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12 Aug 2011

Defending the Young Mom

By Michelle Horton
We're all aware of the young mom stigma circulating in society. You know the one: Immature girl falls in love with immature boy and immaturely thinks they can handle having a cute little baby, only to realize they had no idea what they were getting into. They end up broke, uneducated, divorced and unhappy -- secretly regretting the youthful years they threw away. Maybe they neglect their parental duties and go out partying at all hours of the night. Maybe they find themselves on a never-ending cycle of welfare. Maybe they blame their children for stealing their lives.

Sound familiar?
This tale was once again told over on a recent Yahoo Shine post, Why Don't My Parents Want Me to Have Kids Young? by Jaipi Sixbear. And in it she bullets every reason why you shouldn't have children young. She makes general statements like:
  • "...if you decide to have kids young, be prepared to accept a hard life for you and your children (possibly even your grandchildren).
  • "Having kids while you're still young is like saying to yourself, 'I want my life (and my kids [sic] lives) to be as difficult as possible and I want to start suffering right now.'"
  • And the photo caption is my favorite: "Having kids young? You might as well raise them in a combat zone."
There's a part of me infuriated by these blanket statements. These aren't universal truths for young motherhood. What Jaipi is really saying is that this was her experience. She decided to not get an education. She decided to marry an "immature and abusive" man. She decided to jump into a decision without knowing the consequences. She was too immature.
But that's not how we think. We group all teens moms in with the MTV messes. We assume all young moms must be uneducated. As one commenter said: "young = poor = no education = stupid = nothing to teach your child = bad parent." And by the transitive property, young = bad parent. (Looks like someone has an education.)
Yet there's another part of me that realizes that this is very much a reality for many young mothers out there. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. Many women commented on the article and said they had a very similar experience. And while I try to highlight the positives of our "early mom" situations (to prove that we can still live happy, successful, fulfilled lives by using other young moms as examples), I would never want a young woman to assume that young motherhood is the right path for everyone.
Not everyone is cut out to be a young mom. (I'd even say that many young women are too immature to handle motherhood in their early 20s.) But that doesn't mean that all young women aren't cut out to be mothers. Young motherhood can be the perfect time for certain women to start their families -- especially since we have more energy, better physical health, less pregnancy risks and more years to spend with our children. So before assuming that age is a prerequisite for good parenting and overall happiness, here are some issues to consider before deciding to become a young mother:
Do you at least have a college degree? Are you planning on finishing college? Get your diploma, even if it's only three credits at a time. Motherhood isn't a paying profession, and your full-time duties won't last forever. (And if you find that college isn't for you, don't use it as a barrier to give up on your life goals. You can still take risks and chase dreams with a baby in your arms -- despite what others might think.)
Personal Interests
Are you someone who is constantly looking for something fun to do on a Friday night? Do you love getting dolled up with your girlfriends and pre-gaming with a bottle of jager? Are you currently searching for your next Spring Break hot spot? Don't get pregnant.
This is probably the more important factor to consider. As a young mom, you're going to need help. Not just financially, but emotionally too. I think this is important for all moms, except that older moms typically have other friends who understand the ins and outs of motherhood. Friends who are fully immersed in the sub-culture and wouldn't mind discussing the color of newborn poop. Yet 20-something non-breeders typically don't want to talk about the bodily functions and (not-as-amusing-as-you-think) milestones of your infant. It's best to have family around to lend a hand, as well as a supportive partner. One who isn't abusive or immature.
Believe it or not, some 23-year-old women actually have jobs. They earn an income, they have an apartment, some even have their own homes. Some are married to men 10 years older, who have their own homes and bank accounts and jobs. Some young women are married by the time they hit the legal drinking age. Is it rare? Sure. Is it unheard of? Absolutely not.
A Positive Attitude
Even if you haven't finished college, your boyfriend suddenly won't answer your calls and your bank account is in the negative, that doesn't mean you can't turn your life around. Yes it might be harder, but it doesn't mean you'll be raising your child in a combat zone. It doesn't mean you're going to negatively impact your grandchildren's lives for goodness sake. We need to stop assuming that Jaipi's story is the typical path of a young mother. Being a young mom isn't an excuse to be a bad mom. It's not an excuse to give up. It's not an excuse.
Jaipi could have went back to school. She could have left an abusive marriage after the first child rather than the third. She could have assessed her situation before blindly jumping in. Jaipi had a hard experience because she was immature, not because she was young. Let's not confuse the two.
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