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?