The other day I was at the park with my kids. And, as is typical, I was actively avoiding contact with the other parents that were milling about supervising. It’s not that I am anti-social as a person but I don’t necessarily find it easy to connect with other parents.
I became a mom when I was 18 and a mom again when I was 19. And I, like many many many teen parents, definitely knew I was too young to become a mom. Because, when you become a mother or parent in your teens people tell you how young you are. And not just when you are pregnant, and not just when you give birth, and not just when you go to the grocery store, and not just when you register your child for preschool, or when you register them for kindergarten, and not just when you take them to work functions with you but over and over again every single time someone asks how old your kids are. Trust me, teen parents never stop hearing about how they are teen parents even a decade after they became one.
And I don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that anyone should become a teen parent. It has been a very painful and difficult journey. But there are some good parts. For example, I will be thirty-nine and all my kids will have graduated from high school, that leaves a lot of time to get to be friends with them. And because I am so young, I have a ton more energy to give to my kiddos, seriously, old parents I don’t know how you do it.
But that day when I was at the park, I was watching a dad interact with his son. His son was maybe six and dad was easily in his late thirties or early forties, and I started thinking for a moment if he felt judged constantly the way I do. Because any time I go anywhere with my kids I feel inherently judged and, I know that most of the time I am not being judged, but all those times when people have told me how young I am to have kids have taken their toll.
Parent to parent judgement, specifically between moms, is very typical, but for formerly teen parents it has a different layer. You see, we have been told over and over again that we shouldn’t be a parent. That it was wrong that we became a parent and thusly wrong that we still are now. Even when people don’t know they are saying that to us, they say it in the way they talk about our life. In the way our age is mentioned. In the look in their eyes when you say your kid is eight when you are twenty-six or that your other child is seven, yup you have some that are close. Crazy right. Nope I don’t know how I do it either.
It is reinforced from the time we learned what having kids is all the way until this very moment. We are not supposed to be parents, according to society. So as I watched that dad help his son down the slide for the first time I found myself wondering what it would feel like to parent when you know that you have a right to, when you are in utter confidence that you are allowed to be a parent, that it is socially acceptable for you to be, that the choice you made consciously to become a parent was inherently a valid one.
Now, I know that everyone doubts themselves when they are a parent, its completely natural. But teen parents don’t just doubt themselves as parents, they often feel like they are an imposter for being one in the first place. Especially, if the formally teen parent just so happens to fit any of the ‘teen parent’ stereotypes i.e if they are no longer together with their children’s father or if they have kids by different partners.
I don’t have any doubts in my capabilities as a parent. I know I am a damn good mama to my babies. I have utter confidence that I am raising them to the absolute best of my abilities. I run my own business helping women overcome their fears and give my kiddos everything that I can. But regardless of that, I still harbor the guilt of all those reinforced messages. All those people who judged without knowing they did, well, some of them knew, but still.
I don’t blame anyone who makes the comments that they do as most of the time they are well intentioned, however, I no longer am going to accept them into my own internal dialogue. I have decided to start believing that I am, in fact, allowed to be what I am, everything that I am, and that includes being a parent. I have decided that I am going to be like that dad, to not be aware that society thinks that I am not fit because I made choices when I was younger to create the most amazing beings that I have ever encountered.
Regardless of if I can relate to other parents who are much older than I am and in an entirely different state of life. Regardless of the times that people ask how old I am in line at the grocery store. Regardless of any stereotype I may or may not fit. I am choosing to honor the choice I made to be a parent, even if it was not done in the traditional way. I am choosing to have confidence that I am not wrong in having children.
I am a parent and fully accepting and allowing myself to be so.