I became a mom before I was legally able to drink. During my sophomore year of college, as I was in one of the best design programs in the country and making strides on my sorority executive board, my life got rerouted. I ignored the signs for months, but when I went home on spring break, I had to face reality. I was three months pregnant, and life as I knew it changed forever.
Growing up, I was filled with ambition to make it out of my hometown after high school. And I did. But a year-and-a-half later, I found myself back in the same place I had worked so hard to move on from.
Now that I was pregnant, my parents were apprehensive about letting me return to school four hours away. So, I tearfully and reluctantly slid out of my newly built life. I cut everyone out except my boyfriend and father of my daughter, who I’m still with today, and a few close friends, who mostly ended up not being friends at all.
I was never a baby person. Growing up, when family members would have kids, I stood back, adoring the baby from afar, but passing on chances to hold it. I never babysat beyond watching my younger brother. And while it’s true what they say — when it’s your child, it’s different — it was still overwhelming being responsible for another life when I was just starting to lay the foundation for my own.
The first two years of having a child were a chaotic blur. While my peers were hoping to pass their final exams, I was hoping my baby would sleep through the night. Luckily, with a strong support system from my family, my boyfriend, and his family, I was able to finish my degree. But besides my boyfriend, I had no one outside of my immediate family who I could lean on. There was no time for a social life, and most of my peers couldn’t relate to motherhood any more than I could relate to their lives as young adults without children.
On top of this, I had to deal with the reactions in public when people realized the baby was mine. In the early years, when my daughter and I still lived with my parents, if she and I went anywhere with my dad, they’d assume we were both his daughters. When my daughter was a few months old, I took her to storytime at the library by myself, and the looks and stares when we walked in sent me home in tears.
When my daughter started preschool, I took the next step in young motherhood: finding a job. Fresh with a bachelor’s degree and a high GPA, I was ready to jump into the workforce and show what I was capable of. But I quickly learned I needed to keep quiet about having a child after I let it slip a few times in interviews, and it cost me the jobs. So I kept quiet, and when it finally did come out that I had a child, I would downplay it, acting as if it was no big deal balancing a job and motherhood. This is something mothers of any age can, unfortunately, relate to.
When my daughter started elementary school, I was excited to get involved at the school as a room parent. But I quickly learned many other parents were less eager to have me involved. Making mom friends wasn’t easy; actually, it was pretty impossible. On average, most other parents were 10 to 12 years older than me, and some seemed to hate me on principle.
They wanted nothing to do with me — and this seemed to extend to my child. While my daughter got along with many of these same moms’ children, playdates never seemed to get organized. When I reached out, I’d be put off to a future time that never came. It became clear that some mean girls never really grow out of it; they just become moms.
I started to feel guilty that I’d had my daughter at such a young age, subjecting her to treatment she didn’t deserve.
Unlike me, my daughter is a social butterfly and quickly made other friends, and I eventually formed bonds with some of the moms, some of whom also felt like outsiders. But there were always reminders that we didn’t truly fit in. Like when my daughter came home from a neighbor’s house a few months after we moved in and told us how she was (unknowingly) grilled about her parents as they played in the backyard.
But it wasn’t just fellow parents who asked intrusive questions. At least once a week, I’d get comments about how young I looked when I was out with my daughter or people asking if I was really her mom. One time, my daughter and I were at a store browsing in the same section as another woman, and of course, my daughter started chatting and telling the woman her age. The woman looked at me and asked mine, and I told her.
“Hm… So that means you had her at 20,” she said while staring at me unsmilingly.
I said, “Yes, have a nice day,” and we walked away.
At 27, I was fortunate enough to return to school to earn my master’s degree. During this time, I worked in the Graduate School Office as an assistant with other students ranging in age from 20-year-olds who had just graduated with their bachelor’s to others in their 30s. It was nice to be around people closer to my age and, even more, to be back in the school setting I loved and where I felt like I belonged.
One day, a group of employees were chatting with the Assistant Dean about graduate students and the fact that they sometimes lack time management skills. I interjected with a comment based on my experiences, and the Assistant Dean turned to me and said, “Well, you’re not a normal graduate student.”
I was the only parent out of all the graduate assistants who worked in the office, and the words stunned me. It felt like no matter where I went, I didn’t fit in.
As my daughter got older and started middle school, it became easier to tune out the excess noise. We switched schools for many reasons, and the new community was a bit more accepting, but I still had to deal with being asked if I was the sister or nanny at almost every school event.
Around this time, people closer to my age were finally starting to have kids. After years of feeling like a lone wolf, I hoped to connect with women my age and make a circle of friends. But after multiple attempts to make friends and be social, it became clear that I wasn’t the right “fit” for these new moms either. They were looking for other families to have playdates with, and since my child was almost a decade older than their children, I didn’t fit the bill. I didn’t have any more success making friends with women without children — they often seemed resistant to having a mom join the circle.
Around my 30th birthday, I went to the DMV with my daughter to get my license renewed. When we got to the front, my daughter started chatting with the lady behind the counter. Eventually, my daughter told the nice lady about my upcoming birthday, and the lady smiled at me and said, “I was a young mom, too; I get it.” It was a warmth I’d never felt before, encouragement to keep going from someone who understood.
It also dawned on me that women are judged for whatever choices we make, especially if they deviate from the very narrow idea of what’s “normal.” My best friend spent over five years of her life caring for her sick mother, and even though what she did was amazing and incredibly selfless, she still felt put down by others for not having a husband and kids. People commented after her mother passed that she could “finally live her own life.” But she’d always been living her life. Her time and experiences mattered just as much, even if she wasn’t following the expected path.
After years of trying to find my people and feeling isolated, I realized my people were all the women who had also taken the path less traveled. And while that didn’t change my situation, it changed my perception. Today, I feel much stronger and more confident than when I started my journey as a mother, which has made all the difference.
Given a chance, would I change anything? No, not really. Maybe I’d care less what others thought of me. I like who I am, and more importantly, I couldn’t imagine my life without my daughter. Being a young mom is what brought her to me, and I’ll always feel lucky for that.