At 43 and 39, Karen and Coady Torio of Petersburg, Mich., are not your typical first-time parents. In 2006, after nine years of marriage and struggles to conceive, they acquired an instant family in just three months by becoming adoptive parents of a toddler, guardians of a teen and the expectant parents of an infant.
Their happy and hectic household now includes 15-year-old Dustin, 3-year-old John Dominic and 8-month-old Matthew. Although the Torios are well past the traditional age for starting a family, Karen says, “We rest assuredly in God’s timing.”
In a culture obsessed with youth and energy, the Torios might have figured they had missed the family boat after exhausting their options for infertility treatment. Indeed, most couples start families in their 20s or early 30s, and the media tend to reinforce the image of parents as young and able to keep up with active children.
But for Karen and Coady, such stereotypes never came into play, even as they saw themselves advancing in age.
“We’re married, and our job is to raise kids,” Coady says. “That’s how we should live out our vocation.”
Like many Catholic couples, they longed to not only think with the Church but also live in accord with its teachings. They knew the Catechism teaches that it’s in the raising of children that the institution of marriage “finds its crowning glory” (No. 1652).
Of course, the Church also teaches that spouses to whom God has not granted children “can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality and of sacrifice” (No. 1654).
The month of May, Mary’s month, is a good time for “late-blooming” first-time Catholic parents — whether adoptive or biological — to thank God for their familial blessings.
Kids R Love
Today the Torios’ struggles are of a different character than the ones they faced in their childless days. Coady, for example, knows that 10 years ago — when he was in what he calls “phenomenal shape” — he would have been better able to keep up with John Dominic.
But his own father, who married at 36, was about the same age as Coady when he first became a parent.
“I know from personal experience that the kid doesn’t care,” Coady says. “All Johnny knows is whether he is loved or not. It’s nice and simple.”
Similarly, Karen, a former school psychologist, was encouraged by the number of women she knew who had had babies in their 40s. Furthermore, she says, she has come to appreciate that maturity offers certain parenting advantages over youth — wisdom, life experience, longer immersion in the faith.
David Crawford, assistant professor of moral theology and family law at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., says couples who question whether they are too old to have children need only look at the natural order of things, in which women can still be fertile into their 40s.
“God has made it such through our natural biology that there’s an end to fertility and therefore that correlates also with the time frame for raising a child,” he says. Obviously adoption doesn’t have to correlate with that, he adds, but a couple of any age should exercise prudence when making such decisions.
He says it would not be prudent, for example, to adopt a child if a prospective parent had a terminal or progressive illness.
“You have to look at the particular circumstances of the couple and, assuming all those circumstances are good ones, I don’t see why someone in their 40s might not be able to adopt — particularly given that natural fertility occurs in the 40s” and it’s common today for people to remain energetic into their 70s.
By the time a couple is in their 50s or 60s, it might not be wise to adopt, Crawford says — but, on the other hand, it could be the charitable thing to do in the case of a grandparent providing protection for an abused child or someone who lived in a place where children were starving and in need of immediate care.
As for the energy levels of older parents, Crawford, a father of eight, speaks from personal experience.
“I’m in my late 40s and my wife is in her late 40s and we have a child who just turned 3,” he says. “I don’t think that we notice any more exhaustion than we ever did before.”
Father Michael Dandurand, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Bowling Green, Ohio, who baptized Matthew Torio, says he is always inspired by families in which God has blessed a couple with a child later in life.
“From what they tell me,” he said, “couples experience surprising renewal in their marriage,” even though the initial reaction is sometimes one of apprehension.
Coady Torio says he and Karen felt some of that anxiety when they learned Karen was pregnant after they had agreed to adopt John and become Dustin’s guardians.
“We were excited but cautious and, quite frankly, felt stretched. We were just thinking, ‘Already, we’re too old for this. This is really cool, but can we do this — literally, physically, can we handle this?’ But of course, you can.”
The Catechism points out that physical sterility “is not an absolute evil. Spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord’s cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others” (No. 2379).
Coady says he and Karen ultimately concluded that being open to life meant being open to the children they took in as well as a child they conceived.
“The reality is, we would have never found out about little Johnny had we had our own children,” he concludes. “When you have your own kids, you don’t think of adoption — especially being older.”
The Torio family is living proof that such thinking can change.
Judy Roberts writes from