February 3, 2014

9 Myths About Young Parents – And The Reality Behind Them

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What is the issue?
An actual 20-something and her actual baby.
An actual 20-something and her actual baby.

There are few groups of people left for whom it is still considered socially acceptable to judge, degrade, and openly criticize, mock and ostracize. Young parents are definitely a big one. For whatever reason – probably because the worst young parents are human car wrecks that make for good TV – it’s still deemed permissible to make assumptions and exercise unwarranted judgment against someone for no other reason than the fact that they had a child at an age that is, according to current cultural norms, considered early.

Let me clarify that I’m writing this with non-awful, non-stupid people in mind, on all sides of the discussion. There will undoubtedly be idiots and assholes who embody every tragic, infuriating, “How do they even let cretin trash like you have a baby?” cliché, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume we’re talking about people who aren’t horrible, moronic monsters. For those people, the following 9 stereotypes about what being a young parent is like – our overall character, the quality of our parenting skills, our relationships, our lifestyles – have probably plagued them since pregnancy.

Let’s clear a few things up:

Our kids were “accidents”

Assuming that the child of young parents was the result of an unplanned pregnancy is like assuming that the child of a 45-year-old woman was the result of expensive fertility treatments – obviously it’s true sometimes, but probably not as often as you think. Just as there are a hell of a lot of 40-somethings who get “oops preggo” after a night of drunk barebacking, there are also a great many young parents who made the conscious decision to have kids relatively early in life.

It’s not a mystery why: being younger means your body handled pregnancy, birth, and recovery with more resilience, you get the benefit of being young enough to potentially be more physically active with your kids (and even grandkids) for more years, and by the time you’re 30 and the rest of your peers are maaaybe starting to think about breeding, your kid(s) could possibly already be in school. You could easily have your most effectual, still youthful years ahead of you, and already have the all-consuming baby/toddler phases out of the way.

There are million reasons to wait until later in life to have kids, but there are arguably just as many reasons to get started young if that’s what you want. Not all young people are reckless – some are shockingly capable of making calculated, informed choices about their lives, and often those choices include having kids while they’re still young.

having a kid before age 30 means your life is like Teen Mom

That would be like assuming that all 40+ women are about that Real Housewife life. It’s reality TV, you ridiculous lambs! They pick the most insane, dramatic people they can find and call it indicative of a whole “kind” of person (it helps to not think of anyone as a “kind” of person; We’re all singular people.) Don’t make me hold your hand and explain how reality TV works. The Real World premiered 23 years ago. If you don’t get it by now, I judge you a world more than someone who merely had a child at a young age.

We were losers who just wanted purpose in our lives

No, you’re thinking of club DJs.

The kids will end up in “broken homes”

The myth of the “broken home” could (and should, and probably will) be it’s own article. The idea that the dissolution of a marriage or romantic partnership means the home is “broken” is some extra wrong nonsense. Loving, adaptable parents have the ability to create a decidedly unbroken, healthy, entirely positive environment for their kids regardless of how many parents live there.

That said, lots of young couples do stay together. And many older couples don’t. I have a friend in her late-20s whose parents just divorced last year, and it was still devastating. Trying to create a life with someone, and raise kids with someone, is a crapshoot no matter how old you are. Navigating relationships with partners, parents, and children is complicated and there are endless ways for a home to be whole. The sooner we stop telling young people that their relationships are doomed, and the sooner we stop telling kids that having divorced parents makes their home less valid than two-parent homes, the sooner we can all move out of the 1950s and into a time when our idea of family is more changeable and customizable and authentic. Enough with using someone’s marital status to judge their ability to parent well, and enough using someone’s age to judge the legitimacy of their relationship.

We’ve given up on pursuing our goals

You know the story: “Well, I was going to be a _________ or I was in school for __________ but then I had a baby…” Unless you’re watching a Lifetime Original Movie circa 1994, this is so rarely what happens. Most parents I know, of all ages, get infinitely more motivated to pursue goals, further their career, and generally create a big, amazing life after they have kids because suddenly, you have this whole other person (who you happen to love an impossible amount) who will benefit if you succeed and possibly be disadvantaged if you don’t. It puts a fire under your ass like nothing else and makes you want to conquer to world even harder. Yes, you have less time and more shit to juggle, but it’s completely manageable with a little creativity and a solid support system. The people who do give up on their goals after having kids were probably inherently mediocre individuals who were looking for an excuse to quit at life anyway.

And for the record: Having kids and being a stay-at-home parent is an entirely legit life plan. If someone chooses that and loves it, you don’t get to call them a quitter or a failure. Fighting for women’s workplace rights – like fair maternity leave and parental support – does not mean we start casting judgment against women who want to stay home. Or men, for that matter.

We’re less responsible than our childless peers

I think ideally people are exactly as responsible as they need to be, and that might look different for everyone. I have a friend who regularly calls me to go meet for coffee at 7 AM after having been out partying all night on a Wednesday. He’s almost 30. But he’s made the choice to build a life for himself where he can do shit like that and it doesn’t fuck up his situation. On the other hand, I have a toddler who would probably be pretty bummed out if mom showed up wasted at the breakfast table, so I try to avoid doing so. Most young people are simply striving to do the best they can per the demands of their individual situation.

I think the reason why people assume that young parents are incurably irresponsible is an off-shoot of the first myth – they think if you got pregnancy on accident, that you are a hot mess who will continue to be so after the birth of your child. The reality for most young parents, even the ones who didn’t expect to have kids when they did, is that they dial down the typical 20-something recklessness and rise to the responsibility that their new role as parent demands.

Honestly, young parents are often more easily able to become super responsible parents than people who have kids later in life because they have way fewer years of child-free life to shake off. Being a parent, and doing all that they have to do in support of that, becomes their reality so early, when their lives are still malleable and taking shape, that they don’t have to rearrange a whole other single life they had before.

We’re more responsible than our childless peers

But also, young parents are still fuck things up as much as anyone. So do older parents. Having kids young doesn’t make us slutty disasters, but it also doesn’t give us some magical ability to never make mistakes. If you’re starting to get the feeling that the underlying message in all of this is that young parents are as human and complex – in good and bad ways – as any other parents, then you’re getting the point.

Our parents raise our kids

This is one of the darker, more degrading stereotypes about young parents. Here’s the deal: When young parents have a baby, they typically hang on to that little friend. Shocking, I know. They keep it. They take it home, to their home, where they live, likely without their own parents. They work and buy things and wake up in the middle of the night and interview at preschools and go to play dates with other parents who annoy them and fucking raise their kids. And really, everyone gets help from their family – especially their parents if they’re lucky enough to have them around – after they pop out a baby, and their family sticks around and hangs out as that kid grows. That’s what families do – they take care of each other. When this dynamic plays out when two 40-year-olds have a baby, no one accuses them of “letting their parents raise their kid” if their parents babysit while they go out to dinner.

In my experience, I’ve seen young parents being stubbornly independent as parents because they’ve been so programmed to believe that it’s trashy and irresponsible to lean on their family members at all after having a kid. I did that, and I regret it, not because my child suffered as a result of my isolationist parenting practices in the early days, but because it all could’ve been so much less exhausting and maybe more joyful.

That’s the real danger of these stereotypes – they get into people’s heads and make them question their actions, as opposed to just trusting themselves and making logical choices based on what is right for them. Not doing what makes sense for you in a frantic effort to avoid falling into a stereotype can often be just as damaging and disingenuous as being the stereotype. 

We can’t figure out birth control and will have lots more babies right away

Definitely a lot of people start having kids young because they plan to have more, and want to get started. But unless you’re a Teen Mom­-grade idiot, you become a goddamn master of birth control after having a kid. Like, no one else is living in this uterus until I say so. TC Mark

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