My husband is 23 years older than I am. Before you state the obvious, yes, I was aware of this when we first got together. I was aware of this when we were dating, moved in together, got engaged, got married, and welcomed our first child together. But while I was obviously aware of our age difference and expected it to cause some hiccups in our marriage and how we raise our daughter—I was not aware of the many unexpected challenges it would create for me as a mother.
Susan Harrington, a relationship therapist, and owner of Maison Vie New Orleans says the time in history (the era) we were children has an impact on our parenting, and this is why partners with large age gaps can feel this impact more.
“Children who grew up during the mid-twentieth century typically experienced parenting roles as gender-based,” says Harrington. “Whereas children raised by adults two generations later experienced a more involved male parent. So, when two people come together and start a family, the era of their childhood, as well as their individually learned rules of engagement and parenting styles, came with them. The effect on the younger mother and impact on their children has more to do with the parents’ childhood home experience and the era in which they grew up and learned gender roles, responsibilities, and rules of engagement.”
His friends aren’t going through the same things
When I pictured myself becoming a mom, I saw myself being surrounded by a large group of friends who were going through what my husband and I were as we balanced working and parenting a toddler. Having friends as a parent who you understand and relate to—and vice versa—is really important. To be honest, I never quite realized that until I saw that my husband’s friends were in a completely different space than we were—most were older, had grown children out of the house, or were divorced.
These were not friends I could picture myself getting to know on a more personal level since it would be more difficult to relate to them. As a young mom, I miss having a couple of friends with young children. I didn’t realize just how much I would miss that connection with other couples with babies who could understand our situation. On the other hand, I am lucky to have a few close friends who are younger and married with children who I am more on the same page with.
A (mostly) non-existent relationship with my in-laws
Since I grew up with a relatively small family, I never needed that connection with in-laws. And as it happens, due to my husband’s age, I don’t have much of a relationship with his family. We check in with each other and see each other for the holidays, but other than that, it is very much a non-existent relationship.
My mother-in-law is old enough to be my grandma, and she has very different views on life, as an older woman of her generation. My sisters-in-law are the age of my mother, so there has never been that opportunity for bonding to get that sisterly feel. And my husband’s nieces are my age, some even with their own children. Of course, this also means my daughter has a very limited relationship with my husband’s family.
Cultural differences creating conflict
Experiencing cultural differences in a marriage or parent can cause some difficulties as well, especially if there is a large age difference. Theola Tinny, co-founder of VinPit has struggled with this. “I am 28 years old and married to a man 10 years older. In my culture, the man does not involve directly in raising children,” Theola said. “Literally, they do not take care of the kids, they do not even want to help. It is tiring for me, who is also working to raise kids alone at home without any help. I become mentally and emotionally exhausted. Whenever I bring this up, my husband doesn’t seem to understand why I am complaining because raising kids is a ‘mothers thing’.”
Majorly different views on parenting
Since my husband is older, he comes from a different generation. We share many different thoughts on a wide range of topics. Now, don’t get me wrong, part of what makes our relationship so great is that we respect each other’s very different opinions. But when it comes to parenting our 3-year-old daughter, I sometimes wish we were more aligned.
Of course, different parenting styles can be a common challenge for couples, but sometimes it seems more pronounced due to our age difference. I am the stricter parent, and my husband is the more relaxed parent—which to me, is because of his age. My husband is a wonderful father, but—understandably so—he does not have the energy I have. Sometimes his parenting can feel a little lackadaisical to me.
Someone so set in their ways
I know I’m not alone in thinking that the majority of the time, my husband thinks he is right—whether it comes to parenting, our relationship, etc. He will tell me he knows best, due to his age and experience. You can imagine how that goes over in some of our discussions.
Of course, sometimes he is right… and sometimes, so am I.
Based on her experience with her husband Sogole Kane, Senior PR Director for A Design Partnership, said older men are often too set in their ways. Sogole, 39, and her husband, 48, have a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old. “The issue with older men is simple: They are SO set in their ways,” she said. “By the time they even have kids, which for my husband was at age 45, they have been living their life in a very specific way for so long, so the transition to fatherhood is extra challenging. It is a lot of relearning and reteaching behaviors…don’t get me started on patience levels.”
Mixed thoughts on a second child
This is an especially sensitive one for me, but I know I want a second child. I have no doubt. While my husband and I have discussed this on multiple occasions, and we are planning for a second child in the future, I know if it was up to him, he would be happy with just one child. But my husband constantly tells me he wants to make me happy, and if I want another baby, then he is excited at the concept of becoming a dad again…even if it means he will be extra tired.
Forgetting they had a previous life
I sometimes forget that before me and my daughter, my husband had a whole other life. He was married for eleven years and has a child from his first marriage—a son who is my age. He and his son have a good relationship, as do his son and me. But sometimes it just feels odd that my stepson is technically my age. To be honest, I had never pictured myself marrying someone who had another child, let alone a child that is my age.
Chenandra Washington, 35 years old, of Chenandra Washington International LLC, can also relate to this issue. Her husband, 44 years old, has a daughter from his teenage years who is now grown. “She has two children of her own now. So, becoming kind of like a grandmother at 32 is definitely ‘interesting’,” said Chenandra.
How to blend when you and your partner have a large age difference
Co-mingling of rules, norms, values, and beliefs will affect the relationship. But Harrington, says how this blending affects the relationship completely depends upon how the adults address the differences. “Addressing differences is accomplished by parents in ways from maladaptive to effective. Disagreeing can be fruitful when those emotional hotspots are not used by either parent to gain ground.”
Harrington says to decide on your choice of parenting style intentionally. Spend time with your partner/spouse and discuss the following questions:
- Who do I see myself as an individual and as a parent?
- What are my goals as a parent that I want to impart to my children?
- What kind of parent do I want to be?
- What are my child’s needs, developmentally and situationally?
In any relationship, having a better understanding of where you and your partner stand as parents is essential. I try to remind myself that no relationship is perfect, and parenting can be challenging when you and your partner are not on the same page, at any age. Everything should be taken a day at a time, but first and foremost, with respect for one another.