I became a mom much later in life than I intended.
In my grand plan, I penciled in getting married and having kids somewhere in my late twenties. When I found myself pregnant for the first time at 38, I was both overjoyed to experience motherhood and anxious that I was running behind on life.
Along with all of the joy, being an older mom has also come with a unique set of challenges that have taught me a lot about who I am and what I’m capable of.
Here are some of the most surprising things I learned about new motherhood when you are older.
1. I’m much better off now than I was in my twenties.
In my twenties and early thirties, I went through my fair share of quarter-life crises while I figured out how to be a grown-up. I moved across the country, traveled, and navigated multiple career pivots. Looking back, I’m grateful I had the time to figure out what I wanted my own life to look like before I became responsible for someone else’s.
These days, I’m more focused on animal crackers and the ABCs than I am on my next adventure. The fact that I packed so much in before I had kids makes it easier to enjoy the different priorities that come with motherhood without feeling like I’m missing out.
I also spent those early years focused on advancing my career and becoming financially stable. By the time I had a baby, I was established professionally and didn’t worry so much about what stepping away for a few months would do to my career or my bottom line.
Feeling secure in my identity both personally and professionally has helped the balancing act of motherhood feel less precarious.
2. I know how to take care of myself.
When I was younger, I lived on Diet Coke, late-night pizza, and four hours of sleep a night. I could go weeks without exercising and then drop into a spin class without feeling a single twinge the next day.
These days, I don’t bounce back as quickly as I used to, and I spend a lot more time thinking about how to stay strong and healthy as I age. I don’t want to worry about throwing my back out doing cartwheels or getting winded playing tag with my child. I never want my son to feel like I can’t keep up with him.
As a mom, it’s easy to bump self-care to the bottom of the list. For me, though, motherhood has had the opposite effect. It’s inspired me to get serious about taking care of myself. In my life, this looks like eating healthy meals that don’t involve leftover toddler food and getting regular exercise outside of chasing my son when it’s bath time.
Even though his little legs are already in constant motion, I know his most active years are still ahead of him, and I want to make sure mine are too.
3. Being able to rely on friends with older kids is amazing.
By the time my husband and I had a baby, many of our friends’ kids were already older. Being the only ones whose child was still in diapers meant we were a novelty in the best possible way.
At barbecues and birthday parties, there were endless extra pairs of hands to play peekaboo and rock the baby to sleep while we snuck off for a nap or enjoyed a meal with our hands free. Also, while we wrestled with swaddles and sleep training, our friends were dealing with puberty and paying for college. They were nostalgic for our small, simple problems and eager to help us solve them.
By the time our son could crawl, we had a well-established circle of on-call parenting coaches ready to weigh in on any topic – from feeding schedules to how to make sure we were spending quality time together as a couple. Not to mention, we also had a steady flow of awesome hand-me-downs.
Originally, we worried about becoming distanced from our friends because we were in such different life stages, but we’ve felt more loved and connected than ever.
4. Making the right kind of mom friends is a struggle.
When I was pregnant everyone told me how easy it would be to meet other moms — and it was. Making mom friends, on the other hand, was harder than I expected.
I’d talk to younger women at the playground, and while our kids were the same age, it was hard to relate to each other outside of that. I’d get invited to Moms Night Out and then spend the evening feeling as out of place as a blue-haired grandmother on an episode of MTV Spring Break. I usually felt like one of the group until they found out I could remember a time before the internet, and then awkward silence would ensue.
At first, these encounters left me shy about putting myself out there, but I knew I wouldn’t survive without a support system of fellow moms. It took time and patience, but I eventually found mom friends who care more about our similarities than our differences.
5. You learn to feel comfortable with being different.
In a lot of my circles, I’m always going to be the “older mom.” My life looks different than many of the moms I know, and different than how I envisioned it. But that doesn’t mean I’m behind schedule or any less deserving of the joys of motherhood. If anything, the fact that I waited so long to have kids helps me savor the good moments, while keeping the tantrums and sleepless nights in perspective.
Many of my younger friends may have more experience with motherhood than me, and I’ve realized that I have wisdom and experience to offer in other areas. For me, the key has been being open to what my younger friends can teach me, and also finding people who appreciate what I bring to the table.
While I didn’t set out to be an older mom, I’ve come to embrace my path and what it’s taught me. At the end of the day the most important thing is what we all have in common: wanting the best for our kids regardless of how old either of us are.
This article was originally published in April, 2019 and has been updated for timeliness.