Sixteen years ago, Kelly shocked everyone by becoming a teenage mother at barely 18 years old. She was the "quiet, reasonable, excellent student," as she told me, who no one expected to become a teen mom statistic — which traveled fast through the high school rumor mill.
Six years later, she and her boyfriend picked up their daughter from Kindergarten and drove to the courthouse to say I Do. "It was just the three of us, and we were all wearing jeans, but it couldn't have been any more perfect," she wrote me.
Fast-forward to the present day, and Kelly is a 30-something mother of four, with kids ranging from 5 to 16 years. She's experienced her share of judgements — dirty looks, rude comments, and even being turned away from a mom's group because she was under 30 years old. But she's overcome the statistics to have a long-lasting relationship and a happy family, despite her age.
Here's a letter she wrote to her younger self:
To my sweet younger self,
I know that you are scared, but I want to start off by saying that it all turns out OK. Those overwhelming "OH MY GOSH This just got really real" feelings quickly subside and blossom into absolutely beautiful love. Those feelings will take over your whole life, and become the biggest factor in every decision you make from here on out. And you are completely fine with that.
You will continue to get dirty looks from complete strangers as they make snap decisions and judgements about you as a parent and a person. You will also continue to get confused "Is that your sister or daughter" looks, especially once she starts school. You will, however, quickly discover that their thoughts and opinions have no effect on your ability to love and parent that sweet little bundle you now hold in your arms. That is probably one of the best realizations that you come to; and fortunately it doesn't take long, because to have let other's judgments interfere with the mom you become would have been a major injustice to that precious little girl.
You don't do it alone. Ever. You definitely found a keeper with Ryan. You two will weather some major storms. You will have ups and downs, just like any relationship, but you will end up stronger in the end — something that makes you incredibly proud. You will wake up one day at only 34 (trust me, you get to this age faster than you can blink — and it's really not that old) and suddenly be getting ready to celebrate being together for 19 years — 11 of those married!
Jessie is a daddy's girl from the beginning, but you will be the one she runs to when she needs advice about a friend or gets her first broken heart. (Yes, you will cry right along with her.)
Your families get over any disappointment pretty much the instant they see that tiny, delicate face. They are there for you every step of the way, and you would be very hard-pressed to find a better support system anywhere. Don't worry because they will always have your backs. Jessie has an incredible relationship with her grandparents, aunts, and uncles. It's tremendously special to see how much love your families have for the beautiful being you created.
You will endure many late-night feedings, and more diaper changes than you can count. You will survive ear infections, fevers, antibiotics being spit all over you, and one awful bout of pink eye. You will wash load after load of dirty clothes, all while wondering how it is possible for one tiny human to create so many laundry. Your group of friends from high school will fade away, simply because your priorities drastically change — as they should, now that you're a mom.
You will hear your sweet girl say "I hate her!" when she is about 8 or 9, but don't take it too personally; she's just upset that she has to clean her room. There will be times when you want to scream and cry right along with her. But as you watch her learn and develop and move from one stage to the next, you will be amazed at not only her growth, but yours as well.
You will look back on the last 16 years with nothing but tender, heartfelt memories. From that first smile, to her first steps (you should wait a minute to use the restroom, because the little stinker decides to take that first walk while you're in there!), to watching her drive away on her own for the first time — it is all filled with love. Is it always easy? Heck no. But does that have anything to do with your age? Absolutely not. Being a mom is tough, regardless of how old you are when you start out on your journey.
So hang in there and don't let anyone get you down, because in spite of — or maybe it is BECAUSE of — your young age, you will flourish. Motherhood is a job you were born to do. And while you would never encourage anyone else to get pregnant while in high school, you would do it again in an instant. You've become the person you are today because you were a teen mom.
Your older (and slightly wiser) self