As a child, there are a lot of things about your parents you don’t have a firm grasp on. You might know where your parent works, but not what they do.
You know your parents are adults, but you don’t quite know how old. For me, the latter was never something I was unclear on.
My mom gave birth to me when she was just 15 years old. In a lot of ways, we grew up together. When I explain that to people, I get a lot of comparisons to Gilmore Girls. Everyone always thought growing up with a young parent must have been an awesome experience.
I wouldn’t say it was a bad experience by any stretch of the imagination.
That said, it was definitely more complicated than most people thought. My family structure being unconventional was something that would come up more often than I would have liked. My mom seemed like an instant friend to all my peers. In my teenage years, like so much else, it was mortifying to me.
My situation is interesting to reflect on now that I’m a young parent myself. I met a wonderful man with a wonderful son years ago, and today we’re a family. As I watch my stepson get older, I wonder in what ways our being young parents will be cool and uncool for him as he navigates the years ahead.
Growing up, I always knew my family was different. I grew up with my grandparents and my mom. Early ’90s sitcoms that featured one-parent households were few, and where they did exist, it was because of a dead parent. By the time I was school-aged, I knew single moms were not the norm.
It wasn’t until I was a little older that I really understood how different my family was. Sometime around the second grade, I remember being in a conversation with classmates about how old our parents were. I heard some 30s and 40s. The table got quiet when 7-year-old me mentioned my mom was just 22.
While my classmates didn’t know, it became clear that year that their parents did. The other moms would exchange looks and whispers when my mom showed up at birthday parties and school events. To make matters all the weirder, it was the first year I had a teacher who had been at my elementary school long enough to also have taught my mom, a fact she brought up way more often than I would have liked.
Thankfully, after the initial shock of people realizing my mom was young wore off, it didn’t come up as much. That peace wasn’t very long-lived.
As we got closer to the awkward tween years, I noticed my friends forging closer relationships with my mom. I was happy she could be there for them, but I think it’s the first time I realized most kids weren’t comfortable talking to their own parents about certain things. For me, that was totally unfamiliar.
I also realized my mom was a lot more open with me than many of my friends’ parents were. I knew details about our financial situation and understood that sacrifices were made for me to live the life I wanted.
Many of my friends were sheltered from truths about money, relationships, and other facets of life that I was used to being discussed with and around me. A lot of the time, this would result in me playing devil’s advocate on my friends’ parents’ behalf in a way I quickly learned was not popular.
It was my 13th birthday when I realized a whole other issue was going to crop up. It was the first year I had boys at my birthday party. Sure enough, I was horrified to discover a bunch of the cutest guys I knew thought my mom was hot.
As for my friends, they’d come to lean on my mom more in those years. My house was the place you could come to cry about a breakup or whatever else was on your mind. My mom would listen to problems and give good, honest advice.
Back then, the blurred lines felt frustrating at times. Were they my friends or hers? Now that I’m grown, I realize what a precarious position that all put my mom in, and how well she handled it. I couldn’t be more grateful for it, and although some of those friends aren’t part of my life anymore, I’m sure they are, too.
I’m looking back a lot at that time in my life now. I’m an adult in two children’s lives. One is my stepson, who’s just a little older than I was when I first realized how different my family was. The other is my little brother, 6 years old, who is having a totally different childhood than I did despite having the same mom.
My stepson has a trio of 20-something parents. When we show up to school functions, we don’t seem as much younger than the other parents as I’d expected. I don’t think he’s particularly noticed, and if he has, he hasn’t mentioned it.
That said, I’m sure that won’t last forever. I wonder how different his experience will be as a boy. Are his friends going to make comments about his mom or me the way guys made comments to me about my mom? I hope not, but I’m not particularly convinced cishet male culture has advanced that much in the last 20 years.
I also wonder whether it will bring us closer in the same way it ultimately made me and my mom. Teenage boys are not a notoriously open and honest group, but I’m hoping the advancements we’ve made in mental and emotional health as a society can change that.
I recognize how difficult that can be, especially in situations like those my mom was in, where other people’s children confide in you. I also know that if she was up to the challenge, I can be too.
Raising a child is complicated beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s hard to check yourself and make sure the reasons behind your thinking are sound and in the best interest of everyone. That’s even harder when you’re still figuring yourself out, as most people are in their 20s.
Being a young parent isn’t stigmatized the way it used to be, and I think that’s amazing. Getting a start at making a family of your own at an early age doesn’t say anything about who you are or what you’re capable of. What you make of your situation is what does, and to that end, many young parents are showing an impressive capability to do what they’ve got to do for their families.