When I’m out and about with my three kids, my mom often tags along. I like having the extra help and she loves any chance to hang out with her grandkids. My mom and I noticed something weird about going out together — we got stared at a lot. It’s like people couldn’t figure out who the kids belonged to. I looked too young to be a mom of three, and my mom looked just barely too old to have toddlers.
The stares are a quirk that comes with being a young mom. I get comments, too, about why I made the choices I made, or whether I wish I hadn’t gotten pregnant so young. I’ve learned to shrug them off. I don’t really care what people think about my choice to have three kids at a young age.
And, to be perfectly honest, the stares and comments aren’t the hardest part of being a young mom. The hardest part of being a young mom is that I don’t feel like I’m done growing up myself. The truth is, I’m still facing my own immaturity day in and day out.
Last month, I had the chance to chat with a mom like me, who’d had three back-to-back babies in her early twenties. Like me, she hadn’t finished college before her first pregnancy. Like me, she often wondered if she was actually equipped to teach her kids the life skills they needed to be healthy, well-rounded people.
It all started with our kindergartners. We’re both trying to teach them basic skills. We’re trying to find the best way to instill habits like daily personal hygiene and doing a few chores without a total meltdown. That’s when my friend confessed that she felt these lessons were especially hard because she felt like she had just learned how be an adult. She confided that it took so long for her to figure out adulthood for herself, to establish personal routines and face her responsibilities. And now, she felt intimidated by teaching her daughter the lessons she was still working on.
I couldn’t agree more. I often feel I am still knee deep in learning lessons of emotional intelligence and identity. It’s a normal thing for 20-somethings to grapple with finding our independence and our own identity apart from our parents. The only difference between me and most other 20-somethings is that I am figuring this out with three children underfoot.
So, here I am, with a kindergartener who needs to be taught skills for processing her emotions, but I’m still figuring those things out myself. I want to talk to her about the appropriate expression of anger and working through anxiety, but I’m still losing my temper on the regular.
Maybe this seems like a much bigger task for me because I feel as if I am running a little behind. It’s as if, nearly six years ago when I became a mom, I was too certain of my adulthood. I was too convinced I was ready to care myself and my family, so I neglected my personal growth until little fires started igniting in my life. Fires of anger, depression and anxiety. I was regularly overwhelmed and had the self-centeredness of a teenager, which was probably appropriate for someone my age — but not appropriate for someone with three kids to care for.
I realized that I wasn’t just attempting to teach my daughters about their emotions, how to put others first, or how to do the right thing even when it’s hard — I was learning these lessons at the same time.
Being a young mom is not all bad. Sure, I’d prefer to have figured some of this stuff out before I had kids. I wish that my children didn’t have to watch me struggle, fail and apologize so often. Still, I can see the benefit of being honest with them, of admitting that I’m imperfect but I’m trying to grow. Young motherhood has been a struggle for me, but my kids are learning a lot from watching me navigate my own personal growth.