Forever Young

Being a young mom means we met a little early, but I get to love you longer. Some people said my life ended when I had a baby, but my life just begun. You didn't take away my future you gave me a new one. I am proud of being a young parent, and the person you helped me become...

Not long ago, I came across a thread on a teenage parenting board in which a former teen mother posted a message offering to share her story or advice with other young mothers on the website. Most of the replies were positive, however one snarky reply advised the helpful mommy to “Give up the ‘Teen Mom’ label, you’re 24 now. It’s not cool.”
I’ve thought about this quite a bit, as I think I may be guilty of holding onto the “Teen Mom” identity in more ways than one.  For starters, I occasionally lurk on the “pregnant teen” boards on the BabyCenter just to see what topics are being questioned & debated. I regularly  keep tabs on the latest trends & statistics regarding adolescent pregnancy & parenting. And,  in addition to the Colbert Report and Democracy Now, I religiously set my DVR to record each and every episode of MTV’s Teen Mom, 16 & Pregnant, and (I’m ashamed to admit) the dismally written, awkwardly casted Secret Life of An American Teenager, which seeks to portray the ups & downs of adolescent parenthood.
Since having my first at the age of 17, I’ve had three more children, my last of which was born when I was 30. I am by no means a “teen mom” anymore, yet the fact that my firstborn arrived before  I had graduated from high school seems to permeate my parenthood identity to this day.
When my baby was 18-months-old, I chose to pursue an education in the field of child development. Though I thoroughly feel that this was my calling, I can’t help but wonder if my motivation to do so was partly a subconscious effort to prove to the world that I was fit to be a parent. Oddly enough,  when you drop the fact that you have several degrees in early childhood education, people begin to assume you’re an expert on all things child-related (I’m not.) However, when you’re a high-schooler toting a baby on your hip, you are not likely to be nominated for any variation of the “Parent of the Year” award– And I wanted desperately to be recognized for the good parent that I was trying to be…
 I researched the benefits of breast-feeding vs. formula and chose to nurse. I made sure my diet was wholesome & nutritious. I all but abandoned my normal teenage activities (and as an unwanted result, my social life was abandoned as well), I read nearly every pregnancy and parenting book I could get my hands on…but, try as I might, I could not fit into the Mommy Club. It was as if there was an unspoken age requirement that I hadn’t quite reached. I signed up for a “Mommy & Me” group soon after my son was born, and found myself playing in the corner with my little guy—something we easily could have done at home—without the glances and whispers from the other mothers who were markedly older than I. While running errands, I was often asked if I was babysitting , and was met with looks of disapproval when I replied proudly, “No, this is my son.” Its a funny thing-being a young mom…you don’t quite fit in with your peers anymore, yet you are not likely to be accepted by the Gymboree play group crowd, either.
 My baby is going to start high school next week and I am 31. I still get “the looks”, when I first introduce myself to people as his mother. But it doesn’t bother me much anymore. My boy is academically at the top of his class. He is kind & empathetic, well-rounded,  responsible, and has a killer sense of humor. I cannot take full credit for all his accomplishments,  but I can’t help but feel proud every time someone comments on what a wonderful young man he is growing up to be. At 16, I could have continued along my wayward path of pseudo-rebellion; the drinking, the smoking, the mediocre school attempt, the self-created mini-dramas…instead I was given the inspiration for an instant life makeover. And that’s exactly what I did. 
The young mom stigma does not automatically leave you when you pass your mid-twenties. I will always be young in relation to my oldest son’s age. I am reminded of this each and every time I attend one of his school functions, and I am mistaken for his sister, aunt, etc….Often, when we are together, people will comment, “You look too young to be his mom!” I’ve learned to just smile, and nod. I may be too young to be his mom, but I sure feel blessed to have been bestowed with the honor.