“You know what the difference is between you and almost every other mom in this city?” my husband asked me as he walked and I waddled the familiar mile between our tiny Chicago apartment to my midwife’s office.
“What, my love?” I gave him a breathless, patronizing smile.
“An average of 15 years.”
I laughed at the accuracy. As a college nanny, I was often caring for babies from mothers who were old enough to be my own mom. Even the seven midwives I rotated appointments with saw fit to ask and re-ask if my age was correct: 21. Twenty-one, married, with a due date two days after her final college exam. Yup, that was me. Please add “excited first time mom” to my chart, if you don’t mind.
I started the journey into motherhood a little ahead of the cultural norm, I know. It was easy to feel alone as I got the X-Ray glares at my left ring finger from strangers. If it wasn’t for my wonderfully encouraging husband and the small group of moms in the same boat as I was at my college, I might’ve really second guessed my own love and high regard for the little life in my womb. It gave me a deep sympathy for single mothers my age who don’t have a wedding ring for the glares to bounce off of.
I’m nearly four years into life as a twenty-something mom with two of the sweetest little boys filling my days to the brim. So here are some of the very real, very wonderful, and very difficult things I’ve encountered about being a mom in my early twenties. I share not to brag and not to bemoan, but simply to relate with my fellow twenty-something mamas and perhaps to gain understanding from the rest.
The Financial Struggle is Real
First of all, babies add much less cost to the monthly budget than everyone seems to think. You never need as much gear as the baby stores suggest. Breastfeeding and cloth diapering have helped our family to keep the first year costs minimal. Even now that I have four mouths to feed, the grocery bill hasn’t changed much since it was just my husband and me. I know, they’ll keep growing and the expenses will grow with them, but I just wanted to put the early year costs into perspective.
What is costly about having children young is my husband’s and my choice for me to stay home with them. It’s the income I’m not making. It’s the income I would’ve made had I built a career for several years after college and before motherhood. We’ve resolved to adjust our living to whatever our single income affords for us. And yet, it’s taken us six years to finally have a house of our own (and they were not easy years.)
It’s been a long journey and while I’d love to say that we’ve done it all graciously, it has tested us. It has tested our marriage. It has tested our resolve for me to be home with the kids. It made us really sort out our values in all of these years, deciding whether we wanted money and comfort or our family to be together more.
I can definitely say that the wonderful things that came out of the financial struggles have been numerous. There is strength in our unity. Our kids are getting to be a part of our story, even the not-always-beautiful beginning, and they’re seeing how hard we’re working firsthand. We’ve learned the lost skills of being thrifty, practical, minimalistic and creative in a world that leans toward excess. My husband and I have never had a chance to be 100% self-serving with our money, and I’m thankful for that, too. We’ve had these little souls to put first for most of our marriage.
I Get to Know them Longer
All life is finite, and none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, but I’m thankful for the extra life I’ll get to see and be a part of because we didn’t delay our parenthood. I’m excited to see how much of their adult lives I’ll get to witness. I’ll most likely get to see them become parents, but I might even get to see them become grandparents!
I think I speak for most parents when I say that the moment each of my kids joined our family, I couldn’t imagine another day of life without them. I could see how each of their little personalities complemented our family. I could see how we all bring challenges and joys to one another’s lives that help us grow and flourish. And I’m glad we didn’t delay all of that growth.
It Has Brought a Beautiful Purpose and Dimension to our Marriage
We were married for nearly three years before our first son was born. We were both attending college and both working. We both made dinners, did dishes and folded laundry. It was a wonderful three years where we were able to freely love and serve each other and be fully loved and served in return.
But something about bringing a child into a marriage changes things drastically. Something about the way that we were both able to be as independent as we wanted to be pre-kids really highlighted how dependent we were on one another post-kids. It has forced us to serve someone who cannot serve us back, to collaborate selflessness for someone who depends on us to meet all of his needs. We can’t both be everything for our kids; but the beauty is that neither of us has to be.
And yes, children bring sleep deprivation and rigid schedules and a general losing of self to a marriage. And it can really put strain on a relationship, I know. It’s never always peachy. But are we stronger for staying committed through the tough weeks? Yes. Have we been able to appreciate each other’s unique gifting as parents? Absolutely. Do I fall more in love with that guy every time I see him loving on our kids? Oh yes, more than I did on even our wildest romantic date.
And you know what the sweetest part of it is? He never gets sick of laughing with me at our kids’ antics. When we’ve exhausted our social networks with photos of our kids, we’ll never exhaust each other. He is just as invested in their wellbeing as I am, and we never tire of talking about them with each other, having adventures with them, and watching them grow. The richness that our children have brought to our marriage is undeniable, and, once again, I’m so glad we didn’t wait any longer than we did for all of it.
My Body is Fit for the Challenge
I know plenty of healthy 30-something and 40-something moms, so don’t hear me speaking of a 20-something body in absolutes. What I know is that I’m healthy now, and I’m not taking it for granted. I probably have as much energy as I’ll ever have in my adult life. My body can bounce back after pregnancy and no ache or pain limits the ways that I get to play with my kids. I’m thankful for all of that as I know that health is a fragile thing; I’ve watched it change on a dime for many dear ones in my life. I’m glad to invest my best years, this relative youth I have into my children. And should I continue having children in my thirties or even my forties, my youngest children will still have the youth and energy of their oldest siblings to enjoy. And that’s a beautiful design as well.
Life as a twenty-something mom isn’t for everyone, but for as much as I’ve experienced, the wonderful surely outweighs the difficulty. Twenty-something moms may not have it all together, but we’re stronger for what we’ve struggled through and there’s beauty in how the sacrifice of motherhood has shaped us through those formative years of adulthood.