My husband and I were married shortly after our 22nd birthdays. We were pregnant by 23, though we hadn't planned on becoming pregnant so quickly. I have been mistaken for a teen mom numerous times, and much of young parenting has been an uphill battle.
No one will be as surprised as your peers. I remember the surprise and shock of other Teach For America corps members when I told them I was pregnant, and the cries of, "I'm so glad I'm not you!"
I remember the open stares as I walked through downtown Boston with my parents — a burgeoning advertisement for young pregnancy, seemingly without a significant other in sight.
Of course there were sacrifices — the unpursued graduate degrees, the dreams left to languish, the friendships left behind in lieu of new diapering, swaddling, and feeding routines; the hunkering down of a married couple in the trenches of parenting.
But the hardships are not the end of the story. Watch the pages turn on this little storybook of young parenting. You'll see my husband work through his lunch break to support his new family. He has vied for a promotion, putting in extra hours to get a new company project off the ground, while his co-workers go out for beers.
Our long nights of drinking wine while cuddled up in front of the television have turned into long nights of learning what it means to love when exhaustion has trumped reason.
We've learned to budget and live within our means, with one car shared between two people, sans exorbitant graduate student loans that would have sent us underwater. We've learned that we can live on less — as well as how to turn off lights to save electricity, how to re-use that pot roast for roast beef sandwiches, and how to buy the marked-down chicken at Wal-mart.
It could certainly be said that we have narrowed down our options, diminished our career options, along with other rational objections to our family choices. However, just as there are advocates for waiting to have children until you have "your ducks in a row," there have been generations of people who survived and thrived while parenting young.
As a result of our children, family ties have tightened, bringing grandparents into the fray. Instead of shouldering the burden of caring for our children and our aging parents, we have experienced the joy of young grandparents — recent empty-nesters with space in their days to bond with their grandchildren.
Our finances have taken a few years to stabilize, but we've been determined to save money for our family — perhaps even more motivated than our peers to launch out on our own.
Sometimes I look back with missed nostalgia at the first years of my Twenties, which have flown by, while my friends' Facebook statuses have given witness to Med School white coat ceremonies and bar exams. These are milestone that I know I could have with time. I have often wondered, would I have taken a different career path had all the world been open to us? And yet, in characteristic parenting idealism, I also cannot imagine life without our two kids.
Sometimes it takes grown-up life choices to make a grown-up out of a young adult.
There has been some increased discussion for young marriage — the incendiary Princeton marriage argument, for one — but it still feels like we're forging ahead in new territory for our generation. We often take solace in the fact that we are young: Young enough to wake up five times a night, young enough to get pregnant fairly easily, young enough that we will be trailblazing the empty nest before we know it.
But right now we have joy.