10 Years Later: A Grown Teen Mom Reflects (part 3)
By Erin Froehlich
From the Mindfull Blog Series
Continued from Part 2...
Q. How is being a teen mom different as an adult?
A. Being an especially young teen mom, I had to face my family and their judgment, but I was mostly insulated from the adult world through Ivy’s toddler years. My parent’s rejection and shaming hurt me, but being in an environment like that, you eventually have to stop caring what other people think. You build up a protective wall. Besides, I went to school with other kids considered to be “outsiders” and then I went to community college. While I was still not the “norm” there, I felt I was on a bit more even ground with my peers.
But I’m 25 now. I worked hard to make my way through college, get a good job, and find a nice house in a good school district for Ivy. I’m pretty proud of that too, but it means I need to interact with people that are even more different than me than I did as a teen. As adult, I sometimes feel pressured to hide the fact that I was a teen mom. I love Ivy, but I’ll admit, I’ve even avoided mentioning that I have a daughter with new people before. The question that follows is almost always “How old?” and I’m afraid of how my answer will change other people’s impression of me. I worry they’ll think I’m trashy or just feel uncomfortable, not knowing how to respond politely. (BTW – the polite response is the honest one. It’s okay to be surprised and ask questions!)
Meeting teachers and parents can also be pretty stressful for me. Not only do I make less money than many of them do, I look very young. I don’t want to their impression of me to negatively impact Ivy so I feel pressured to fit in and be more like them. I know I shouldn’t care what other people think or feel I need to change who I am, but it’s hard when it might mean Ivy’s teacher’s expectations will be lowered or her friend’s parents will decide they aren’t comfortable letting their kid stay at our house.
My relationship with my parents has changed as well. My mother and I are doing significantly, drastically better. It’s still not PERFECT (whose relationship is?), but we enjoy each other’s company now and have had some wonderfully honest discussions which is a big change. She loves Ivy and frequently babysits for me. As for my father, I ultimately decided that having him in my life was more bad than good for me and have not spoken with him in years. I’m not entirely sure whether the decision was the most moral one for me to make. I do advocate forgiveness and second chances, so though I’m not ready to forgive him yet, hopefully someday I will be.
Q. How do you think you would have been different if you hadn’t been a teen parent?
A. I never had chores or much responsibility placed on me growing up. I think it was just easier for my parents to do things themselves than it would be to first get me or my sister to do something and then to try to teach us to do it well. Having a child forced me to learn responsibility in a hurry - and responsibility breeds confidence. I mean, if I could handle this challenge, what couldn’t I do? I don’t think I would be as successful as I am today, if I hadn’t had Ivy.
Q. Do you ever regret your decision?
A. I do sometimes envy the freedom of my childless friends and wonder how my life would be different if I hadn’t had Ivy, but in the end, no, I don’t regret my decision. Before I had Ivy, I was pretty seriously depressed and I was flunking most of my classes. It wasn’t that I wasn’t smart - I usually did well on my tests regardless. I just didn’t see a point. I didn’t have a vision for my future so there was nothing for me to mess up and no reason for me to try. Ivy gave me a concrete purpose. She became my reason to keep going, no matter how hard things got and after I found out I was pregnant, I started turning things around. My grades moved from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s. I still struggled, don’t get me wrong, but no matter how hard things got for me, not matter much I just wanted to fall apart and disappear, I couldn’t bring myself to do that to her. I honestly don’t know if I’d be here today if it wasn’t for Ivy.
Q. What does your daughter think about having such young parents?
A. When she was younger, she had no clue that our family was different, but she became more curious about it once she reached grade school. She’d ask me “How old are you?” and “How did you have a baby when you were so young?” At first, I’ll admit, I was a little embarrassed to talk about it with her. Obviously, I don’t want her to follow the same route I did, but it’s important to me that Ivy feels comfortable in honest discussions with me, so I knew I needed to set honesty groundwork and get over it.
We’ve talked about my age and how we lived with grandma and I went to school with her. I’ve also tried to emphasize how unusual it is for her parents to be together still and how difficult it was for me as young parent, how it meant I couldn’t do a lot of the things my friends got to do.
When I’ve asked her what she thinks about our family, she says she thinks it’s pretty cool – but that’s because of the way we are, not our age specifically. Her dad plays in metal band and her mom likes to do things like go out mushroom hunting and sew creepy stuffed animals. We’re kind of funny and weird. Maybe we’re more like that because we’re younger, but I’d like to think we’ll continue to be funny and weird regardless of our age.
Q. What do you think about MTV’s show Teen Mom?
A. I hope that young girls are taking the things they should be taking from it - entertainment and an illustration of how difficult the life is - and not see teen momhood as something that’s going to make them cool. Girls - there are much, MUCH easier ways to be cool. I made it alright, but I am more an exception than a rule and believe me, it wasn’t easy path. Of the 8 other teen moms I went to school with, I’d say probably only half had the baby’s father in the picture at all when I knew them, and I have no doubt that number has dropped even further by now. Many dropped out of high school or never made it through college. Some have lost custody of their children. If you can, focus on enjoying the freedom of your teen years.
Q. What advice would you give to new teen moms?
A. I’m not going to lie. It’s going to be hard, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated or sad, just try to remember that all feelings are temporary. A support network can make an INCREDIBLE difference. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from supportive friends and family and if you don’t have those around, don’t be afraid to seek out the many wonderful programs they have available to teen parents. Try to focus on the good. Let your baby be a reason to get up and dust yourself off when life pushes you down. Things will get better.