Today's Q+A comes from Tara of The Young Mommy Life, a Web site about the 20-something mom: the good, the bad and the ugly. She recently released her first book, and she's stopping by the Early Mama community to talk about finishing college, her biggest career tip and the #1 reason she loves being an early mama:
1. I can see from your web site, The Young Mommy Life, that you didn't plan on being a young mom. Tell us how you felt when you saw the positive pregnancy test.
It's kind of hard to describe the feeling when you find out you're pregnant and you really, really don't want to be. For me, it was kind of like watching your life crumble before you and all you can do is stand there and watch. It was a very difficult journey for me, emotionally, from the time I found out I was pregnant, until my daughter's first birthday. Those two years were probably the hardest thing I'll ever do, because I was just a mix of hormones and emotions and I swear I've never cried so much. Looking back on it, I'm glad I went through those struggles because it makes me a better mom, each and every day.
2. I also see you were still in college. Do you have any advice for pregnant/new mom readers who are trying to finish up a degree?
The most important thing I can say is to take it semester by semester, and to remember that this will not last forever. Even if you can only take one class at a time, eventually those credits add up and you WILL graduate. It is easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about getting a degree and taking care of kids at the same time, but you are not the first mom to do it. You won't be the last. If you feel like crying, go ahead and cry. Then wipe your tears away and go study.
3. Are you parenting solo?
No, not parenting solo. I met my husband my first day of college (it was also his first day of graduate school). We had been dating for two years when I found out I was pregnant during junior year. By that time, he had graduated and had his own apartment (on campus). So I moved in with him and we began preparing for our wedding. We got married six months after our daughter was born. It hasn't been easy, but from day one we've been committed to each other and making this relationship work, so we're fortunate in knowing that whatever arguments and disagreements we have are only temporary.
4. What do you think is your biggest challenge as a young mom?
My biggest challenge is figuring out who I am. I wrote a story on my blog a while back about my first free weekend (no husband, no kids), just two days all by myself. And I told my readers that I had no clue what to do with myself. I didn't know what I like to eat (if I don't have to factor in my daughter's allergies and my husband's dislikes). I didn't know what type of movie to see (my life had been filled with a constant loop of Handy Mandy episodes). I didn't know how to function outside of my role as "Mommy" and "Wife." Now I know a lot of older moms might have this problem too, but younger moms have no memories of what it was like when we were single and childfree. There's nothing to refer back to. Heck, last time I was single I was in high school!
So I've been discovering a lot about myself. Figuring out what ticks me off, what I really respect in a person, what my goals are for my 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond. What my goals are for my marriage. What my goals are for my kids. Every day I'm asking myself, what can I do to make sure Tara, the person, is stronger, wiser, better?
5. What's your biggest advantage?
Some might classify this as a disadvantage, but hey, I'm an optimist. *smile* I enjoy the fact that my kids are here on this journey with me as I try to make my mark in my career. I always tell people that I've had kids longer than I've had a career and I don't mind. I enjoy the fact that as they grow, our success grows. My daughter (who's 4) has already noticed that when she was younger, we lived in a really small apartment. Then we moved to a bigger apartment. Now we live in a four-bedroom house with a finished basement. They've seen the progress in Mommy's career and they are happy to be along for the ride!
6. We're collecting reasons we love being "Early Mamas" here -- such as an early empty nest and enjoying our grandchildren. What's your #1 reason?
My #1 reason is that they get a front row seat to my accomplishments. For example, I am in graduate school now, completing my Master's in Family Studies (something I stumbled on because of my blog). They see me studying. We sit at the table and do homework together. We go out for ice cream when I get an A in a class. And they will be right there clapping for Mommy as I walk across that stage for my degree. I think there is something valuable about not just talking about education, not just having my kids see the degrees on the wall, but having them witness what it takes to be successful in higher education. Both of my parents went back to school while I was young, and I remember how hard my mom had to study to pass her nursing exam. I remember the books stacked on the table when my dad went to get his MBA. I'm convinced that growing up in a house of hard work sets the stage for amazing futures.
7. What's the inspiration behind your Web site?
I started my site in 2008, when I was seven months pregnant with my son. I was huge (he ended up being a 9-lb kid; I'm 4'11") and tired and I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do next. I was 22, with an 18-month-old and one on the way and I was just stuck. I'm a writer so I read everything out there. Magazines, websites, books, TV — there was nothing that spoke to me. Everything parenthood-related made the assumption that:
a) You were happy about your pregnancy and yes, it was planned;
b) You were married and the relationship was great;
c) You had a lot of money.
I did not fit the profile. I had been blogging since 2005 but it was honestly just a place for me to put my thoughts when I was bored. I created TheYoungMommyLife.com in May 2008 and tried to create the content I wish I could have found elsewhere. Where to find maternity clothes that aren't freakishly expensive. (And yes, $70 for maternity jeans is too much.) How to work with your professor to get through the semester if you're pregnant or parenting. How to get your significant other to pull his share of the weight. How to hang on to your relationships with your childless friends. None of that was out there. None.
And I also wanted to break stereotypes and help young mothers see that this is just the beginning of a beautiful journey. A lot of young moms are told that they've ruined their lives once they become pregnant, either by family, friends or society at large. I know I hid my pregnancy at school for a while because I didn't want anyone to treat me differently. But now I realize that I was defining my life and my situation through the eyes of others. I had to define my life on my terms. Now I help other moms do the same.
8. Tell us about your new series of "Make It Happen" books.
I decided to write a book about career and money first—as opposed to the “sexier” topics of relationships, body image and all that — because a good chunk of our day-to-day life revolves around money. For a lot of us, being a stay-at-home mom isn’t really an option, even if that’s what we long to do.
So we go to work to support our families the best way we know how. Our jobs may not pay that much or we might just really feel like our job is sucking the soul right out of us. But we don’t want to complain because that job is putting food in our baby’s mouth. Right?
I wanted to tell other young parents what I’ve learned over the past couple years — that we own our future. Too often we feel like we’re scrambling, playing catch-up, but the truth is, we’ve got just the right combination of factors: youth, motivation, drive, the new digital age that allows us to contact anyone anywhere — that makes success more than just a strong possibility for us.
9. Your first book is about creating a career while being a young mother -- which is something that definitely resonates with me. What's the one thing young moms should know about following their ambitions?
One of my favorite pieces of advice is also something I struggle with myself: Say yes to the things that scare you. If you find something that you'd like to do, but immediately start making excuses as to why it wouldn't work, take a moment and ask yourself why. Why wouldn't it work? I bet if you peel back the layers, you'll find that you're just scared because you know it's something you would really love. Sometimes it's easier to have a "What if" hanging over your head than a "I tried and I failed." So we don't really pursue the things that make us happy. I've wanted to be a writer my whole life and I had almost convinced myself that I couldn't do that because I had kids and couldn't survive in New York's high cost of living, or I couldn't make it work on a freelancers' income. But I told myself that fear is no way to operate. Push past the fear and take one step toward your ultimate goal. Then take another step. Building a career is rarely a straight shot.
10. If you could go back and tell your pregnant self one thing, what would it be?
Have faith. I was so concerned that things wouldn't work out. I would have told my pregnant self to start being grateful for those little blessings that I just couldn't see at the time. I would also tell my pregnant self to ease up on the boyfriend, because he was stumbling through parenthood just like I was. And I also would have told my pregnant self to get in the habit of prioritizing self-care. I've found myself at the bottom of the list all too often and I wish I had started to take care of me sooner.
You can buy Tara's book "Make It Happen: The Young Mommy Guide to Creating the Career you Crave" on Amazon for $9.99.