For me, having kids in my 20s would not have worked for many emotional and psychological reasons … but also for financial reasons.
I had student loans to pay off before I could start saving, and my chosen career path—stand-up comedy—was not child-friendly. I wanted kids, desperately, but I put it off because I knew the responsibility was beyond me at the time.
I always like to say, in describing my situation, that I was in my 20s for 20 years, and now, at 45 with two preschoolers, I’m in someone else’s 20s.
But, aside from our pesky biological clocks, there’s no real age requirement for mothers. We spoke with moms who chose to have kids at 21, 44—and every age in between—to hear their feelings about that decision and the financial impact it had.
Became a Mom at: 21
“I had kids right out of college (at 21 and 23) and that was perfect for me and my husband. When I compare myself to some of our friends, I see how the kids grounded us: We didn’t run up credit-card debt, we didn’t buy cars, we didn’t buy a house at the top of the market. When the kids went to school, that was just when my husband’s career as a drummer started taking off, and I went back to work as a preschool teacher. Now I’m turning 40, my oldest daughter has started college and we’ve just bought our home and started a home-based business. Plus, we’re young enough to have fun. It’s worked out well for us.”
Became a Mom at: 22
“I went straight from college to marriage and kids. It’s definitely different from what a lot of my people my age are doing—I’m like the anti-Lena Dunham. But I feel like the kids are my job, and everything I do with them, from fundraising for their school to coordinating childcare with my friends to budgeting for my home, is helping me grow in ways that sharpen my focus so that I’ll really know what I want to do when the youngest hits grade school and it’s time to pick a career.”
Became a Mom at: 25
“My whole family had kids young. My mom had me when she was 17, and my great-grandma is still alive and very active. So I have a ton of help with my kids. I had them in my 20s because I wanted to, not for financial reasons—it’s actually extremely difficult, balancing a growing family’s budget on my husband’s associate-level income. But having that family around to watch the kids when I have to go shopping, go to the doctor or just spend one-on-one time with my little guy or my little girl is amazing.”
Became a Mom at: 29
“I didn’t have a particular financial reason to have kids when I did—I was just ready. The timing was good, because my husband was on professionally solid ground and my profession, middle-school math teacher, didn’t pay substantially more than childcare would cost. So it was a fine time to become a stay-at-home mom, though I have continued to work part-time as a curriculum writer and tutor this whole time, although it’s more to keep myself positioned for an eventual return to work than for the cash.”
Became a Mom at: 35
“I have two kids, which is great, but I desperately want a third. Can’t do that until at least next September, so I’m not paying for three kids in childcare (the oldest will be in kindergarten). You’d think that two attorneys would have the financial advantage, but we both have law-school debt and we didn’t go the corporate route, so there you are. And I’m very freaked out that by waiting for a better financial moment, I’m letting my biological chance get away.”
Became a Mom at: 29
“I had my son when I was in graduate school but held off on having my daughter until I had gotten a tenure-track position, so that I could feel secure that I’d have a job to return to. I just knew I wouldn’t be able to put in the hours I needed to if I had my second kid during that stressful time. Now I’m tenured, I have both kids, life is good!”
Pushing a baby out didn’t immediately imbue me with a talent for getting and holding onto money.
Became a Mom at: 39
“I waited until I was 39 to have my son. I thought I’d be more financially and emotionally stable and my husband and I would already be in management-level jobs, so returning to the workforce would be easier for me. Of course, then the recession happened, and my husband has been laid off three times in the last four years, and we had to move for one of his job changes and the animal hospital where I was working can’t afford to give me a raise, so it hasn’t quite worked out that way—but that was the reasoning, anyway. We’re certainly more stable than we were in our 20s, but only marginally so.
Became a Mom at: 41
“I wasn’t really thinking of kids when I got accidentally pregnant at 41. Awesomeness abounded; I went with it, Knocked-Up-style, and now I’m a married lady with a beautiful son. My finances are still a mess—I’m a freelancer, and oddly, pushing a baby out didn’t immediately imbue me with a talent for getting and holding on to money—but I’m more equipped to handle that stress because my priorities are more in order than they were at any earlier period of my life.”
Became a Mom at: 44
“I didn’t plan to have my daughter so late, but it took a while for me to find my one true love, and I had several years of fertility treatments. So: My plan had been to save like crazy in my 20s, and I did that. At least I had a down payment for a home, which is no small feat. But the fertility treatments and then the adoption took the rest of our savings, and though my daughter is totally worth it, we’re not the well-positioned older parents we thought we’d be.”
Amy Keyishian moved from the most expensive city in the world, New York, to the other most expensive city in the world, San Francisco. She’s an expert at finding free, cheap and offbeat fun for herself and her kids and juggles work and fun—and tries to make work fun—as best she can.