Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR READERS: On Oct. 15, I asked those of you who were the children of "older parents" to write me about how it affected you, in order to help a couple in their 40s decide whether or not to start a family. I was unprepared for the avalanche of letters I received passionately arguing both sides of the issue. Some of the loving tributes brought tears to my eyes.

The letters ran about 4-to-1 in favor of starting a family. However, today we'll hear from those who voted "no." Read on:

DEAR ABBY: While I love my parents very much and thank God for them daily, having aging parents was hard on me emotionally. I remember praying to God when I was only 4 years old that he would allow my parents to live until I grew up. I worried they wouldn't live to see me through elementary school. Every ache and pain weighed heavily on my heart. Of course, having older parents was not all bad -- I learned to be very independent at a young age, because I was preparing to carry on alone.

My advice to the couple considering having children: If you are in good health and are well prepared to be around for the next 40 to 50 years, by all means have children. Just keep in mind that they'll be counting on you to be around, so take care of your health.

Another suggestion: If you're hesitant about having children, why not share your love and life by adopting older children who need loving homes? That way, you won't be the oldest parents at PTA meetings. -- CALIFORNIA READER

DEAR CALIFORNIA READER: Your letter touched on several points that were echoed by many readers. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I hope the 40-somethings who are considering becoming parents will consider my advice: PLEASE DON'T!

You might be fooling yourselves about how young and fit you are. When your child is an infant, maybe you won't look like his grandparents. But trust me, the age difference will show up before long.

Have you ever taken care of an infant long enough to discover how exhausting infant care can be? Will you have the stamina to stay up all night with a sick child and still go to work in the morning? When you're in your 60s and your child is a teen-ager, will you snap back after being up all night wondering where that child is? Or worse, because you DO know -- thanks to a cop who called to say your kid has been arrested? Don't think it won't happen.

No matter how healthy you feel, the actuarial tables are not on your side. If you feel the need to have children in your life, I recommend you take in foster children. -- NO NAME PLEASE, ORLANDO, FLA.

DEAR ABBY: My mother was 45 and my dad was 51 when I was born. Dad died when I was 16, leaving me to care for my mother, who was 62. I basically had no parents, and my youth was stolen by responsibility.

If those people want children in their lives, please tell them to be a Big Brother or Sister, or adopt an older child. There are too many unwanted and neglected children out there already.

I grew up with parents who were too old and too tired all the time. I grew up in funeral homes because my dad was the youngest of 12, and the aunts and uncles were dropping like flies. Believe me, it's no life for a kid. Sign me ... THE ACCIDENT

Tomorrow we'll hear from those readers who spoke for the majority -- and urged the hesitant couple in their 40s to "go for it!" Stay tuned.

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