The Joy of Young Parenthood

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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.

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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.

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But right now we have joy.


Read more from Briana at BrianaMeade.com, as well as the Early Mama archives.

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Ask Liann: Original Baby Name Ideas

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Hi Liann,

I hope you're doing well! I have found a few baby names I like, but have a hard time sorting through the baby name sites, so I thought you might have some suggestions since you have such great taste! I like names that are a bit different/somewhat original versus names that tend toward the traditional or overly trendy.

So far my favorite boy names are Liam, Kaden, and Graham, but I'm having trouble finding girl names that I like. My favorite is Karys, and I also like London and Scarlett. Any suggestions?

-First Time Momma

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First Time Momma,

So far you've got a very nice bunch of names you're working with.

Out of the three boys, I think that Kaden is the odd man out. Liam and Graham (I love Graham) are solid and classic, and Kaden feels more modern and in line with the -aden trend.

Your girls, however, are all very different. Karys (also spelled Carys) is a little exotic, London is firmly gender neutral, and Scarlett is classic and feminine. I find it so interesting when a person's taste spans the spectrum like this. And it shows just how subjective naming can be.

So where do we go from here? I'll make a few different lists — one for boys, focusing mainly on Liam and Graham (plus a few more modern choices), and a different list for each girl name.

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For middle names, try mixing and matching your favorites to find the right combo. If you like the idea of using a family name in the middle, scour your family tree. Sometimes real gems can be found, with the added bonus of a family connection.

I hope I've helped expand your list a little bit. Good luck with your search and don't forget the let us know what you decide!

-Liann


Do you need help with baby name ideas? Shoot us a note and Liann will help.

#FollowFriday on Instagram

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Sometimes it helps to feel normal, you know what I mean?

Maybe all of your 20-something friends are posting vacation selfies and late-night party photos, and — as much as you hate to admit it — you occasionally feel pangs of insecurity while scrolling through Instagram. ("Is that the life I'm supposed to be living? Should I be wild and free?")

Maybe you don't know any moms who look like you — not in the glossy magazines, not in movies, and certainly not in your play group.

Maybe you feel a bit isolated.

But, you guys, there are SO MANY stylish, beautiful, happy young women navigating motherhood in their 20s — women who make young motherhood look good. Normal.

So every week I'll feature a favorite "Early Mama" in a #FollowFriday Instagram series to help fill your feed with moms who are more like you. Inspiring, cool, stylish mamas who just might shift your perspective of a "real mom."

Play along! Do you have a favorite Early Mama to share with the class? Do you have an Instagram feed yourself? Tag photos with #earlymama so I can find you, and don't forget to follow me over at @earlymama.

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Pssst. Want to connect with more Early Mamas in a private, intimate setting? Request to join our Early Mama Facebook group, where young moms (past and present) are sharing their stories, spreading encouragement, and forming relationships that aren't possible in blog comment sections or Twitter feeds. We'd love to have you.

A Decade of Birthdays

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My husband turned 30 today, which feels impossible.

I remember meeting him — this 18-year-old kid working at a coffee shop, fresh out of high school. I was a wide-eyed teenager radiating innocence, talking herself out of having a crush on the wrong boy. He listened to way cooler music than my Britney-loving friends. He rolled and smoked things I had never seen. He had no ambitions beyond that day, that month.

I remember him as a 19-year-old boy, suddenly the "new delivery guy" for the restaurant I worked.

I remember saving my cutest work outfits for the days he'd be there. I remember locking into his blue eyes as I'd run food to my tables, salad plates stacked up my arm, reminding myself to breathe, focus.

I remember him walking me out to my car in the parking lot after closing time because I was young and small, and the neighborhood wasn't so safe. I remember being so young. I remember wondering if he'd kiss me.

He was the boy who made my insides all fluttery. The boy who I'd flirt with as I shimmied past him in the kitchen, the boy who I'd text when I had a little too much to drink. The teenager, the stranger, I'd wake up next to in the morning, grabbing my clothes and sneaking out before my parents could get suspicious. Before I had a chance to really know him.

He was a reckless decision, and people said I should know better.

I remember him as a familiar face I looked forward to seeing when I came home from college. A boy from my past who still made me feel all fluttery, as if we had unfinished business. (Or maybe a future life to share.)

And then I remember him growing up. Going to college, pursuing a career, thriving in a way that I never imaged that 18-year-old boy to thrive. I remember falling in love, unexpectedly and suddenly.

We're both unrecognizable to the people we were back then — in the best way possible — but still, it's nice to have someone recognize the progress, the changes.

Someone to say, "Man, you've come a long way."

Someone to be proud of your accomplishments — not because of what you've achieved, but because of how you've grown and what you've overcome. It's nice to have a witness to the process, and it's incredible to look at a man — a 30-year-old father and husband and professional audio engineer — and still see glimpses of the delivery boy he was 11 years ago.

And to love him for that.

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Happy birthday, love. You're a lead character in my story — the boy who helped me rediscover my passions and reconnect with me. You're an enduring reminder to have faith in people's potential, and to keep moving forward.

I'm honored to be the one by your side, after all these years.

(Also, we're getting old.)

Yes, You Are a Real Mom

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Because I have a child, I spend a good amount of time around kids and their parents. (Funny how that works.) And 95%* of the time, having a child is common ground for friendship (or, you know, tolerance), even among strangers who overhear that I have a 5-year-old boy at home.

"I HAVE A 5-YEAR-OLD TOO," they'll say, perking up. "So, Frozen, huh? Any luck getting that shit out of your head?"

And most of the time, these fellow parents are perfectly lovely. We chit-chat about the local schools, or about a new activity in the area, or about a movie coming out that looks good but we'll probably never get to see it because kids, amirite?

Except sometimes these perfectly lovely parents are, say, my doctor, or my mother's kidney surgeon, or a college professor who teaches students who are only 5 years younger than me — and that's when it creeps back, just a little. Hi there, insecurity. Welcome back.

I assumed my young-mom insecurity would quietly die as I got more comfortable as a mother, as a woman — and, for the most part, it has. Except there's still this society-conditioned narrative buried somewhere in my brain, and with just the right trigger, the insecurity takes a few rejuvenated breaths and proceeds to squeeze the air out of me like a day-old birthday balloon.

Suddenly I see that these parents (who are in the same parenting stage as me) have nannies, and medical practices, and memories from the '80s beyond finger paints and boo-boos. These people have lived, and they're established in adulthood. Me? I'm still getting settled in.

Pppfffppfpppfffffffffhfhfhfhhhhhh (the sound of me, deflating)

The difference between Liar Michelle and Post-Liar Michelle is that I can now recognize the insecurity for what it is: Something internal, based on a constructed story that isn't real.

But that doesn't stop the story from continuing to be told — whether it's in advertisements, or TV shows, or mom blogs. There's an image of "mom" that a lot of us don't fit into, and in my most vulnerable moments, I use that story, that image, as a standard to fall short of. It's silly and unproductive, but it's true.

Wouldn't a "real mom" have special tricks for getting out stains? Wouldn't a "real mom" wear something more conservative? Wouldn't a "real mom" own an iron?

And so I remind myself: I am a real mom. There might not be a young-mom arc on Parenthood that didn't involve abortion (tell me Drew wouldn't have made an incredible example for young dads!), and my mom might help me out more than a "real mom" would ever need, but I'm raising a child and doing a fine job.

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Now allow me to remind you, as well.

Hey you, in the kitchen, still learning how to cook and currently burning the chickenyou are a real mom.

You with the stacks of textbooks, a class schedule hung up on the refrigerator, and the stress of finals loomingyou are a real mom.

You with the tattoos and cut-off shorts from Forever 21you are a real mom.

All of us renting small apartments, and planning our budding careers, and wearing bold lipstick and colorful hair and nose rings. All of us feeling growing pains as our adult identity forms and develops. All of us who feel "less than," at times.

We are real moms.

Forget the narrative about motherhood. It's only a story; it's always been a story.

You are real and you're important.

Just look at the way your kid looks at you. That's as real as it gets.

 

*Or whatever. You know how I feel about statistics.

When Your Life is Not Your Own

Becoming a mother is an inherently selfless act. We devote our bodies to nurturing our babes long before we meet them. We forgo sleep and nights out and selfish expenses for their good. We give until we have nothing left, and then we give some more. The whole journey of motherhood speaks of sacrifice from its earliest moments.

Your life is not about you anymore. It’s all about them.

We’ve all heard this or similar remarks throughout our pregnancies and during those first difficult months as we adjust to the daunting world of parenthood. And for a while it makes sense, this whole notion that your life is not your own. It’s easy to throw yourself on the pyre of motherhood and lose yourself in the process.

But the deeper I get into this motherhood journey, the more I find this “it’s not about you” statement untrue.

Your life does not cease to be your own when you become a mother. It may feel like you’re lost for a while, trying to get your footing in this new territory – but the you that has always been is still there. None of us are just mothers. We are individuals worthy of our own lives.

To suggest otherwise would diminish the beauty and transformative power of motherhood.

We don’t die unto ourselves the moment we house new life. We bloom. The life that was once only our own becomes inclusive of this new and tremendous love. It becomes about us.

Especially for early mamas, we grow alongside our children. We transform into adults in unbelievable leaps and bounds. The transition into motherhood becomes our most powerful catalyst for personal growth. We are compelled to be better, stronger, more inspirational versions of ourselves because we are setting the standard for humanity to those who call us mama.

Motherhood becomes the platform upon which to build up from the person you have always been, and create the person you want to be. Through motherhood we are deeply compelled to find ourselves – to examine the core of our being. It is an enlightening and profoundly personal internal struggle to navigate. It has everything to do with you and everything to do with your babe, all at once.

There is a clarity of purpose you find when little eyes are constantly watching you. A maturity born of necessity. A sense of self that rises above the inherent selflessness of caring for another.

And perhaps you’ll find, at the end of the day, that your life isn’t just about you anymore.

It’s about both of you, equally, as you navigate the world hand in hand.

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Read more from Gemma at Journey of Love.

And We're Back.

These past six months have been hard.

And I haven’t talked about them — I haven’t written about much, actually, because I haven’t had enough perspective to share these things in the way they should be shared. I’ve been swaying from anger to pity to zen-like clarity, all inside the confines of this here brain. It’s exhausting. Then everything imploded in the last month.

Of course that doesn’t excuse me from not publishing my contributors’ beautiful essays, and from interviewing other young moms, and from continuing to check in on social media. Many projects have fallen to the wayside during this bought of — I don’t know? Depression? That feels like such a loaded and clinical word, and I’m not sure I would have been diagnosed in that way. Let’s just say, during this period of time where Life Stuff consumed Work Stuff, and I experienced all of the human emotions on the spectrum, and some days were really difficult to muscle through. I cried more in the last six months than probably the last six years combined. I’ve also loved more purely, and have been working on maintaining a conscious perspective through it all.

So it hasn’t been all bad. Just all consuming.

I wrote an essay about it, but I’m waiting to show it to my husband before publishing, because it’s just as much his story as mine. So, for now, all I’m ready to say is, “Hiya. Get ready for more content, because I’m back.”

I’m breathing deeply and feeling healthier, and even if this feeling of normalcy doesn’t last for too much longer — even if old wounds re-open and the hazy fog rolls back into my mind — right now I’m good. And right now is all that counts, right?

I started this site because I wanted to be inspired. I wanted to prove to the world (and also to myself) that it’s possible to be happy and successful and fulfilled as a younger mom, despite the statistics and finger wagging and whispery gossip. I needed to carve a space where this was normal and okay, and where we could look to one another for inspiration.

I haven’t been feeling very inspirational.

But at least I can say that I’ve been through some hard marriage-testing months, with anxiety and numbness and stress. And I’m still here, existing, with more clarity than I had before.

We all have our crap to deal with. That doesn’t make us weak or doomed; it makes us human.

Xx 

Today is Moms for Moms Day

I was first introduced to the CT Working Moms from their campaign to End the Mommy Wars, and if you're at all familiar with Early Mama, you know how strongly I feel about support over shame. (You might remember our #spreadlovenotshame initiative.)

And now these incredible ladies are teaming up with The Bump for an even bigger social media project to spread love and support to other moms. Today is Moms for Moms Day!

So I asked one of the CT Working Moms bloggers — an "early mama" who spent her 20s immersed in motherhood — to give us a little background on this project, as well as her own story...


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By Sarah Bernhardson

Cloth diapers or disposables? Bottle or breast? Cribs or co-sleeping? As moms, we make choices every day about what's best for our families. And far too often, there's someone out there who's ready to tell us why our choice isn't the "correct" one. Well over at CTWorkingMoms.com, we think it's time to acknowledge the fact that we moms all want to do what's best for our own families, realizing that every single one of us is facing different circumstances. That's why we are partnering with TheBump.com to celebrate Moms For Moms Day today, March 4, where we ask moms everywhere to embrace their differences and realize that we're all doing the best we can to keep our families happy and healthy.

As a fairly young mom, I've certainly faced my share of judgement for my choices. My twenties were, in a nutshell, exhausting. I graduated college at 21, met my husband at 22, got engaged at 23, married at 24, first baby at 25, second baby at 28, and a Master's Degree at 29. I'm exhausted just thinking back on it, to tell the truth.

I was among the first of my friends to get married, and certainly the first to have a baby (let alone two!). I had people asking why I bothered to get a college degree at all if I'd planned to jump right into motherhood. When I waited in line for text books in grad school — nine months pregnant with my second child, with my then two year old holding my hand — people gently told me there was nothing shameful about taking some time off.

"What will you do with a Master's Degree anyway, with two little ones at home?"

Lately my Facebook feed is peppered with articles about why women should wait to get married, why older moms with more life experience are better suited for motherhood, and why I should have spent my twenties seeing Machu Picchu and exploring alternative religions instead of frantically popping out babies and degrees.

But you know what? I did what worked for me. I may have traded a decade of "me time" for a decade of chaos, but I'm now finding myself in my early 30s with school-aged kids, a career, and a graduate degree. I'm happy, and so is my family. I was fortunate to have had the support of my family and friends, without which this all would have been much more difficult. They didn't judge me for my choices; they supported me. They didn't stop me and say, "No, no, no — you don't want kids now. Have your first at 32." My childless friends didn't stop being my friends when I declined weekend trips to Boston because I was nursing a newborn while they were living the single life. They let me do what was best for myself and my family, and they said, "Rock on. And let me know if you need help." And that response is a whole lot nicer.

So join us and The Bump.com today to celebrate Moms for Moms Day!

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Snap a photo of yourself holding a sign with a supportive message for other moms. (You can download templates or pre-made signs, as well.) Better yet, gather a group of mom friends and host your own photo shoot embracing your various choices! Pop your photos on Faceook and Twitter using the hashtag #moms4moms and help us spread our message! Tag us (@ctworkingmoms) and The Bump (@thebump) in your tweet if you'd like.

Let's all try to love more and judge less!

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Thank you Sarah for sharing this with us! And make sure to add the #earlymama hashtag so I can share your photos, as well!

Being Present in the Digital Age

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Parenting in the Digital Age is a completely unique experience to parenting in previous generations. I suppose that is true of each new generation of parents — we experience new challenges and an ever-changing environment that continues to drift further from the childhood we remember. But with the advances in technology and social media, I wonder if the constant compulsion to be "plugged in" has changed how we parent for better or worse?

As a Millennial Mama, I'm all for technology. I love the feeling of connectedness, and the "we're all in this together" attitude that is increasing here in the mom blogosphere. I have formed real and lasting bonds with mothers I've never met, because we have this amazing ability to link our lives through social media. I have created a living doing what I love through the use of technology. We have so much power and knowledge at our fingertips in the digital world, and technology has such tremendous potential for good.

But despite the advantages, technology also has the potential to become a crippling source of unhappiness and insecurity if we allow it too much reign in our lives. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of comparing your real and messy life to the highlight reels of edited photos and choice phrases that pop up in your social media feed. It is all too easy to feel uncertain of your parenting choices when you hear the clamor of other mothers on the Internet preaching that their way is the best. It's all too easy to take to the Internet and make a bad day worse by falling down the rabbit hole.

While I ultimately believe that we have the choice to make technology work for or against us, I think there's a lot to be said for simply stepping away when you can.

For stepping away when you should.

Because the digital world, for all its wonder, is not a replacement or even a good supplement for being present in your own life.

We need to give ourselves space from that constant noise to be able to hear our own voice. We need to shift our focus away from all the articles we read on the Internet and the highlight reels we see on social media of other people's lives, so we can gain some insight into our own lives and our own feelings.

But beyond that, we need to unplug because it's the only way to be wholly available, physically and emotionally. All the parenting articles the Internet has to offer won't make me a better mother. All the relationship advice in the world won't make me a better wife. The only way to improve my life is to be present for it — to step away from the screens, remove myself from the cyber world, and live for what's right in front of me.

Read more from Gemma at Journey of Love.


In your life, is the Internet a source of support and knowledge, or a source of comparisons and unhappiness?

The Truth About "Finding Yourself"

You might remember that I wrote a post a few months ago called "Finding Yourself," and I recently expanded it for Babble.com. I'm including an excerpt of the new piece because I feel so strongly about this message. Click over to Babble to read the full essay.


What I didn’t understand back in my early 20s, holding a positive pregnancy test, is that we are not defined by our situations or stereotypes. That there is no path to self-discovery, and it’s all just a collection of our experiences and struggles — which is individual and nuanced.

I didn’t understand how transformative it is to see yourself through the lens of a new life — an introspective lens that magnifies our character. After having my son, I felt an urgency to grow up, to mature, because (unlike the typical 20-something) I had a little person looking to me as a life guide. I couldn’t predict the life-changing experience of sitting front row to our species’ growth and development, of loving something so fiercely, of sharing my body with another living being.

My perspective and priorities shifted into alignment, despite the noisy and ordinary setting.

And as far as my relationship, I didn’t understand how beautiful it can be to grow up alongside someone who watched my evolution and held my hand throughout the process. Who helped me find myself and be my own.

That being said, it’s not without its challenges. To claim otherwise would be disingenuous. Starting a family in your 20s comes with its unique challenges as a young mother and a young wife, but that’s the case with any life choice.

Here’s the thing: We can find ourselves in a multitude of ways, spanning decades and lifetimes. We can find ourselves through struggles and dark moments. Streaks of clarity and motivation to change can come from unexpected places in unexpected ways.
— as published on Babble.com