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on being a (happy) young mom

by Meagan Francis on February 16, 2010

Today, my essay on why I’m happy to be a young mom is at the NYT Motherlode blog. Thanks to Lisa Belkin for publishing it, and to all the readers who are chiming in with supportive and insightful comments.

From the essay:

Sometimes people will make a comment to me along these lines: “It’s amazing that you were able to have kids so young and do a good job of it. I could barely take care of myself at that age, let alone a baby!”

Well, yeah. Before having children, you couldn’t trust me with a goldfish. I suppose their scummy bowls could have served as some sort of proof of my unreadiness to mother. Yet as soon as I held my oldest son, Jacob, in my arms at the age of 20, I knew I would be a good mother.

The goldfish meant nothing to me. My children, everything.

Read the whole post here.

In light of my recent post about marriage, I’m sure a lot of readers are thinking along the same lines as Jane from Seagull Fountain, who asked me via Twitter whether I thought young age played a role in my husband’s and my troubles. It’s a fair question, and certainly one I’ve reflected on. While I won’t pretend that immaturity had nothing to do with the issues we had, I think we could have more gracefully “grown up together” if we lived in a culture that supported us more. Instead, I think we’ve become socially conditioned not to expect young adults to do a bang-up job at commitments, whether it’s parenthood or marriage or even choosing a major. It was almost as though we got a “pass”–heck, if the rest of the world didn’t seem to expect that we’d make it, who were we to argue?

Expectations are a powerful thing. Expect that a young couple or young parents will have a rough time because of their age, and they just might live up to that expectation.

That’s not to say I blame “society” for any trouble we had, just that while I do think age may have had something to do with it, I don’t believe it had to be that way. I do believe two relatively immature people can make a commitment to each other, hell, even to a baby, and work their way through it and come out the other side all the stronger and better for it. I also think immaturity is relative. You don’t stop growing until you’re in the grave.

I liked what The Leftoverist had to say in the comments on my divorce post:

One of my tips for a happy marriage is that we have to keep discovering each other–we have to let one another change. I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago, 5 years ago, and neither is he. I’d say we’ve had a few different marriages within our 15 years, if that makes sense. Because of that, we don’t feel trapped or bored. We still find one another incredibly interesting.

I really love this bit of advice. No matter how mature you are when you get married or become a mother, you will not be the exact same person 10 years later. We don’t suddenly grow up and find ourselves and then…stop. We’re always changing. Sometimes we change for the better. Sometimes we change a little for the worse then swing back toward better again. There’s no such thing as “arriving”.

Our spouses will change. Our children will change us. We will change the way we relate to our children. If there’s one thing I wish we could do as a culture, it would be to accept this kind of change as normal and not a symptom or sign of unreadiness for whatever next life step we want to take. Because, to paraphrase my essay, no matter how stable or secure you think you are, when you have a baby (or get married…or start a new career…or fill in the blank), your world will be rocked…whether you’re 25 or 45.

But why does that have to be a bad thing?

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jane February 16, 2010 at 8:00 pm

I think your “answer,” that society’s expectations can work for or against us, whatever the internal problems are, is a very valid one. When my sister’s husband left her (they were married at 21 and had 3 small children seven years later when he left), it was only a surprise because we had assumed that, however much of a jerk he was, that he would never go against his strong societal/religious expectations. (But he did, and of course it was best for her in the long run.)

Anyway, I think it’s an incredible testament to your relationship now that you went through that and came out intact in the end. And in a way, I’m a little jealous, only because I assume that some (much?) of your drive and success in building a writing career for yourself is because of those years when you had to face the world alone-ish. I was married at 20, had my first kid at 23, and we traveled the world for the first several years of our marriage, which was always so fulfilling (both the marriage and traveling) that I have been kind of lazy in building an outside career for myself.

(I hope that makes sense.)

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kate February 16, 2010 at 8:08 pm

I also had my 1st @ age 20. 14 yrs and 4 kids later, still married. Wouldn’t do it any different! Although I was on the younger end, aren’t our bodies made to have babies in our 20′s?

would love to read your previous post “happy marriage advice from a previously divorced mom” But I can’t seem to get to it. Any suggestions? Anyone else having trouble?

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Meagan Francis February 16, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Kate, I’ve heard from a couple of people using IE that they’re having trouble with that post. I just went in and removed a bunch of junk code…can you try it again?

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Erin --It's Your Movie-- February 16, 2010 at 10:30 pm

I love reading your stuff Meagan. I recently left a pregnancy-hormone-fueled comment on someone’s blog regarding this topic and am thrilled to see you cover it here.

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Melody February 16, 2010 at 11:00 pm

What a great essay on the NYT site — and so true. You’re never quite ready … until you actually have the baby. And then you are. Hopefully. Nice work. You give young moms everywhere hope.

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suburbancorrespondent February 17, 2010 at 7:42 am

Really, all the immaturity issues you discussed in your divorce post apply to most couples early on in marriage. I see it all the time (including with me); I married my husband at age 28. It’s a typical marriage stage – learning to have reasonable expectations of one’s partner, learning to work as a team while still being responsible for one’s own happiness.

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hlf February 17, 2010 at 8:34 am

My boyfriend and I have been together 6 (long, rough)years, and I am more in love with him, respect him more today than I ever did before. we both subscribe to this bit of wisdom from Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving”…

“One neglects to see an important factor in erotic love, that of will. To love somebody is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision?”

Thus, we’ve learned not to rely on our feelings about one another so much as our decision to love one another irrespective of the shifting feelings…and the best part is that the feelings only get more wonderful as we grow more and more competent at loving

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kate February 17, 2010 at 10:23 am

thanks meagan, it worked!

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Maman A Droit February 17, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Great article. It is ridiculous how so many people think they have the right to judge others on when they start their families. While I was definitely looked down on for marrying at 21 and having a baby at 23, there are also people making comments that make my 23 and 24 year old single friends feel like old maids! The whole thing is just absurd.
Personally though, I love being a youngish(24, which doesn’t really seem that young to me) mom!

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Mommy Perks February 18, 2010 at 11:52 am

I found your article on the NYT site. I loved it!! I actually re-posted it to our fan page :-)

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mommy-Perks/111550030590

I was also a very young mother, under different circumstances than you but it all worked out in the end. Better than I could have even hoped for:

http://www.examiner.com/x-22404-Flagstaff-Early-Childhood-Examiner~y2009m12d30-Its-been-11-years-already-A-note-to-my-son

Thanks again for your post – wonderful!

Shara

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Sarah February 20, 2010 at 6:32 am

I absolutely agree 100% with the comment you quoted from the Leftoverist. Change is the only constant. And if we expect our spouses to be the same as they were when we married them, we are going to be disappointed. Also, this would indicate that we are completely unaware of the fact that we, ourselves, have undoubtedly changed and our spouses have had to learn to live with that, too.

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Rebecca @ Playground Confidential February 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm

I loved your Motherlode article. I didn’t have my first child until I was a ripe old 27, but I did get married at 23 which is unthinkably young for most of my peers. Having children will “rock your world” no matter how old you are and I’m not sure I was any better equipped at 27 than I would have been at 20. In fact, in many ways I don’t feel like I *really* started to grow up until I became a mother and I’m definitely happy I didn’t have to wait until I was older to learn many of the things parenthood has taught me. 8 years later, I’m not sure that I would still be with my husband if we hadn’t married, but I’m very happy that we did because falling in love again and again with the same person is not a bad life at all.

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Stefan February 25, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Congrats on the great Motherlode piece. Love the perspective. All worldly considerations aside about “best” timing, for us, the right time was circa Father’s Day 2005 at the moment when I gave her and she gave the wordless look that said, we’re ready. We were in our early thirties by then, though together since we were 19 like Rebecca @ Playground Confidential married well ahead of any of our peers, worrying some we were sacrificing the invariable upward trajectory towards achievement and fulfillment – how much more fulfilling to grow up with a soul mate through marriage and parenthood? You can have Match.com.

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Maman A Droit March 3, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I just saw this article on MSNBC on when the best time to have your first child is. Thousands of women were surveyed and apparently only 17% said there’s no specific best time to have your first baby. Anyway it made me think of this article so I thought I would comment about it! Here’s the link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35671646/ns/health-womens_health/

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tower 200 March 5, 2010 at 2:11 pm

How shortly does the risk trial expire?

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Ally April 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Another young wife/mom (20/22) and I’ve ranted many of the same things to my husband. We have “grown up together,” become adults together, and I think it’s saved us a lot of grief. Also, you hear people (women) talk about waiting to have a family to have a career…well, I am waiting to have a career to have a family.
There is one point I don’t agree with – you say something about getting the partying out of your system in your early 20s before you have a baby. I think that’s a societal expectation too – having partying to get out of your system is a luxury we take for granted, not a fundamental part of being a young adult.

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fashion May 14, 2013 at 11:33 pm

After I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a remark is added I get four emails with the identical comment. Is there any way you possibly can take away me from that service? Thanks!

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