For most people looking down the barrel of retirement, the thought of having another baby isn’t one they’re willing to entertain. Yet when Steve Heming said “I do” three years ago, he also said “I will.” For wife Tammy, having kids was always in the cards. Sure enough, nine months later, Steve welcomed his third child, Lucy, into the world. Then a year later, Thomas arrived. Steve is 58. This past year, while Steve was home changing diapers and singing lullabies, his eldest son, Shawn, 26, was a tree planting foreman in B.C., and his daughter, Kerry, 24, was a concierge at a yoga studio in Toronto.
Lucy and Thomas are beautiful kids, but – perhaps understandably – it’s Steve’s age that turns people’s heads. “It’s a cultural thing,” he says. “If I was a 40-year-old man, people would not wonder as much. But being 55 plus, and having young children, people are going, ‘what the heck?!’”
And, no, not always in a positive way. “Most people say it’s wonderful, but inside they’re just shaking their head thinking ‘Oh my lord, what is he doing!?” (Tammy received the same type of reaction having kids in her early 40s.)
“What I’ve decided to do is something that, for most men my age, is hard to wrap their head around,” he says. “To be honest, I thought about things like being 73 when my kids graduate high school; at times it was, OK, what am I doing? Have I done the right thing? And of course, I know that I have.”
On the idea of spending your so-called retirement years parenting, Steve says, “I think you have to put yourself in the frame of mind that you are not missing out on anything. If you think that, you’re screwed.”
There are more people like Steve than we are perhaps aware. That is, parents who are raising a second generation of children after their first children are grown and gone. Unlike Steve, there are some for whom the decision to take on a new baby is made out of necessity. For Catherine*, the decision to parent Alex* came out of the realization that her daughter (Alex’s mother), was unfit to parent due to mental illness and substance abuse.
“I did not think it was going to change my life this much,” she says. “I had my life perfectly planned out. I was in the process of training for another career. I had just re-entered the dating scene … As for having to care for this child?” She pauses to carefully choose her words. “It’s not something I would say I did not want to do. I enjoyed raising my own children. I may not have made the best choices, but no parent is perfect.”
Unlike first-time parents, she already knows it’s hard and that things don’t always go as one might hope. There’s a risk in parenting, and parents like Steve and Catherine have felt its full force. In speaking with them you find an honesty, a bittersweetness in their voices that fi rsttime parents simply don’t experience.
In part it’s because they’ve had a chance to learn from – not just mistakes – but a wealth of experience.
What has she learned? “Not everything has to be brand new,” says Catherine. “And when it comes to food, there’s such a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available now. When I had my own children, I tried to give them healthy food … but my budgeting skills were not as fi ne-tuned as they are now. I have already started putting aside money for Alex’s education, and that’s not something I was capable of doing for my own children.”
But she’s felt the financial pinch. “Taking this on hasn’t been easy, even with our incomes. Due to legal costs, as well as ongoing medical issues, our finances became stretched to the point we had to sell our home.”
Certainly, financial stability helps. For Sam Kasperski, a fi nancial advisor in Burlington, Ont., raising his grandson is a little easier money-wise than the fi rst time around.
“When we were raising three kids, it was a struggle making ends meet,” says Sam. “The situation is totally different now with both of us working full time. Our house is mortgage-free, so we don’t have a lot of the distractions of fi nancial concerns.”
Yet there are still challenges. When his grandson Ryan was born, it was clear that Sam and his wife, Jan, were better equipped for the parenting role than the birth parents. With their three kids grown and gone, they assumed the guardianship of Ryan when he was just six months old. He’s 15 now.
“We knew what we were getting into, raising a child again,” says Sam. “But there was some trepidation. You think, ‘Oh no, do we have to go through all this again?’ We’re taking on this responsibility, and at our age, are we going to live long enough to see Ryan become independent?’ It was a little nerve wracking.”
But those thoughts didn’t last long, and they gave way to an awareness of the opportunities of doing it all over again. “It’s kept me young doing all those things again, raising a kid. We’re doing a lot of things that we wouldn’t do otherwise.”
Indeed, it’s that sense of opportunity that is, for some, the biggest surprise of all. “There is a lot of life left,” says Steve. “I went through that, wondering, what am I going to be doing for the next 30 years? Well, this is what I’m going to be doing. It’s exciting and a challenge, knowing I will need to keep healthy, be fully engaged with family and community, working to support, and all those things that any ‘young family’ would need to think about to ensure a healthy future for their kids.”
Lessons learned on the second time around
- Not everything has to be new.
- Healthy eating and nutrition can be done with a bit more budgeting.
- Put money away for their education now.
- Raising kids keeps you young.
- Don’t dwell on what you think you might be missing as a retiree.
*Names have been changed.
Glen Herbert is a writer and editor living in Burlington, Ont. He and his wife are sticking with three kids.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2013.