Age is just a number. Apparently.

“What age you is mummy?” asked my three-year-old recently. A topical question, when the internet is full of How Old Do I Look photos (clever Microsoft!), hitting on the mild obsession some (many) of us have with how old we look versus how old we are, and how publicly we’re prepared to discuss the topic.

I hesitated for a millisecond before telling my smallie my age. I’m not sure why I hesitated. I wasn’t going to lie to him – his sisters already know how old I am, and apart from anything else, three-year-olds have very little concept of age. He probably wasn’t going to start judging me, or looking at me differently.

Maybe it’s just ingrained in some of us to feel a little uncomfortable disclosing age? Is it something that’s passed down through generations? I remember my parents telling us they were twenty-one again every year, and for a long time, we believed it. Even after I finally worked out that it was unlikely that they were capable of stopping the passage of time at each birthday, I still didn’t know what age they really were. So I guess that’s at least partly why I’m slow to disclose my age unless I’m pushed – it’s something I learned growing up.

But still, it doesn’t fully explain it. Age isn’t something to be embarrassed about – it just is what it is. Are we afraid people will look at us differently if they know what age we are? That doesn’t make sense – if people are surprised – if they think we’re younger than we are, that’s a compliment, right? (Even though of course it doesn’t actually make sense to applaud someone for looking young – but that’s a whole other topic.) Is it a simple privacy concern? We don’t shout out the personal numbers that come in lbs and ounces or euros and cents either.

Numbers Office Mum

Recently, I was at a dinner with some new friends – all of us know each other just a little. At one point during the wine-soaked meal, one woman mentioned her age. Those around her were very surprised – they told her she looked much younger, and they’d never have  guessed. Her neighbour then confessed her age too, and similar comments followed. In the end, we went around the whole table – all of us fessed up. And everyone was complimented. And truly, everyone meant it. Every single person at the table looked younger than her age. Which is either a massive coincidence, or says something about our perceptions of what late-thirties and early-forties look like.

Perhaps this generation is more open about age than our parents were – now we have thirtieths and fortieths and fiftieths – it’s hard to invite people to your fortieth without mentioning age. Or maybe this is just my memory playing tricks on me (getting on a bit, you know) – maybe celebrating significant birthdays was just as popular a generation back. We also have a proliferation of public information about age that probably didn’t exist in the past – any website or newspaper article will quote ages for Angelina Jolie (39) or Bradley Cooper (40) or Cameron Diaz (42) or Russell Crowe (50).

And maybe on the flip side, this public information adds to our self-consciousness – if Charlize Theron and Christina Hendricks are both turning forty and look like they do, perhaps I don’t want to be telling everyone my age?


Anyway, I decided against fibbing to the kids about my age, as a significant birthday approached last year (my twenty-fifth, ahem) so they do know the truth. And they seem most unperturbed by it really. They were more concerned about a friend’s mother recently. My seven-year-old said, “Mum, Jessica’s mum is twenty-one and Jessica is seven – that’s mad that she had her when she was fourteen isn’t it!”

Yes. Maybe truth is the best way after all. And hey, maybe someone will say, “Wow, you don’t look that old at all!” Or perhaps a computer will…

How Old Do I Look photo - Office Mum
It’s very scientific

What do you do – do you tell your kids your real age?

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10 thoughts on “Age is just a number. Apparently.”

  1. My kids know my age, and that my husband is a year younger. They’re shocked that he’s taller than me since I’m older. I don’t hide my age ever. I turn 40 next year and am telling everyone, mostly as they all think I look younger so I love to hear that. The thing that’s makes me sound really old is when I tell people that I did the Inter Cert, I get treated like a historical relic then! Also, my sisters are 10 and 15 years younger than me so I feel old sometimes when I’m with them and the nice comments help me along 🙂

    1. That’s funny- my husband is a year younger than me too, and the kids get a kick out of that. I suspect that somehow TV and books give them the idea that men should be older – or maybe it is just to do with size and height? My mum was a year old than my dad, and I was in my teens when I realised that – I remember being really surprised!
      And PS, you look about 32 🙂

    1. That’s it – when they’re small, all grown-ups are the same. Sometimes I ask how old someone is (e.g. a particular teacher) and it’s funny how clueless they are. They don’t seem to see any difference between 20, 40 or 60. Yay for that!

  2. Great post. It is strange, the inclination to conceal our age. I had this conversation with a colleague’s 4 year old when I was heavily pregnant on my second.

    “Are you pregnant?”
    “What age are you?”
    “I’m 25”
    “Aren’t you a little young to be a mother?”

    I didn’t have an answer for her!

    1. Oh my goodness!! What a thing to say! Funny that a four-year-old would even have an idea like that. I guess that answers were our pre-conceptions come from anyway – conversations we hear at a very young age!

  3. My parents would never tell me their ages – they said they “couldn’t remember” for years and years. I finally stumbled on my Dad’s date of birth, did the maths, and was horrified (because my parents were in their 40s when they had me, so they were older than I expected when I finally found out). That experience made me wary of pretending about my age to my kids, so they know exactly how old their dad and I are and will volunteer the information to anyone who does or doesn’t ask.
    Sometimes I wonder if I should amend my public birthday information on FB so it doesn’t tell everyone how old I am, but then I decide that it’s good for me to just put it out there even if as time goes on I don’t love the number as much as I used to.
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    1. Yes the Facebook one is interesting – I avoided putting my birthday on Facebook at all for the first few years because I couldn’t find a way to do it without including year of birth. Then I started to think it might be lovely to get dozens of birthday wishes, even if they’re prompted by a giant computer, so I gave in (though think I found a way to do without year in the end). I find I force myself to be upfront but still feel a little awkward about it. Not so much with the kids though – they have no preconceptions so think 40 is just like any other age (which of course, it is)

  4. It is so funny when you ask “what age do you think I am?” And they answer 100!!! Not because you look 100, kids love being that one year older,, and look to their mummy,s to being to oldest!! (That in my books mean the best x)

    1. That’s it – they think older is better full stop! I wonder what age that starts to change – I think I remember that when my friends and I were about seventeen or eighteen, we stopped wishing time away.

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