Q+A: An Orthodox Experience

Todays Q+A comes from a young woman who lives in New York City — a city with a large number of 20-something singles, where most first-time moms are in their 30s or beyond. Yet she had no idea that young motherhood can be isolating or unique until reading Early Mama. For her, younger motherhood is the norm. That's because Aviva lives in a close-knit orthodox community, and she went to an orthodox college of men and women (in separate colleges) who are almost always dating each other or married.

Here's her perspective:

1. How old were you during your pregnancy?

I was 22. I got married at 20 (Ok, almost 21).

2. Was this planned and expected?

Definitely. We waited to have kids because we were both still undergraduates. We graduated after our first year of marriage, and we started trying a few months after that — once we had some income coming in. We were incredibly fortunate to get pregnant shortly after, and now we have two delicious kids 14.5 months apart.

3. I know that young motherhood is the norm in the Orthodox Judaism sub-culture, so how young do women typically start families?

It depends. Many people begin dating, with the intent of getting married, in college. Some wait longer, but most men and women are looking to get married by their mid-20s. Kids usually follow shortly thereafter.

4. What about the young women who don't settle down and start families? Do they tend to feel isolated?

There is definitely pressure to get married young, but there are also many who don't right away — either by choice, or because they don't find the right person as soon as they might like. I think that it's less isolation and maybe more pressure. There might be a whole group of friends who are single, so they aren't isolated, but they might all wish that they were married.

5. What are your personal opinions on the larger growing trend to start families later in life?

It's funny, I never did think about it so much before reading your blog. From my perspective, a lot of the "young single lifestyle" in NYC (where I live) isn't compatible with my religious values and lifestyle. So while I definitely see why starting a family later in life works for so many people — it's more fun and flexible — that's not necessarily the life I wanted anyway. I find the life that I'm living to be so incredibly meaningful, and I can only hope that people who live their lives differently are finding as much fulfillment as I am.

6. We've been collecting all of our favorite reasons for being "early" parents. So what's your favorite reason for starting your family sooner rather than later?

Most of our grandparents were alive for the births of our children, and it was extremely special to see how much joy they got from their great-grandchildren. There are few things in this world that are more special than that. Although I suppose that's not the reason for starting a family early, it was certainly a wonderful outcome.

7. Are there any obstacles or challenges that have come up because you chose "early" parenting?

I think that parenting at any age is challenging. While we have certainly felt times when having to be home for the kids, or having to navigate strollers everywhere, are obstacles, I don't think that we would feel much differently about these things if we were older.

8. Since young motherhood is such an accepted, normal way of life for you, do you feel like it's made you a more secure, confident parent? Do you think it's beneficial to have such a large social group of young mothers?

Definitely! Having a network of friends and other young parents, as well as a baby- and kid-friendly community, is enormous.

9. What do you think is the most important thing for young moms to know?

I think it's important to remember that everyone has challenges, no matter what, and finding a support system will help get you through. I was so fortunate that everyone in my life was thrilled about me becoming a mother. I hope that mothers who feel isolated can know that there are those who love them, who are proud of them, and who will support them always. Long nights with a cranky baby can be, well, long, but your baby will soon become an adorable toddler who is suddenly your new best friend. I also think that, regardless of your religion or belief system, there is inherent value in having a family and bringing a new generation into the world. It's amazing that parents have the power to transmit their values to the next generation, and it's a privilege to have the title of Mommy.

10. Just from browsing Early Mama, what's surprised you most about this issue of 20-something parenting? Are you surprised it's even a topic at all?

Truthfully, it never occurred to me to have to justify being a young mom! I was really surprised to read about the top reasons for being an "early mama," and other reflections like that. But I also think it's incredible that women who do feel isolated have this type of community to turn to.

Thank you, Aviva, for sharing your story. If anyone else has a perspective to share, email me at michelle@earlymama.com.