Seeing Myself in Books: Older Parents


Books are a wonderful place to learn about new people, new worlds, and new experiences, but sometimes you just want to see characters that remind you of yourself when you read. It’s not too rare to see bookish characters in books (I know, what a shock!), but there are some other traits that you just don’t see as much – so, when you do see characters who share these characteristics, you want to jump up and down and shout “where have you been all my life, one-personality-trait-or-life-experience twin?” At least, that’s how I normally feel – thus this new feature, where I look at these amazing books that are obviously wondrous things!

We’ll start with the first book and life experience that inspired this series in the first place: having and growing up with older parents.

According to the first site that popped up when I Googled the average age of first time American parents, the average age for mothers in 2013 was 26, and I assume most fathers are around there, although probably older. So, when bookish protagonists are around 15-17 years old in YA, their parents are probably in their early forties or so, like most of the parents of my friends back in middle school and high school. Then there are people like me – my mom turned forty seven months before I was born, and I vaguely remember her having a fiftieth birthday party where her equally older friends gave her a bunch of gag gifts, although as a nearly nine-and-a-half year old, I probably didn’t get a lot of the over the hill jokes and such. My dad was born in the 1940s – yes, he was only alive for a few days in 1949 before it became the fifties, but as he recently pointed out, he’s technically lived through eight decades – the 1940s through the 2010s. That is a lot of decades!

Anyway, the fact that I had older parents definitely affected who I was and am. I’m not saying that it’s this horrible thing, but it certainly affected me. My parents had these full lives long before they even met, let alone my sister and I were in the picture. Some of the things we skim over in history class because it’s the end of the year and we don’t have time to focus on it as much – they lived through it! I have had teachers who would talk about stuff from their childhood, and then they would say that our grandparents probably did that stuff too – yeah, my grandparents were too busy growing up during Prohibition or the Great Depression, I think you’re talking about my parents. You know, the ones who traveled all over the world before marriage and children because they weren’t tied down, the ones who mostly have friends with grown up children, rather than Mr. and Mrs. Friend’s Dad and Mom (don’t tell me that wasn’t what you called parents when you were really young).

We went through all the typical older-parent things – “Hello, sir, what an adorable granddaughter you have”; meet your cousins – oh, and meet some of their children that are about the same age as you; I told one of my friends’ moms that my mom died her hair – although, in her defense, her family did go grey prematurely, so she’s had grey hair since she was in her 30s; and sometimes my aunts and uncles felt like quasi-grandparents, some of my cousins feel like aunts and uncles, and three out of four grandparents either died before I was born or were obviously Old and not able to do typical grandparent things, whatever that is. There are plenty of other things that you know about when you have older parents, but some are sad and I’d rather not focus on that – no, instead, I should probably relate this to books now!

If you want to skip the personal, anecdote-y stuff, the bookish talk starts here!

I was inspired to write this post months ago, when I read Sarah Dessen’s latest, Saint Anything, and the debut Like It Never Happened by Emily Adrian. In the former, one of the protagonist’s longtime friends is the daughter of older parents, and it seems to inform her character a little, although we only get to see her a bit. In the latter, the protagonist has older parents and is a bit of a “surprise” child who has a ten years older or so sister, but her older parents don’t get a chance to affect her character as much as I wanted. I wanted to see characters who talk about the difficulties and interesting things that happen when you have an older parent. I wanted to see parents who obviously had a long life before being parents, parents who are a bit more hands-off simply because they haven’t devoted the majority of their adulthood to being parents. E. Lockhart’s Dramarama had an older father as well, and I think we got that glimpse into the hands-off parenting a little bit, but it took place mostly at a summer camp, so it wasn’t the same thing.

Basically, I want stories where having older parents is a Thing, not just a quirky character trait that makes the protagonist stand out a tiny bit, either among their peers or the many, many other protagonists in the literary world. I want to see family gatherings where the protagonist and any sibling she or he might have are stuck in the middle, too young for their older cousins but a bit too old for any children that might have joined the family recently. Basically, I want to see myself in books a bit more.

Are there any other children-of-older-parents out there? Or do you perhaps have a suggestion of a book that explores this family type a bit more than the books I’ve mentioned?

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