When I became a mother at the young age of 18, I clearly remember a very real pressure to prove to everyone around me that I was ready to parent. Now I can’t speak for those who wait until their 30s to first start having kids, but I can tell you from my own experience that I always felt as if someone was watching and even waiting for me to mess up.
As if they had CFS on speed dial and were eager to have the chance to call me in for any mistake I would most certainly make.
Every choice was thought through at least twice.
Every cry was my fault.
Everything I couldn’t afford to provide, I felt the need to justify. For crying out loud, I couldn’t even order a drive-through coffee back then without feeling guilty, as if I should be spending my money more wisely (on baby).
Every feeling of overwhelm was shoved down and pressed into a deep dark pit in my stomach which would only be addressed a decade later as I neared my thirties.
The reason was simple: Teenage mothers get a really bad rap. And I understand this! Often the mother is far too inexperienced, too self-absorbed, far too naive to realize what raising a child all entails. A baby definitely does not just simply mean a cute doll to haul around and a gorgeous Pinterest nursery to create…
Right from day one, the child is a living, breathing, individual being; a little human who hasn’t a clue how to tell you what they need, much less regulate their own emotions or take care of their most basic functions.
Being a young mom, I was painfully aware of this stereotype – so much, that I couldn’t even admit to my very normal feelings of becoming a mother. I couldn’t admit that I was afraid. I couldn’t admit that I needed help or ask for a much needed break. No parent should live with that kind of expectation. Raising children is far too difficult for one person to do alone. I took motherhood all on my own shoulders, lest someone would step into my life and tell me: “I told you so! I knew that you were too young. You never should’ve been allowed to keep your own child. You should’ve given it up to parents who were ready! Parents who are established in their careers, who have a house and can keep their plants alive (heaven knows I can’t!) YOU’RE JUST NOT READY!!!”
And you know what? They would’ve been right about that last part.
Because I wasn’t ready. Not for a second.
I wasn’t ready to give up sleep; to eat cold meals for the next year because the baby needed to be fed.
I wasn’t ready for the postpartum pain women experience after childbirth. I had no idea that for the next month I would have trouble standing without fainting and dread every bathroom break.
I had no idea of the pain I would experience while breastfeeding, or the loneliness of being the only one who was able to meet that need for my baby.
I had no idea of the absolute love and protectiveness I would feel when someone else would hold my baby in a position I knew he didn’t like or wrap him up too warmly.
I didn’t know the absolute terror I would feel as he lay with needles and cords from every limb while he spent almost a year in the hospital awaiting a diagnosis to why he was so sick.
I just wasn’t ready.
But neither is any parent, really.
A few days ago, I had the privilege of bumping into some new parents in their thirties. As I asked them how they were doing, they smiled and responded in awe of how nothing had prepared them for both the joys and the struggles they were facing and with a slight smile the man said, “It’s crazy how such a tiny person can completely change everything in your life!”
And it struck me: These feelings are normal! They didn’t just happen to me because I was too young.
Oh, that I would’ve realized that years ago!
I’m now 31 years old, with 5 kids. You could say that I have some experience…
And yet I still don’t feel ready in so many ways.
I’m not ready to stay calm, when my kid rages out of control.
I’m not ready to give up the things I love so that I can replace yet another worn out pair of shoes.
I’m not ready to navigate the teenage emotions and schedules, much less ready for my oldest to get his drivers in a couple more years.
But parenting never was meant to be about being ready. It’s about doing the right thing, even when you’re not ready. It’s about being the bigger person and admitting your mistakes (and you will make MANY). It’s about grace and second chances, for your kids, for yourself.
It’s about recognizing that everyone else around you was also not really ready, but yet, somehow, are doing it – and doing it well. Because what you really need to become a great parent is selflessness, love, persistence and a whole lot of people to walk beside you.