine, create games out of nothing, and yes, use the computer.

Google is your friend. Today, a mere Google search, perhaps with you alongside your child, can unearth remarkable educational and entertaining websites and apps, including those using Virtual Reality. An inexpensive VR headset enables your child to become immersed in everything from outer space to the inside of the human body to a dinosaur-filled prehistoric era. Also, HoagiesGifted.org offers a wealth of resources: tips for parents to lesson plans for teachers, advice for counselors, and schools and summer camps specializing in smart kids.

Ask more; tell less. All kids, but especially bright and gifted ones, grow from being asked open-ended questions rather than being lectured to. For example, as you’re driving, look for opportunities to ask moderately challenging questions, for example, “What do you see as the pros and cons of having speed limits?” When your child comes home late to dinner, instead of a lecture, you might ask, “How do you think we should deal with this?”

And what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so encourage your child to ask you and others “why” questions. Yes, it can be exhausting if your child is constantly asking ‘why’, but take solace that it’s both a sign of intelligence and a sure way to help your child grow.

Get a smart caretaker. Especially if you’re working full-time, consider getting a smart, kind college student to, for example, pick your child up from school, drive to activities, help with homework, and yes, have fun. Often a college student is happy to share a hobby with your child, whether acting, sports, crafts, whatever.

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Encourage good friendships; prohibit bad ones. There’s some evidence that peers may influence a child more than a parent does. Whether or not that’s true, peers certainly matter. So suggest that your child invite smart and nice kids to your home and accompany you on family day trips and vacations. And if there’s a child you’re confident isn’t a good influence, don’t be afraid to prohibit your child from seeing that kid. Yes, s/he may rebel and perhaps sneak but, in general, as long as you give a good reason and try to get your child’s assent, it’s worth taking a stand.

Choose your child’s school carefully. Even if you had the time, volunteering in your child’s class running the bake sale or even being active in the PTA may not be the most potent way to help ensure your child gets a good education. The one-time effort to choose a school is more important. Do choose a school, public or private, in which there are lots of smart kids, although it’s a personal choice whether to choose a school with maximum academic rigor or one oriented to the whole child. How to check out a school? Get the principal’s permission to walk down the halls and peek into classrooms. Can you see your child fitting in? Hang out on the playground. Is the peer interaction generally kind?

Ask for a particular teacher, occasionally. It’s important for your child to have teachers attuned to bright and gifted kids, and if needed, active, spacey, whatever your child is. Remember, that in elementary school, your child will be with that teacher for six hours a day for 180 days.

It’s unrealistic and perhaps unfair to, every year, ask the principal that your child be placed with the most appropriate teacher. But usually, once or twice in elementary school, there’s one teacher at the upcoming grade who would be far better for your child. That, of course, is less important in later years, when a student usually has a given teacher for just one period. But even then, for a course that is your child’s particular interest, strength, or weakness, it may be worth asking other parents, a guidance counselor, and your child to see if a particular teacher is worth asking for.

Skip a grade(s?) If your child is significantly more academically advanced than the students in his or her grade, consider asking the principal or counselor about skipping a grade or even more than one. The evidence is clear that it can be a big plus. Even if the child’s social skills aren’t advanced, the benefit often outweighs the liability, especially if the receiving teacher is pleased to accept the child and pairs the child with a bright, popular, kind child in that class.

You can only refine, not remold your child. Don’t try to turn your bookish kid into a social butterfly, your reticent child into a bold leader, your laid-back kid into a dynamo. Sure, encourage a reasonable work ethic. Sure, expose your child to music lessons, soccer, leadership, whatever, but if early attempts reveal little interest and less talent, honor your child’s individuality—Consider building on strengths rather than remediate weaknesses. As long as your child is behaving ethically and kindly, honor your child’s individuality as you’d want others to honor yours.

Your child is a human being, not just a brain. Unless your child is one of those rare birds who loves been intellectually challenged all the time, leave ample space for the non-intellectual areas of his or her interest: whether sports, the arts, or even, yes, an hour or two a night of TV or video games. They’re more benign than some would have us believe.

In having a smart child, you’ve been given a gift. Your efforts can go a long way toward helping your child live up to his or her potential, and to becoming a happier child and, you in turn, a happier parent.


The 11 best school systems in the world


Every year, the World Economic Forum releases its Global Competitiveness Report on the state of the world’s economies. The WEF looks at data on areas as varied as the soundness of banks to the sophistication of businesses in each country. It then uses the data to compile a picture of the economy of almost every country on earth. Countries were ranked according to the “12 pillars of competitiveness,” which includes macro-economic environment, infrastructure, health and primary education, and labour market efficiency.

We have drilled down into the schooling data to look at which countries have the best education systems. Neither the US or the UK make the grade in the top 11 (3 countries are tied for 9th, making 11 the clearest cut off point.)

Here are the ones that did make the grade:

=9. Japan: 5.6

Japan is one of the top performing countries for literacy, science, and maths in the OECD group. Students go through six years of elementary school, three years of junior high school, and three years of high school before deciding whether they want to go to university. High school is not compulsory but enrolment is close to 98%.

=9. Barbados: 5.9

The Barbados government has invested heavily in education, resulting in a literacy rate of 98%, one of the highest in the world. Primary runs from 4 to 11, with secondary 11 to 18. The majority of schools at both levels are state-owned and run.

=9. New Zealand: 5.6

Primary and secondary education in New Zealand runs from aged 5 to aged 19, with school compulsory between 6 and 16. There are three types of secondary schools in New Zealand: state schools educate approximately 85% of students, state-integrated schools — private schools that have been integrated into the state but keep their special charter — educate 12%, and private schools educate 3%.

=8. Estonia: 5.7

Estonia spends around 4% of its GDP on education, according to 2015 figures. The country’s 1992 Education Act says that the goals of education are “to create favourable conditions for the development of personality, family and the Estonian nation; to promote the development of ethnic minorities, economic, political and cultural life in Estonia and the preservation of nature in the global economic and cultural context; to teach the values of citizenship; and to set up the prerequisites for creating a tradition of lifelong learning nation-wide.”

=6. Ireland: 5.8

The majority of secondary schools in Ireland are privately owned and managed but state-funded, but there are also state comprehensives and vocational schools. However, a recent report shows that Ireland’s spending on education fell 15% behind the developed world during the height of the financial crisis, 2008 to 2013, suggesting its education system could suffer in future.

=6. Qatar: 5.8

The BBC reported in 2012 that oil-rich Qatar was “becoming one of the most significant players in the field of education innovation, supporting a raft of projects from grassroots basic literacy through to high-end university research.” The country is investing heavily in improving educational standards as part of its Vision 2030 programme to make the country self-sufficient. Government-funded schools offer free education but only to Qatari citizens and most foreign nationals tend to send their children to private schools.

=5. Netherlands: 5.9

Dutch children were found to be the happiest in the world in a 2013 Unicef study, leading the way globally educational well-being among others. Schools typically don’t give much homework until secondary level and students report little pressure and stress. Schools are divided between faith schools and “neutral” state schools, with only a small number of private schools.

=4. Singapore: 6.1

Singapore scores incredibly highly in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests, which aim to measure and compare the performance of students across different countries. However, the school system also has a reputation as being a pressure cooker, putting students under a lot of stress at a young age.

=2. Belgium: 6.2

Belgium has four different genres of secondary schools, namely general secondary schools, technical secondary schools, vocational secondary education schools, and art secondary education institutions. The Fulbright Commission in the US, which organises student exchanges with Belgium and Luxembourg says: “Education enjoys high priority, and the largest share of the regional governments’ annual budget in Belgium. Complete systems of public and private schools are available to all children between the ages of 4 and 18, at little or no cost.”

=2. Switzerland: 6.2

Just 5% of children attend private schools in Switzerland. Lessons are taught in different languages depending on the region of Switzerland, with German, French or Italian the most common languages of instruction. From secondary onwards students are separated by ability.

=1. Finland: 6.7

Finland routinely tops rankings of global education systems and is famous for having no banding systems — all pupils, regardless of ability, are taught in the same classes. As a result, the gap between the weakest and the strongest pupils is the smallest in the world. Finnish schools also give relatively little homework and have only one mandatory test at age 16.


The Science of Why Pets Are Good for Kids

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If you grew up with a pet, you probably considered that animal a true friend: playmate, confidante, dress-up pal. In a child’s eyes, a pet is a true member of the family—and new research suggests that kids in turmoil rely on their pets even more than they do their siblings. It also sheds light on the unexpected ways that animals boost kids’ social skills and confidence.

The findings come from Matt Cassels, a Ph.D. psychiatry student at the University of Cambridge. He analyzed the data from a 10-year longitudinal study called the Toddlers Up Project, which examined the social and emotional development of kids from age 2 to 12. Cassels’ study focuses on children with low cognitive skills and their relationships with family, peers, and teachers—and with their pets.

Cassels’ research revealed that pets have profound and perhaps unexpected effects on kids’ social skills. Unsurprisingly, children in the study who faced hard times—their parents’ divorce, tough home lives, or illness—tended to perform poorly in school. But these kids were also more likely to rely on their pets more than their peers for support.

Kids with pets, especially girls with dogs, confided in their pets more frequently than in their own siblings.

“It is really surprising,” Cassels says. “They may feel that their pets are not judging them, and since pets don’t appear to have their own problems, they just listen. Even confiding in a journal can be therapeutic, but pets may be even better since they can be empathetic.”

Kids who bonded strongly with their pets were also better in social situations, helping others, cooperating, sharing, and interacting. Connecting with a pet bolstered their ability to connect with people.

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Cassels’ research suggests our bonds with animals can be viewed as just as important and measurable as our relationships with other humans.

Previous studies have shown that pets help children with autism demonstrate stronger social skills, especially if these animals are dogs. Children who regularly interact with dogs are better at introducing themselves to others and responding to social prompts. Pets have also been shown to boost compassion, self-esteem, and reduce stress in kids.

But Cassels believes more research needs to be done to figure out exactly how close bonds with furry friends impact young people. “Pets are relatable and ubiquitous,” he says. “In the U.S. and England pets are more common in families with young children than resident fathers, and yet we don’t quantify how important they are to us.”

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  • Children who grow up in homes with pets have less risk of developing common allergies and asthma.
  • Playing with dogs may help lower blood pressure.
  • Kids with pets get outside more—to go for walks, run and play—and enjoy all the associated health benefits.
  • Pet owners require fewer doctor’s visits.
  • Emerging readers often feel more comfortable reading aloud to a pet.
  • Nurturing a pet is an acceptable way for boys to “parent play”—to practice being caregivers.
  • Feeding and caring for a pet encourages childhood responsibility.
  • Children with pets display improved impulse control, social skills and self-esteem.
  • Sharing the love and care of a family pet forges an additional common bond among siblings.
  • Cuddling a pet reduces stress, loneliness and anxiety.


30 Little Ways to Show Your Kids You Love Them Every Day

toddler laughing

Some days it seems like you’re just holding everything together—rushing to get the kids to school on time, rushing to get to work, rushing home to cook dinner, then rushing through the bath and bedtime routine. That’s just the way life goes sometimes. If you’re lacking in time (like most parents are) but want to show your child how much you love them, here are 30 little ways that can be incorporated into your day with almost zero effort.

1. Give your child kisses when they wake up.

2. Read an extra book before bedtime.

3. If you get home too late to read books at night, read a book at breakfast instead.

4. If your child can read, put a note in their lunch box that says, “Have fun today! Love you!”

5. Give big hugs and kisses before you leave.

6. Ask what their favorite part of the day was.

7. Ask what the hardest part of the day was, too.

8. When your child is desperate for your attention, drop what you’re doing and give it to them.

9. Look them in the eyes.

10. Stay in their room just a few minutes longer than usual at bedtime.

11. Notice something they’ve done right: “Thank you for putting your toys away, I really appreciate it.”

12. Cook together—let your child help you make dinner or bake together.

13. No matter how bad your day was or how annoyed you are at your kid, never go to bed angry or let your child go to bed feeling that you’re angry with them.

14. Compliment your child on something they do: “I really love listening to you sing. You sing so beautifully.”

15. Try to get ready ahead of your schedule so you can cut out the “hurry ups” and let your kid take their own time getting in the car or walking down the street (maybe letting them pick a few flowers along the way).

16. Really listen to what your child is saying without interrupting.

17. Make your child feel like their opinion matters by asking what they think.

18. Proudly display their artwork at home.

19. Don’t talk about them, especially their flaws, in front of them.

20. After you have an argument, give them a big hug and tell them it’s okay.

21. Follow through on any promises you make.

22. Play with your child, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

23. Say “yes” instead of no.

24. Give your child your full attention when you’re together.

25. Think of a fun activity to do together on the weekend, even if it’s something as simple as going to a new playground.

26. Smile at your child.

27. Be the last to let go of hugs.

28. Ask to hold their hand.

29. Try to see their point of view.

30. Tell them you love them. Every single day.



Harvard University believes the world’s next Einstein is among us — and she’s a millennial.

At age 23, Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski is already one of the most well-known and accomplished physicists in the U.S.

The Cuban-American Chicago native graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in just three years with a 5.0-grade point average, the highest possible, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard with full academic freedom — meaning she can pursue her own study on her own terms without staff interference.

Pasterski first attracted the attention of the scientific and academic community after single-handedly building her own single-engine airplane in 2008, at age 14, and documenting the process on YouTube.

MIT professors Allen Haggerty and Earll Murman saw the video and were astonished. “Our mouths were hanging open after we looked at it,” Haggerty recalls. “Her potential is off the charts.”

At age 16, she piloted the aircraft herself over Lake Michigan, becoming the youngest person ever to fly their own plane.

“I couldn’t believe it,” recalls Peggy Udden, an executive secretary at MIT. “Not only because she was so young, but a girl.”

Pasterski had first flown a plane at age 9, an experience she casually relayed to a teacher at her public high school, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora. The teacher replied: “That’s nice, but what have you done lately?”

“That’s become my mantra ever since,” Pasterski told the Chicago Tribune in a 2016 interview. “That’s nice, but what have you done lately?”

An only child, Pasterski admits she’s not on social media and, unlike the majority of her peers, has never had a boyfriend, smoked a cigarette, or drunk an alcoholic beverage. Instead, she spends her free time exploring the concepts of quantum gravity, black holes, and spacetime, the mathematical model that combines space and time into a single continuum.

Among the papers she’s published, which are listed along with other accomplishments on her website, PhysicsGirl.com: “Semiclassical Virasoro Symmetry of the Quantum Gravity S-Matrix,” “Gaussian Measures and the QM Oscillator,” and “Low’s Subleading Soft Theorem as a Symmetry of QED.”

Her work in the physics community has led to standing job offers from Amazon entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, aerospace manufacturer Blue Origin, and NASA, among others.

Though Pasterski herself is a standout, her interest is part of a larger trend of millennials — especially women — graduating with degrees in physics.

In 1999, the number of physics graduates was at its lowest point in four decades. However, according to the American Institute of Physics, 8,081 bachelor’s degrees in physics were awarded in 2015—the highest number ever recorded. Some theorize the increase is a direct result of more women enrolling in and staying with physics as a major.

“Be optimistic about what you believe you can do,” Pasterski told Marie Claire earlier this year. “When you’re little, you say a lot of things about what you’ll do or be when you’re older—I think it’s important not to lose sight of those dreams.”

Worry less about children’s screen use, parents told

Children looking at a tablet at night

There is little evidence screen use for children is harmful in itself, guidance from leading paediatricians says.

Parents should worry less as long as they have gone through a checklist on the effect of screen time on their child, it says.

While the guidance avoids setting screen time limits, it recommends not using them in the hour before bedtime.

Experts say it is important that the use of devices does not replace sleep, exercising and time with family.

It was informed by a review of evidence published at the same time in the BMJ Open medical journal, and follows a debate around whether youngsters should have time on devices restricted.

Most of the evidence in the review was based on television screen time, but also included other screen use, such as phones and computers.

Meanwhile, a separate study has found that girls are twice as likely to show signs of depressive symptoms linked to social media use at age 14 compared with boys.

‘No evidence of being toxic’

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), which oversees the training of specialists in child medicine, has produced the guidance for under-18s.

  • Tips on how to limit excessive screen time
  • Reality Check: Why did child screen advice not go further?

It said there was no good evidence that time in front of a screen is “toxic” to health, as is sometimes claimed.

The review of evidence found associations between higher screen use and obesity and depression.

But the college looked at this and said it was not clear from the evidence if higher screen use was causing these problems or if people with these issues were more likely to spend more time on screens.

The review was carried out by experts at University College London, including RCPCH president Prof Russell Viner.

The college said it was not setting time limits for children because there was not enough evidence that screen time was harmful to child health at any age.

Instead, it has published a series of questions to help families make decisions about their screen time use:

  • Is your family’s screen time under control?
  • Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
  • Does screen use interfere with sleep?
  • Are you able to control snacking during screen time?

Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the RCPCH, said phones, computers and tablets were a “great way to explore the world”, but parents were often made to feel that there was something “indefinably wrong” about them.

He said: “We want to cut through that and say ‘actually if you’re doing OK and you’ve answered these questions of yourselves and you’re happy, get on and live your life and stop worrying’.

“But if there are problems and you’re having difficulties, screen time can be a contributing factor.”

  • How much screen time is ‘too much’?
  • Facebook ‘no place’ for young children
  • Screen use linked to children’s cognition

Dr Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “screens are part of modern life”, adding: “The genie is out of the bottle – we cannot put it back.”

He said: “We need to stick to advising parents to do what they do well, which is to balance the risks and benefits.

“One size doesn’t fit all, parents need to think about what’s useful and helpful for their child.”

Parents should consider their own use of screens, if screen time is controlled in their family, and if excessive use is affecting their child’s development and everyday life, he added.

What do parents say?

Boy looking at phone under cover

A number of parents have been in touch with the BBC to say they disagree with the guidance and feel it does not go far enough.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that screen time is damaging school performance and sports performance and dangerously addictive,” says Andy, whose son is 14.

Andy said he had restricted his son’s screen time to Friday after school and Saturday, and, despite some “grumbling”, there had been an improvement in school performance.

For tips on how to limit excessive screen time, click here.

‘Grey area’

The recommendation that children should not use the devices in the hour before bedtime comes because of evidence that they can harm sleep.

The devices stimulate the brain, and the blue light produced by them can disrupt the body’s secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin.

While there are night modes on many phones, computers and tablets, there is no evidence these are effective, the college said.

Overall, it found the effect of screen time on children’s health was small when considered next to other factors like sleep, physical activity, eating, bullying and poverty.

It said there was a lack of evidence that screen time is beneficial for health or wellbeing.

Its guidance recommends that families negotiate screen time limits with their children based on individual needs and how much it impacts on sleep, as well as physical and social activities.

For infants and younger children, this will involve parents deciding what content they watch and for how long they use the devices.

As children get older, there should be a move towards them having autonomy over screen use, but this should be gradual and under the guidance of an adult, the college said.

Dr Davie added: “When it comes to screen time I think it is important to encourage parents to do what is right by their family.

“However, we know this is a grey area and parents want support, and that’s why we have produced this guide.

“We suggest that age-appropriate boundaries are established, negotiated by parent and child, that everyone in the family understands.”

The college called for better quality research to understand more about how the content on devices, and the context in which they are used, affects health outcomes.

Tips for parents:

A boy on his phone at the dinner table

  • Mealtimes can be good opportunities for screen-free zones
  • If children’s screen time use seems out of control, parents should consider intervening
  • Parents should think about their own screen use, including whether they use devices unconsciously too often
  • Younger children need face to face social interaction and screens are no substitute for this



5 tips to survive christmas with kids

Let’s face it, Christmas can be pretty overwhelming for grown-ups and we’ve had years of experience. Children haven’t and their young minds can struggle to process the endless parade of festivities, as fun as they are. No wonder then they can get so silly during the silly season.

Our resident expert in toddlers, Benevolent Society Childcare Manager Denielle Jans shares her advice with Kinderling Conversation for a calmer, less chaotic Christmas. Here’s the tips we found invaluable:

1. Understand Christmas from your child’s point of view

As Denielle points out, the build-up to Christmas for kids is both long and immense, especially given Christmas fever starts in the shops from late October these days. “You have to remember just going to the shops, there’s music, there’s Christmas lights flashing, there’s loads more people around. So there’s a ramp-up of energy that can be exhausting for children in itself (because) all their senses are firing all the time.”

2. Communicate openly about what’s happening

When it comes to celebrations, Denielle advises clueing your kids up in advance (if they’re old enough, like three and up). “Just give them a heads up, like ‘Christmas is going to be a really busy day and we’ve got lots of people we’re visiting’. Explain who they are, and that those people will have some special things for them because they love them. That gives them context and they can then predict what’s going to happen.”

As for presents, she adds: “If there’s going to be other children, put that into the mix too – use their names and say who they are and what their connection is to them too – and explain they’ might probably get presents too, which are different to yours. And that you might love what they get, but it’s important to remember it’s their present.

3. It’s asking a lot to expect toddlers to share presents

We all know the Christmas spirit is all about sharing, but us adults have had plenty of time to get used to the idea. Young children, who’ve been primed on talk of presents and Santa for weeks, aren’t going to be as rational and it’s unfair to expect them to be.

Says Denielle: “Children become really passionate about things. Adults do too. If you had just been given a new car and your friend, who probably doesn’t have a licence, says ‘let me take it for a spin!’ you’re probably not going to want to share. So for a child who’s just starting to explore what their emotions feel like, it’s (a big ask). It’s such an early learning stage so it’s all about support.”

4. Check in with them throughout the day

When the big day arrives, it’s vital to keep an eye on your little Christmas elf and how they’re faring. According to Denielle, talking openly about what you both might be feeling can really help. “Ask ‘hey, how you going? It’s been a busy morning!’ Call it for what it is, or “Gosh, we were up early this morning!” or “I’m feeling a little bit floppy right now, do you wanna come sit on the couch with me for a bit?”

5. Build in breaks where possible

After Christmas lunch, it’s almost custom to collapse on the couch or in front of the TV, but it’s remember much harder for children to come down from the huge high of wrapping-ripping and a tree-full of new toys. Ensure you spend time with them one-on-one to release some of the pressure.

“Children might need someone to help them come down,” says Denielle. “Say ‘You seem a bit quiet – did you want to have a little snuggle or read a book together?’ and you’ll see how they’re tracking. Then they can reassess and reset to start again for the afternoon or the next session.”


The invisible experiences of first-time Generation X mothers

The number of first-time mothers aged 40-plus around the globe is growing. Creating a support system for these mums is not merely ethical – it’s good for society and the economy, too.

The month after she turned 40, Jenny Glancy-Potter gave birth to twins. Their births marked the end of an excruciating struggle to become a mother, and the joyous beginning of a new life stage. Motherhood, though, had come far later than Glancy-Potter had ever imagined.

“In a lot of ways, I have less energy than I did when I was younger,” she says. “But in terms of my outlook, I think this is a beautiful time to become a mum. I’ve got a lot more patience, I’m a lot wiser, and I’ve done so much in my life.” She would know by now – her children have since turned five.

The number of women beginning families in their 40s and older is rising, while the number who do so in their 20s and 30s declines

Glancy-Potter, now aged 45, from Lancashire in the UK, is part of a growing community of Generation X women around the world for whom motherhood has begun at 40-plus.

The number of women beginning families in their 40s and older is rising, while the number who do so in their 20s and 30s declines. In the UK, the pregnancy rate is falling for all age groups – except for the over-40s. In 2016, the conception rate among women of 40 and above grew by 2% on the previous year, and it has more than doubled throughout the previous 25 years.

Birth patterns are the same in the US, where in 2017 the birth rate was its lowest for 30 years, but it nevertheless rose for women over 40, who are having more children than ever.

Caring for two generations

Starting a family after 40 brings a unique set of opportunities and challenges.

Forty-three-year-old Bhavna Thakur, who has a one-year-old daughter, also understands what is it like to be the “oldest mother in the toddler park”.

(Credit: Bhavna Thakur)Bhavna Thakur, 43, lives with her husband and one-year-old daughter in Mumbai. She says she is often the “oldest mother in the toddler park” (Credit: Bhavna Thakur)

After the birth of her child, Thakur returned to her full-time job in Mumbai, where she works for an investment firm as a managing director. She has found that having a child in her 40s meant she had time to work her way up to a senior position.

“Because I’m senior enough I can be master of my own time, whereas if I was junior there would be someone else dictating where I had to be and when. I’ve had a lot of flexibility to go home early and work from home when I need to.”

Although she has found it challenging not being able to travel as much, she has a very understanding manager, she says. “My boss told me, ‘This is a 10-year-game, it’s a marathon not a sprint, you’ll get back to doing what you can do’.”

Thakur has encountered a different, unexpected struggle as a Gen-X mum. It is difficult, she says, to balance the three most time-intensive obligations in her life: care for two generations of family and cultivating a career.

I’m split between my mother and my daughter, and right now, my daughter is more dependent on me – Bhavna Thakur

“Because we are old parents, our parents are now quite old. They have ailments and issues and they need looking after as well,” she says. “My parents live in Delhi, and I’m not able to go and spend as much time as I would like because I have a small child to take care of. I’m split between my mother and my daughter, and right now, my daughter is more dependent on me.”

Thakur’s struggle is indicative of a broader worldwide juggling act. Many women who start families in their 40s the world over find themselves spread between caring for two generations at once.

Some companies in New Zealand and the UK are trialling innovative measures, such as the four-day working week at full-time pay, which have the potential to make home-life and work-life balance more sustainable. Although some have proven successful, these programmes are the exception, and far from becoming the norm.

A fork in the road

In general, a mother’s decision to return to work after childbirth is a difficult one with many considerations – especially financial ones. The UK has the most expensive childcare in the world, unlike Sweden where it is heavily subsidised. These costs have implications for any first-time mother, regardless of age.

Glancy-Potter believes the financial strain of childcare is particularly acute for women in their 40s, many of whom cannot rely on grandparents to help.

After discovering the prohibitively expensive costs of childcare, Jenny Glancy-Potter was not able to return to work after having twins at 40 (Credit: Jenny Glancy-Potter)

“Childcare is more pertinent to older mothers because it tends to be that our family are older as well. My mum has helped out an awful lot, but by the time I had my children, she was already in her 70s. Had I had my kids in my 20s, my husband and I probably could have relied less on formal paid childcare.”

There is little-to-no formal support from state programmes to ensure mothers like Glancy-Potter can afford childcare and return to work again. She was not able to make the numbers of keeping her job add up; the costs of childcare would have absorbed her entire salary.

But measures that make it easier for the growing population of Generation X mothers to continue working will benefit the economy, says Myra Strober, professor emerita of education and economics at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and Graduate School of Business. There is no country that has gotten the practice quite right yet.

Strober says if that mothers in particular choose to sacrifice their career, their inability to continue working has a larger impact on the national income than if younger and less experienced, lower-paid workers leave the workforce. Women aged 40 and older are generally “more educated and have positions of greater responsibility and higher earnings than younger women”.

“Making sure that experienced women in their forties can return to work and continue to be productive in the labour force is not only socially progressive,” she says, “it is also economically prudent.”

I get to see life all over again’

While attitudes toward working mothers in general slowly change, social assumptions about older mothers do persist. Some women who begin families in their 40s can find themselves cast in the isolating role of “older mother”.

Gewanda Parker, 49, lives with her two daughters, aged seven months and three years, in the US state of Florida. When she takes her daughters out, she is often addressed as their grandmother or aunt, while other, younger women are assumed to be mothers.

(Credit: Gewanda Parker)

49-year-old Gewanda Parker lives with two daughters, aged three and seven months. She says she often gets mistaken for their grandmother or aunt (Credit: Gewanda Parker)

Perhaps as a result, Parker has found herself increasingly concerned with her appearance, always making sure she is well-put together, smartly dressed and with perfect hair and make-up. Whereas other new mothers might be forgiven for making their looks less of a priority, Parker feels she is working harder to combat any assumptions outside observers might make about her age based on what she looks like. “I find myself subconsciously making sure that my appearance is the best it can be – I’m always thinking, ‘I don’t want to create a situation where my child feels strange about it’.”

Yes, I may be older, but the things I am doing with my kids are keeping me young – Gewanda Parker

The truth is that Parker does not feel like an older mother. Having children at her age is, she says, “the most rewarding and refreshing thing. I get to see life all over again as exciting and fun. Yes, I may be older, but the things I am doing with my kids are keeping me young.”

Global societal structures and stereotypes may not be keeping up with the pace of reality, but change will come, Parker says. “Even if society is not willing, there is a demand for society to support older mothers.” As first-time Gen X mothers like her become more common, she says that society bears the responsibility to become more accepting and make adjustments.

“We have to change the common language around what a mother looks like, around the image we have of motherhood,” she says.

“We have to learn how to be inclusive without being awkward, and we have to learn how to refrain from judging and stereotyping, instead approaching the subject [of older mothers] with an open mind.”