Recently, I had a conversation with an old acquaintance that really irritated me. A little background – I got pregnant with our daughter during my first year of college and had her when I was 19. I won’t quote the acquaintance directly, as she didn’t mean any harm, but she said something that translates to, “Wow, I can’t believe your life isn’t all screwed up.” I’m a bitch, so my response of choice would have been “I’m sorry, how many master’s degrees do you have exactly?” But I’m also nice, so in reality I just smiled.
Now, this is something that I used to hear fairly often – people not being able to believe that I stayed in college, that I finished on time, that I worked, that I’m still married, that I went to graduate school, etc. [Although I don’t hear it as much anymore b/c most people aren’t aware of my early “indiscretions” and the rest just don’t care b/c I’m a grown-ass woman.]
Why does society expect a 19 year-old to choose between her child and her dreams? We don’t require that of a 29 year-old or a 39 year-old? Why was I expected to fail? Society spends a great deal of time trying to stop young women from having abortions, but then pretty much the same amount of time trying convincing them that their life is over if they have the child. “You had the sex! Suffer the consequences!” Well gee, those are crappy choices.
This is not what we should be telling young parents.
A good hard dose of reality with a little encouragement would go a long way. It’s not difficult. Here look, I’ll go first:
“Congratulations! This is going to be really hard, but the payoff will be better than anything. For the next few years while your peers are able to save money, travel, and explore exciting career opportunities, you will be coming home to a very demanding tiny human and spending every spare dime on formula (because naturally the only breastfeeding advice you will get in the hospital is “Well, you are just going to have to figure it out, honey”). [Speaking of hospitals, a lot of nurses will assume any problem you mention is just the whining of a stupid kid. Make them take you seriously – you deserve the same care as the mother down the hall.] It may make you feel bad to see your friends’ shiny new cars as you load your baby in her hand-me-down carrier into your bargain transportation, but try to shake it off. It will all start to even out a bit in the end. Try to avoid going into debt. God knows those student loan payouts are tempting, but you will only put yourself further behind your peers as you spend years paying it off (trust me, I know). You are going to need a support system – family, friends, etc. This is beyond important. And – listen, this is the big one – you are important. You don’t have to lose your identity just to have a kid. That 30 year-old mother over there allows herself a night off without judgment (well, with reason. The judgment from other mothers is outstandingly harsh.); you can do the same. Really, you can. Sure, some people might use that as ammo to criticize what a bad parent you are . . . but who cares? Don’t let them hold you to a higher standard than they hold themselves. You rock. Your path might be different, but you will find it. And get to enjoy your little one along the way.”
See. Not hard.