too young to be a mother

Bee's picture
Tue, 12/20/2011 - 05:18 -- Bee

Last night I went to an industry party, which means I spent the entire evening dodging strangers.

Why? Because I can predict exactly when it will happen, and what will solicit the remark. I make great efforts to steer the conversation elsewhere, but tedious verbal gymnastics only delay the inevitable:

"You look too young to be a mother."

Sometimes this is a compliment, or a pickup line. But more commonly the sentiment is accompanied by crossed arms, puzzlement, dismay, and often, extremely rude questions.

Now that I'm forty this observation is also patently false - it isn't that I am literally too young, but rather, that I do not fit the stereotype of what a mother looks like. Whatever that may be.

Strangers are very clear that I should not have children at all. When they learn that my son is fifteen years old, they are amazed. When I mention my twenty-one year old daughter, they look queasy.

This is just my life, the way it has always been and will remain. I was a single teenage mother and the world at large will never forgive me, no matter how hard I work, no matter what I have accomplished.

During the early years I thought it would change as I grew older, that the intrusive comments and judgmental inquiries would abate, or somehow feel less caustic. I was wrong. If anything, it is worse now, because I've lost the rage that fuelled my ascent. I don't want to argue, debate, or explain.

On a basic level I also do not understand why anyone would question the choice to have kids, regardless of age or income or any other factor. Many of my friends are embarking on the adventure of parenthood in their late thirties and early forties, and that is a choice I would emphatically not make. I know that my body and brain are not up to it; I'm not willing to deal with the stress and chaos. The fact that I have more money now would not make any difference. I'm too old to have a baby.

My friends don't see it that way, and that is their prerogative. I don't judge them - I think it is pretty amazing that they are so optimistic, so willing to take on a massive challenge late in life.

The fact that a fair number of these friends are the very same people who were snarky about my family status twenty years ago is interesting. But it would be rude to ask them why they waited - it might hurt their feelings, or trigger traumatic memories, or whatever. And fundamentally it isn't any of my business.

Just like it wasn't their business to ask me what I was thinking back in the day.

When people say it must have been hard to be a teen mom, I shrug. When pressed I say "No. Poverty, violence, and cancer were difficult. My children were the good part."

Comments

elienos's picture
Submitted by elienos on

I thought it funny that I am considered a Young mother, and I had my child at 30! But I live in Northern California where mothers tend to be the oldest in the nation. But since I am single and have little funds, it is often assumed that I am younger than I am. And that I was abandoned or some shit, and am looking for a male head of household...as if I couldn't have made a conscious choice to have a child unless I am rich and married. And that I made conscious choice to have only one. (people just can't accept that I could make that choice). People and their opinions!

We are the first generation where it is considered wrong to have children young. Second wave feminism, ya know? At least the parts of it that have seeped into mainstream society. My mom had kids at 19 and 21 and it didn't seem so young back then. My grandma had her first at 16, which was a bit young, but not unheard of as long as they were married off (of course our my great granddad was furious!). But there is this idea now that children are like little walking prisons to women and that it is irresponsible to have a child until you have worked your way up the corporate ladder and traveled the world and are ready to settle down and be domestic (but don't you think the most interesting people come from the least domestic places?)

The neighborhood kids told my daughter that I look like a teenager, obviously cause I don't dress like a "mom." My street is full of cheap duplexes, so there is a lot of poor kids around. The moms tend to be younger if they are poor. My daughters friends sister is a teenage mom. But they are first and second generation Mexicans, where it is more common to have kids young, and the help of extended family to raise the child.

So, part of you looking too young to be a mom is that you also might not look poor enough to be "dumb" enough to have kids young.

I love that picture.

shadeshaman's picture

I read a stat somewhere (a book about how the media keeps us scared) that the teen pregnancy rate in the 50's was no different than in the 90's. It's just that teen moms in the 50's got married. So, I think the real problem people have now is with SINGLE moms, because marriage is really all about which man owns which woman's pussy. People are getting married later, so young women with children must be single and not controlled by a man....right?
Anyway, having usually been the youngest mom in whatever kid-related setting I'm in, and also from working in the family services field (housecleaning, doula work, etc.) I think that younger moms make better moms, for all the reasons you state. Not that I'm going to go around judging my clients. But this tiny, evil part of me is sipping bourbon, rubbing my hands and thinking, "Make fun of me for having kids young, will ya? Muah-ha-ha! Who's having the last laugh now?"

"Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius"--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

elienos's picture
Submitted by elienos on

hmm, but don't you think it is frowned upon to get married young as well? People assume you don't really know what you want, and will end up with a divorce and have a broken family and not get to live your life. At least thats what I notice round here.

shadeshaman's picture

Some people just hate on young folks, period. I think, though, in a larger sense, being a single, young mom is more frowned upon than being a married, young mom.

"Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius"--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

Yes, I usually interpret the comment as a frowning "But you don't look stupid or dirty, whatever were you thinking?" kind of thing.

In my hometown, it was totally fine and normal to have kids young. The comments and nastiness only really started when I went away to college and started on my career trajectory. So, it was partly geography, largely a socio-economic thing.

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

Totally.

I had it both ways, because I was legally married for five years, but only lived with the official husband for about six months. There were technical advantages to being married, like the fact that I was emancipated and became my own head of (an impoverished) household, and therefore qualified for better student aid. As a parent I jumped to the top of the list for work study, and managed to avoid taking on any debt for school. I also stomped around wielding my wedding ring when people tried to criticize me, though really, I would have needed the actual husband at my side to avoid the nasty comments in grocery stores. But even when he was around, there were problems. During one of his rare visits we went on a road trip down the Oregon coast and nobody would rent us a hotel room because we were under 21. Even with a baby, and rings. State law. Fun.

There were also subtleties: in my hometown, it was totally okay to be a young mother married to a military guy. But I went to a progressive liberal arts college, in the early 90's, where my choices were considered seriously retrograde. My professor told me that it was anti-feminist to have a kid, like I was betraying the entire cause. My peers were baffled by my marital status, for reasons ranging from wanting a date to hatred for the war. I myself was deeply troubled by the whole thing. I had a husband, cousins, and several friends serving in war zones while I was... a scholar. Umm, conflicted, much?

During the custody fight years the situation was exponentially worse, because there was a risk my child would be taken away if there was even the slightest hint of immoral or transgressive behavior on my part. Where I lived, what I studied, and who I was fucking were all under the microscope and potentially damning. I was forced to appear completely respectable. There was not even the slightest hint of a reason for anyone to criticize... anything. But I still got the nasty comments in grocery stores because even under the haircut, professional clothes, and stern attitude, I looked young. Really, really young.

It would have been easier to stay home and stay married. My strange notion that I was entitled to a life was the source of the conflict. I never accepted the insults or criticism and that just makes people yell louder.

lilacs817's picture
Submitted by lilacs817 on

Yeah, the conversation is quite redundant. Every single time there is a young, teenage mother in a social situation, as soon as she is gone, all the same sentiments are expressed. "Oh, I wasn't even old enough to keep my room clean at that age." "Poor thing, I couldn't imagine having a baby then." On and on.. I want to say, and sometimes do depending on my confidence level and ability to shrug off others opinions of me, "Really it isn't that shocking, right? I mean, it is really amazing more girls don't get caught having sex at that age given the number that actually are. Oh, more do, but they make different choices than raising them so we don't actually see them all." Or, "I was a young, teen mom and then I had a baby at 31. I can honestly say that the care I give my babies is not that different. You are pretty much the mom you are going to be at whatever age you have them. I cry less this time around, I'm less anxious and more confident, but in terms of care, it really doesn't look that different. That is why there are good moms and less desirable moms at any age." Or I wonder, are you really that insecure about our own innate ability to nurture our children as women? If you were 15 and shipwrecked on an island with a boy and the two of you had a baby, you don't believe in the power of maternal instinct to come forth and keep that baby nurtured? I DO. I did.

Lilacs