Later Mom Features
bestseller Passages, named one of the ten most influential books of our times by the Library of Congress. A multiple award-winning literary journalist, she was one of the original contributors to New York magazine and has been a contributing editor to Vanity Fair since 1984.
A popular lecturer, Sheehy was named AARP’s Ambassador of Caregiving in 2009.I had the opportunity to chat with Ms. Sheehy, and she was every bit the candid and inspiring force I anticipated.
Robin: You have two children, and how many grandchildren do you have?
Gail: I have three, and the third is turning 8 and is still in that totally admiring phase. I took her to see The Lion King. We were enthralled together. The funny thing is I’m showing her some of my tweets, and a picture of my memoir poppcd up. She asked, “What’s that?” I said, “It’s a picture of my memoir. It’s the latest book I wrote. It’s about my life.” And she said, “Well, how old were you in that picture?” I said, “I was in my 20s.” And, she said, “Boy, now you’re so old.” It takes a child to say right what you’re thinking. She asked, “What’s your job?” And, I said, ‘I’m an author…..that means I write books.” I had never talked about it really, and her older sister who is 10, I write with her sometimes. We pass a story back ‘n forth. Children do not think that writing is a job. They think you just kinda scribble in your corner. You never seem to be going to an office, so it can’t really be a job where you support yourself. I had to make that come together for her.
Robin: You became a single mom in your 20s and then adopted in your 40s. What is your take on it?
Gail: The number of women 30 and under having children has grown exponentially and really shocked me. Half of American women 30 and under are having children without a husband. At least one third of the time it wasn’t planned. Very often they were living with somebody or had been with them for a while. They get pregnant because they’re not taking birth control, and they decide to let it happen if it happens. He’s not really up for it, and maybe the baby daddy is around for a couple of years. In the average situation, he moves on, and she’s a single mom. Having been a single mom in my 20s when it was really really tough back in the 1960s — it wasn’t a cool thing to do — it was rather shameful and you really had to support yourself at a time when women weren’t easily achieving careers, including being a journalist. It’s much easier today, but it’s not so easy.
The children who have the best chance to take advantage of the opportunities out there are the children, this is statistically documented from Isabel Sawhills research — she’s with Brookings Institution, and she wrote about it in a book called Generation Unbound — from women and men who marry, go to the same type of school (good colleges), graduate, meet either at school or after school, get married before they have a child or children, and both are working. They have two careers and income and stability, have a child or children, and that child will be able to actually exceed the parents living standard and opportunities for growth. So, that old model is still working really really well. And, now we have the new norm which is having babies under 30 without being married, and we have yet to see how that’s gonna work out. There are loads of single moms who are strong, resilient, resourceful and making things work, but it’s a struggle. And, if the child hasn’t been planned for, then it’s all by the seat of your pants, and maybe the chips fall in your favor and maybe they don’t.
I had a really hard time making life work and being a present mother. The biggest deprivation of all is not really being able to be a fully present mother for the first year or two because you have to make a living and make a life without a partner, and that takes time. I’m a lone voice out there because it’s such a popular construct now, but I have to say that being a later mother — adopting a child in my 40s — was totally different than being a young mother in my 20s, who as a result of divorce, I did it on my own. I had full custody, but our daughter was only 2.5 years old when we divorced, and I wanted her to have a father as much as he was willing to participate. He was a good father. But, the divorce happened as a result of him being unfaithful. It was a very sad situation. He’d take her a couple of nights/week and every other weekend, and that continued until she was emancipated. We never took it out on her. But, it was missing having a real family life that made me really hungry and sad about getting to the end of my reproductive life and not having a child with a family.