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Duly Noted

Friday, Dec 7, 2012, 4:25 pm

Dear Prudence: Much Older Mom

By Lindsay Beyerstein

WadeB, Creative Commons.

Prudie was doing so well this week, but she's reverting to her old bad habits. A nanny wrote in to complain about a 65-year-old single mother of twins who's obviously not coping very well:

Dear Prudie,
I am a nursing student who has worked as a part-time nanny for the past two years for adorable twin 4-year-olds. Their mother is 65 years old. She had them with the help of a fertility clinic. I've stayed with her this long solely for the sake of the children. She is single and is majorly in over her head. She has been in three car accidents with the twins in the last 18 months. She wasn't even able to take them for an outing by herself until they were 3 years old because she said she couldn't handle it. Her neighbors and parents of the twins’ classmates have enquired about the situation because they just can’t believe their eyes. She has nannies six days a week, often working 12-hour shifts. She doesn't eat dinner with the children and rarely puts them to bed. What kind of doctor would allow this to happen? She will be nearly 80 years old when they are graduating high school! There are no other family members involved and I can't imagine what’s ahead. The twins need me but I'm reaching the end of my rope and don’t know how long I can stay involved.

—When To Say “When”

Prudie jumps to the conclusion that she's a selfish old biddie who doesn't love her kids: "Ordering up a pair of designer babies you have no interest in raising as a way to prove your youth hasn’t fled is monstrous."  I guess that's one hypothesis, but maybe she's just struggling.

The only relevant question is whether this woman is capable of taking care of her kids, or finding someone else to do it for her. If the kids are safe and well-cared for by someone, the nanny needs to quit second-guessing this woman's reproductive decisions.

A lot of people make childbearing decisions that seem questionable to outsiders. Half the pregnancies in this country aren't planned at all. Childbearing is a gamble at the best of times. Circumstances change. Once the kids are born, all that is irrelevant. They're here now. Looking down our noses at the parents won't solve anything.

Three accidents in 18 months is a sign that the kids are not safe in her car. A call to the DMV is in order. If the mom's putting her kids in acute danger, the nanny needs to call child protective services. Prudie mentions these options almost as an afterthought.

The letter writer seems to assume that whatever's wrong with this woman has to do with her age. We don't know that. Lots of 65-year-old women are raising kids just fine. They're usually grandmothers, but the fact remains that parenting ability doesn't automatically evaporate the day you qualify for Social Security.

Just because this woman isn't parenting well doesn't mean she doesn't love her kids. Maybe she has a fixable problem, like depression. If the nanny's poised to quit anyway, she has little to lose by levelling with her boss about her concerns.

This letter seems less like a genuine request for advice and more of an opportunity to trash her boss for her reproductive decisions. Prudie answered in the same spirit.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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