In this week's reader's article, Alan Marson, who lives in Laurencekirk, Aberdeenshire, considers the reaction to he and his wife becoming parents for the first time while in their 20s.
BRINGING UP BABY
As an average white European male, I never thought I would consider myself part of a minority group.
However, about 10 months ago, my wife and I joined that ever rarer band of people (increasingly considered strange and bizarre by modern society and media): first-time parents in their mid 20s.
When we're not being bombarded with ever growing teenage pregnancy figures, we're being bombarded with the ever growing average age of first-time mothers.
Alan Marson, wife Moira and son Thomas
It seems your 20s are considered somewhat of a no-go-area for deciding to start your family.
My wife and I are both 27, and had been married for over three years before our son was born; this did not prevent some people sheepishly asking us if he was "planned".
Obviously, you wouldn't decide to have children before your 30s, would you?
Increasingly, parents are being divided into two groups: teenage mums and career-break 30/40-somethings. Or at least, that's the impression I'm getting from the media and my experience; if you know otherwise - speak out and let us know!
What is so bizarre about deciding to start a family in your 20s?
Do people object to it simply because it's deemed "old-fashioned?". And is something wrong purely because it's deemed "old-fashioned?".
Perhaps the reasons are more social and financial, which is of course very understandable.
When my son's a teenager, I guess I'll just be part of that minority of parents that still have their own teeth and hair
The media has built up huge expectations for relationships and marriages that are, frankly, ludicrous. If your partner ain't perfect. . .ditch 'em.
If my wife hadn't accepted my extensive shortcomings many years ago, I would have been out on my ear very quickly! And financially, people want to feel "prepared".
Trust me, you won't ever be prepared... but you cope.
However, there are plenty of stable couples, who've been together for years, who still wait. And the reason? They don't want to miss out on "their" lives.
Yes, having a baby changes your life: don't expect to be able to go out like you could before; spend money like you could before; sleep through the night like you could before, but you know, you gain a lot more.
Sure, it's hard, and you want to be prepared, but you never will and there's so much to be had in return.
So, when my son's a teenager, I guess I'll just be part of that minority of parents that still have their own teeth and hair. Initially, at least...
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are not endorsed by the BBC. We asked for your comments, the following represents the balance of opinions we received.
Who cares whether you're in your 20's, 30's or 40's as long as the children are loved and cared for, what does it matter? Each to their own I say, what's right for one person may not be for another. Think seriously about having children and have a child when you want and when you're ready.
Kevin Murphy, Edinburgh
I'm 28, have been married for 6 years, have 3 children and wouldn't have done it any other way.
I'm concerned that too many 20 and 30-somethings in Scotland currently approach life in a 'tick box' fashion - education, tick, job, tick, partner, house, baby, tick tick tick. Our quest to conform to this leads to bad decisions: relationship breakdown, debt and not a little number of children being born into relationships and situations that simply do not adequately prepare them for life. Having said that there's no 'parent suitability' test - the aim is to ensure you can provide a child with everything to meet its basic needs, in a stable environment where it feels wanted (and crucially, not resented).
Many women I know who had their children early on in life do resent the impact on their life, if not the child itself - some are honest enough to say so and it is evident in the behaviour of others - and also resent the apparent lack of impact on the careers of the fathers. A sticky issue!
My husband and I are both 26. At 18 we decided to have children. It was the best decision we ever have we now have an 8 and 3-year-old and it was the best decision in life to have children early and we can remain active with our children and as they grow older we can have more common interests with them and do more as they get older.
I had my daughter when I was 22 and my son when I was 36. People presume (wrongly) that I had remarried or my son was a "mistake". This annoys me, to say the least. I decided to wait until I was ready and we were all happy about bringing another child into the world. People should mind their own business to be honest. I have a few friends who are unable to have kids and it's very upsetting for them to be asked "oh, did you not want kids" or "are you another one that's waiting until they have everything in their 30s". It's all about personal choice.
Susan Symington, Edinburgh
I think the writer's reaction to media comments about selfish mothers in their 30s and a lack of parents in their 20s are merely a reflection of the media's concentration on such issues.
What a pointless and patronising article. I completely agree with Stuart from Glasgow. Is the writer worried that he doesn't belong to a minority group and so has decided to invent one? And why does he need to slag off other people to argue for his case. Load of nonsense!
Judy, Glasgow, Scotland
Something in our society is far wrong and there is disappointingly little serious debate about the root causes behind many people's decision today to postpone parenthood. To be simplistic, the country needs a healthy birth-rate - if only to pay for tomorrow's pensioners! Parents don't always get enough recognition for the important role they play in society - it's far more important than an individual lifestyle choice. What about helping parents in some tangible way, for example by cancelling the student loans of parents expecting their second child? You might see more parents in their mid-20's then!
Moray Hamilton, Bo'ness, Falkirk
It seems that none of us can win, Alan. I am just 30 and still single, and there seems to be pressure on me from all corners to be married and breeding right now "before it's too late". I am sure I am too sensitive about these matters, so I am resolved to ignore what anyone else thinks. These things happen when they're ready to happen. The most important thing is that children are brought up in a loving and stable environment; parental age should have no bearing on anything.
It was interesting to read this. Very different from the US - at least where I live. I left the UK for the US when I was 22 and newly married. None of my UK friends were married then (few are now, eleven years later). Coming to the US I was amazed by how many people my age and younger in the US were married and starting families already. (Then again, perhaps the divorce rate here reflects the stresses that entails.) Even so, I would have had kids earlier than I did (30) with no regrets, had I been able.
Julie Duffy, Phoenixville, USA
Working in an office where any parents are above the age of 30, I often feel that people would be surprised if I were to get pregnant. I am 25 and I have been married for almost 3 years and my husband and I shall try for a baby soon whether or not people ask if it was planned. As long as my husband and I are ready and our families are happy for us, I couldn't care less what anyone else thinks. Anyone who does ask 'was it planned?' is clearly too insecure with their own lives that they have to find fault with the good news of others. Don't get annoyed by it, feel sorry for these people. Their lives must be so empty.
My husband and I have had our first child six months ago, we're both in our mid twenties and it certainly is a surprise how rare a breed we are! I don't know about national averages, but at 26 I'm the youngest person in all my baby groups by a good five or six years. I don't think there's a right or wrong time to have a child though, but I am looking forward to still being relatively young when my child becomes an adult.
I congratulate those people who feel able to make their own decisions about family planning under the constant barrage of warnings and patronising lectures from the media. Those decisions should be respected. Quite frankly, the culture whereby it's okay to openly make assumptions or ask acquaintances about their family plans needs to come to an end - it's downright rude.
Stephanie, Edinburgh, Scotland
We have to be careful before passing comment on people who wish to enjoy "their" lives prior to having children. If one does not take advantage of this time interval then what must we assume? Do we simply arrive in our mid twenties, have some children (because it's the unselfish thing to do), then our children grow older and replicate our decisions in their mid twenties and so on.. If so, what would the point in life be? To have babies? No, we must enjoy everything life has to offer for ourselves as well as our children.
I got married at 22- shock horror! Most people were astounded since I was so young (mostly these were just gossips!). I'm 24 now and have no inkling to have children for now. I don't think its a bad thing that I might be in my 30's when/if I have children. Each to their own that's what I say!
A good article, my wife and I became parents in our mid twenties. However you get lots of benefits as well. For instance we are in our early forties now and feel we can relate pretty closely to our teenage daughters. If I had the time back I would still chose to become a parent in my twenties rather than thirties.
Jim Hamilton, Ayr
I had my daughter while studying for a law degree and I was only 20! I feel that I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to have a child in the first place (many can't) and have the magical experience of growing with her as all parents do, regardless of the age the start out as parents. Parenting is a very steep learning curve! I just hope there is not too much of an age gap between the her and her sibling/s!
Lindsay, Dollar, Scotland
There seems to be a bit too much smugness in some of the responses I have seen here. Tim chuckling at 40-something colleagues with young children is one of those. As many people have stated, you are very lucky if you feel serious enough about a partner in your twenties that you want to have children with them. Others may also wish to think on the fact that infertility is a cause of couples having children later. Trying for years naturally, and then saving up for and going through IVF treatment can take 10 years, and then your fertility is naturally reduced anyway. The younger parents should just count their blessings and lay off on the smug attitude.
Lorna McCubbin, Broughty Ferry, Tayside
Once again the myth that children are a burden on the state is perpetuated by LT from Perth. Children ARE the state and your future. Who's going to pay for your services and look after you after you retire. And don't say you'll pay yourself - roads and services will still need to be maintained when you don't have the income to pay fully; AND the workers who keep the place running need to come from somewhere. Children aren't a burden - they are a necessity.
FD, East Kilbride, UK
I was advised by a college lecturer to have kids young for the reasons that several contributors have mentioned. However, I didn't meet that someone until 33 and at 36 became a father. All I can say to all contributors is choose for yourself and rejoice that this is one decision that the government, as yet, doesn't try to make for you.
Interesting piece, at 44 with 20 and 18-year-old daughters I can understand the sentiments expressed, both in terms of financial burden (which will take a long time to go) and the comments from others. My wife was 19 when our first came along. It's up to each couple to decide how and when to begin their family, all I can say is that we've regained a level of independence and freedom while we're still young enough to enjoy it, though the reverse can be argued for our younger days. It's just sad that people foist their opinions on others- such as the "accident" question
Douglas Kinloch, Livingston, Scotland
I also had my children in my 20's (23 & 27) and very glad I did. I wish Alan and family the best of luck, you definitely enjoy them more when you have the energy to keep up the pace. I am rather irritated by the remarks made by LT of Perth. All I can say to these comments are, if you are thinking of becoming a parent ever - forget it now! Very few things in life can be planned and 'budgeted' for.
JF, Edinburgh, Scotland
Alan, you are right to look forward to "having your own teeth and hair" when your children are teenagers. My wife and had our boys when we were 24/22 and then again at 26/24, in the early 70s. We struggled on one salary as my wife didn't work during the school years but now that our sons have married and left home, we are on our own and enjoying life immensely. And now at 58 I still have my own hair, but sadly not all of my teeth.
Bill Henderson, Glasgow Scotland
What a great article. We got married young, 21 and 25, and everyone thought it was because I was expecting, couldn't possibly have been because we loved each other! My husband and I are now 23 and 27 and have had family and friends tell us we are far too young to be starting a family and should wait until we are at least 30. I'm glad other people feel that the mid 20s parents are in the minority as it reflects what my husband and I have been saying for the last 18 months.
Rowan Shaw, Paisley
Well said LT from Perth. I'm now in my 30s and would not have missed out on my (childless) 20s for anything. When I do eventually decide to have children, I'll be doing so knowing that I've fulfilled ambitions and had both good and bad experiences along the way. Surely a bit of life experience is no bad thing when bringing up children nowadays?
I am approaching 27, will be married this year and hope to have my first child next autumn (at the age of 28). My parents had me at 24 and 25 respectively and my upbringing was excellent. I very much look forward to being young enough to run around after my young children and then being young enough to enjoy my disposable income when they're teenagers and off to uni! I am a post grad with a comfortable income (as is my soon to be husband), I've travelled, seen the world, done all my young free and single things and now I am ready to do the most important job of all: be a mother!
We were married for 10 years before my daughter was born - my only regret was that I didn't have her nine years earlier!
Chris Macleod, Lewis
I am at a loss to understand why anyone would care when Alan and his wife have their first child, I am at a loss as to why this article should be given any space on the BBC website. Quite frankly Mr Marson seems to be hypersensitive to what other people think of his situation.
I became pregnant with our daughter when I was 28 and do remember comments concerning whether it was planned or not (she was). This may have related to my career aspirations at the time (which have not been put on hold, though curtailed somewhat!) or our unmarried status at the time. However, I do believe that people should have children if and when they are ready and for no other reason. It is not a reversible decision and society should not put any emotional pressure or expectations on people about life decisions. When people have children which are unwanted it can lead to heartache and unhappiness on all sides.
Emma Packwood, Tranent
I get quite irritated when I hear people who are over 40 saying they wanted to wait until everything was right first. They're only considering themselves, not any kids they may have. Any child wants a parent who will not only be aware of their kids' world but be willing and able to join in with what is important to their kids. A 55-year-old mother, with the best will in the world, is not as able to deal with a boisterous 10-year-old as, say, a 35-year-old. David Norris' comment about being "best friends" with his older kids is a great achievement and one he should be (and is, by the tone of his comments) very proud of. This is due, at least in part, to the fact that he is still young enough himself to remember what it was like to be in their shoes at a not-too-far-removed distance in time. Too many changes have happened to society and the world we live in for a 50-year-old to be able to relate to a 15-year-old and the stock put-down phrase adopted by all kids "you wouldn't understand" is perfectly appropriate - though very unwelcome at any age.
I sometimes think I live in some kind of parallel world. I was completely unaware that having children in your 20s is now considered something of a taboo. As Duncan Hothersall points out, this is actually the norm. Perhaps if some of these people came out of their middle class social bubbles and got out a bit more they'd see the world as it actually is.
Bill Stitt, Edinburgh
Alan's article illustrates the prejudice which many people show towards young parents. It's a 'If you have your children while you are young then you can't be very bright' attitude. So what's the optimum age? Over 30 when fertility declines? Over 35 when foetal abnormalities are much more common? Surely nature hasn't been wrong in programming us to have children when we are young. I had my first at 21 and second at 25. The oldest is now a doctor and the second a Business and French honours graduate. I'm still in my 40s. Truly, parenthood is what you make it....and hopefully with the support of your family and the approval of society.
Janet MacDermid, Glasgow
It's my own experience that most of my friends - all of whom are 26-28 and in long-term relationships are putting off having children. The ones who have had children before the age of 30 have either been completely unplanned or one who had planned to be a mother did so for the first time at 20. Personally I've been emotionally ready to have a child for the past three years, but circumstances haven't been right. The problem isn't that we're being selfish in not wanting to give up the luxuries we've become used to, but that we want to give our children the best start in life - which increasingly seems to pre-suppose a bedroom each and a certain degree of spending power.
In response to LT, Perth's comments, where in the article does it say that twenty-something parents are a burden on the state?? I became a mother at the age of 25, and like many mothers of all ages do not rely on anyone else to financially support my family. Shouldn't the decision of when to have children be a personal one based on your own circumstances rather than dependent on your age?
Bottom line is have kids whenever you feel ready, no matter what that age may be (biology allowing, of course) and tell the rude people who feel it's their business to question the timing of conception to mind their own business! Likewise, if you don't want kids, don't have them. You are under no obligation to do so, but don't disparage those of us who choose to have children.
Congratulations on finding your life partner so soon Alan. If and when I do find somebody with whom I would like to start a family and who feels the same way, then please do not judge me for having my first child in my mid-30s.
Alan, you have my heartfelt sympathies. As a father of four children (whose wife had our first at 24 years of age), I sometimes feel like I am an alien on another planet. Twenties is the most natural time to have kids when parents are in their prime and likely to produce healthy offspring. Unfortunately we live in a time when it is impossible to afford a decent house on a single wage and no-one can afford to give up their job to start a family. What really gets my goat is all the non-parents who claim I am a drain on the state. Hah! I would like them to pay more towards raising the next generation! Why should I take all the financial pain while they spend every night down the pub or the gym?
You think people look at you funny. I am 30 and my daughter is 13. Yes, shock horror, I was a teenage mum but unlike the media would have you believe my child is not a yob because of it. She is an A-grade student, who most of the time (teenage tantrums withstanding) is a helpful and polite person. I am not under-educated and I do not live on benefits. Society has a way of trying to make you a statistic which suits the current agenda. While I don't suggest that every 16-year-old embarks on motherhood I do maintain that some do it understanding the responsibility of parenthood, take that very seriously and do a good job!
While it is entirely laudable for Mr and Mrs Marson to be having their first child in their 20s, I would like to comment on one aspect of the report. Not all women who have children in their 30s are "selfish" or simply arranging this for career convenience. There are a number of women (and men too), who simply do not meet the right person to marry and settle down with until into their 30s. I must confess that I am one of these. Equally I must confess that the attitude of people to a single thirty-something (which generally tends to suggest that one must have at least two heads or have something else "wrong" with you, because you are not married by that age) is at least as annoying as the attitudes of those who pass adverse comment on people who settle down and have children in their 20s. Perhaps a bit more open-mindedness and tolerance all round is needed.
I am 25 and my wife is 29.We had our first baby six months ago and it's great. I think we are the perfect age. We are more grounded than teenagers and still young enough to deal with the demands of raising a child. I look forward to being free in my 40s/50s to enjoy life when I am in the right frame of mind to do so. My mum was 17 and my dad 20 when I was born. They are 26 years married and free of both their children and only in their mid 40s.
Martyn Greene, Livingston
There's nothing bizarre about starting a family in your 20s and I think any perception of society or the media thinking otherwise is down to a touch of over-sensitivity here I think! My husband and I, both in our early 30s, are currently expecting our first child and were also asked "was it planned?". That is just something that (nosey!) people say - how you react to it is down to your own insecurities! There are pros and cons to having children at any age, the 'best' age is the one that suits you and your partner.
Jac Crosbie, Hampshire
Both of my children were born when I was in my mid 20s and now as I approach the big 40 they are teenagers. I chuckle when I see colleagues of my age with one or more toddlers on their hands and try not to grin when they moan about sleepless nights and the costs, etc. I'm not saying there's a best path but I certainly am happy that the biggest problem I face is getting my kids to get up before midday at a weekend !
Once again those of us who choose not to be a burden on the state or get into debt and therefore wait until we're emotionally and financially prepared for children (Alan, I'd like to do more than simply 'cope' when I have children) are being made to feel selfish and left wanting by those who have children. Children should be a life choice and very much wanted - without pressure from those who have discovered nappies and 3am feeds and who think it will suit all. Please, parents of any age, stop ramming your little darlings down the throats of the rest of us who, for whatever reason, are deciding to wait or abstain.
The benefits of having children whilst you are in your 20s are great. You are young enough to play actively with them, you are in your 40s when they reach late teens/20s so still young enough to do things. Financially, you are never prepared but as Alan says you cope. As the parent of three I will be 51 when my youngest reaches 18, magic.
Its reassuring to hear that our experience of being parents in our 20s is not unique. We are now in our 30s (37 and 33), and have boys aged 4, 6 and 8. We recently visited friends in London; at a BBQ with their peers, people couldn't comprehend us having a son of 8 and being the same age as them!
Great article, and a lot of very valid points. I too have noticed the dwindling numbers of parents in their mid-20s and have heard some people express the same views of them as they do on parents in their mid-teens. What people need to realise is that regardless of age, when the baby is either there or on its way, what is the point of doing anything else other than be supportive and happy? (Though that is not to say I agree with mid-teenage pregnancies!) If I was not half way through a Law degree I would have liked to have started a family already, and I am 'only' 25.
Allan Moore, Paisley
My son's are 7 and 8 and I'm now 36. When I had my oldest I went to a nice Surrey hospital where at 27 I was definitely one of the younger first time mothers. For my next child, I went to a local hospital which covers a large part of the West London sprawl and just one hear later I felt ancient! I think mid-to-late 20s are great for having kids. You've still got some energy, mature enough to cope, hopefully earning a bit more money and have a home set up, but still young enough to have your teeth and hair when they are older, and be silly with them as they grow. As my sons are finding out when I can't get them out of bed in the morning and use their very noisy light-sabre's as bed-ejecting aids!
My husband and I married last year when we were both 27 and we are now expecting our first child, as hoped for. I agree with Alan that there is a common perception in this country that having children before your 30s is unusual. We are the first couple out of a large circle of friends our own age to become parents and the number of times we have been asked if it was planned or if we had a 'shotgun' wedding is actually getting rather offensive. I think most couples who want a family should really try to start doing so before the age of 30, especially if they want more than one child as there are many reasons (not least the health factors involved for mother and baby) why this is better all round. I have heard of many couples who, for career reasons, have waited until their mid 30s to try for a baby then have faced the heartbreak of finding out they have a problem conceiving and with time against them the marriages often suffer under the strain that follows.
Jackie Grant, Glasgow
Well said. Too many people want it all before they have children! Then they discover it is too late! Mid twenties is ideal time to start a family....and yes you do cope ~ financially and emotionally it is no picnic but the rewards when you reach 50 are that your kids are hopefully self sufficient and great company!
Eilean Burgess, Dunblane, Perthshire
Excellent article. My wife and I were married at 23 and 22 respectively in 1997. We now have four children. Its great being a dad to growing children at 31. We feel more able to relate to them. Already the two older ones are like best friends to me, as we do loads together.
David Norris, Dunfermline
Oh come off it! The average age for women having their first birth was 27.1 in 2004, according to the Office of National Statistics and there are more women having births during their 20s than during their teens or 30s. You really shouldn't believe everything you read in the papers!
Duncan Hothersall, Edinburgh