It’s been a long and hard decade.
Parenting a son at the age of 17 yielded intense pains and beloved triumphs. I missed out on a lot of my youth, but I also got a head-start on life that only young parents can truly understand.
Now I’m over the hump. The good outweighs the bad, and I believe the hardest times are far behind me.
Here are some thoughts and memories, of the pros and the cons, from a former teenage parent, 10 years later:
Pro: You have a story
My young adulthood was vastly different than my peers’. While they were hanging out in dormitories, I was with my son, teaching him to ice skate, watching Toy Story 2, or washing the sheets after he vomited in his bed.
People always want hear me talk about what it’s like being a young father, and lucky for them I have a story to tell.
Con: You miss out
I had a studio apartment in college. On Friday nights, when all my friends were heading to a pre-game, I’d be sitting in the dark, my son an arm length away, clicking through Facebook photos literally sobbing over pictures from nights out that I had to miss, spring break trips I never got to take, or study abroad programs I couldn’t attend.
Each album buried me in a wave of loneliness, and to this day that is the most depressing thing I’ve ever felt.
Pro: You’re adulting sooner
From 16 on, I’ve maintained a job. I’ve kept a grocery list. I’ve cleaned our apartment. Having a baby early means you’ll have to grow up fast.
I’m happy I learned these habits early-on.
Con: You’re broke
Our first apartment at 17 was a shit hole. It was in a decrepit building in a poor neighborhood of a poor city. I was working at Papa Gino’s making pizzas for $8/hour. I could hardly afford diapers for my newborn.
Since then I’ve upgraded my living situation every few years, moving to better and better apartments, but I’ve had little for spending on more than groceries and the essentials all the while.
I’m 28 years old now and making a good salary, and I find I’m still sorta broke. It’s hard to save money for a college fund and a 401k when you have a kid that needs his own bedroom and after school care and summer camp and new clothes.
Pro: You’re motivated
It motivates me to advance my career when there’s someone else who directly benefits.
I’m fortunate now to say that I’ve found modest success in my career. I’m currently the director of marketing at a growing tech startup. Far from my pizza spinning days.
Con: You have to forfeit your dreams
When I was 16 I was getting recruited by colleges to play lacrosse. I loved the game, and I always wanted to play at the next level.
When my girlfriend-of-the-time got pregnant, I knew I wouldn’t be able to play in college.
For years now I’ve imagined what life would have been like if I hadn’t had my son and I had played in college. I wonder where I would have gone to school, what my social life would have been like, and what my life would be like now.
Pro: You have a lot in common with your kid
My son and I spent all summer 2017 blasting Despacito. We enjoy the same movies. We follow the same instagram accounts—@jerryoftheday anyone?
When I was 10 years old, I sure as hell didn’t want to dress like my dad. But my son wears my hats sometimes and he likes the clothes I pick out for him. That’s pretty cool.
Con: You compete with your kid
With so much in common, my son and I sometimes slip into treating each other like brothers. Sometimes he takes a cheap shot and throws shade at me, or sometimes—I’m ashamed to say—I dish it on him.
Con: You put a lot of stress on your family
Having a baby at 17 wasn’t only stressful for me, it was stressful for my friends and family too.
My father refused to meet my son until he was 6 months old, and although now he’s probably my son’s favorite person on the planet, it took my parents a long time to come around.
I don’t blame them for this behavior. They know how hard parenting is, and I was practically throwing away all the hard work they’d done to give me so many advantages.
Pro: You raise an only-child
My son is constantly surrounded by adults. He has uncles and grandparents who, when we get together, are undividedly focused on him.
He’s comfortable with adult conversation, and he’s always been articulate as a result.
Con: You raise an only-child
My son would love some more playmates. He doesn’t have any cousins, let alone siblings, and he won’t have either for a while longer.
He can get easily bored when my family gets together or when my wife and I have friends over for dinner. He’s often the only kid around.
Pro: You have them in a different environment
I’m not sure I’ll raise my next kids in a city, but doing so with my son has been a great experience. His friends families are really interesting and come from many different backgrounds. Suburban towns are a little one-dimensional. I probably would not have raised my son this way if I had him in my 30s.
Con: You move around a lot
Between your late teens and early twenties, you’ll move around a lot. Having a child doesn’t change that.
My son has lived in probably 10 different places at different points of his life between his mom, his grandparents, and myself moving. And we’re still not all the way settled yet.
Pro: You aren’t expected to marry
I think our families sort of expected us to break up at some point. We started dating at 16. We broke up by 19. Because of that we were never pressured to marry.
Con: You’re a single parent
In the 8 years between the time my son’s mom and I split, and when I got married last year, I’ve scrambled to create a stable environment for my son. I spent countless nights at my parents house, just to have the extra help for him.
Since becoming a two-parent household, I’ve realized how hard it was being single. My son never benefited from the heaps of extra love and attention he receives, and I never felt the support of a partner at such a deep level of intimacy.
The stability of our household is more solid than ever—a stark contrast to many years in flux.
Con: Your relationships are harder
I can’t overstate this enough: relationships are harder when you have a child involved.
Lucky for me, my wife and I have been inspired enough to dedicate an enormous amount of energy into building a happy relationship. If she wasn’t such an incredible person, or if we knew at the start how hard things were going to be, it’s likely our relationship wouldn’t have worked.
Pro: You are more capable of serious relationships
Raising a child forces you to learn the skills for a healthy relationship. My son has helped me get better at listening, nurturing, and respecting other people, and that has carried over naturally to my relationship with my wife.
Additionally, the lifelong commitment I had made to loving my son, made me feel pretty comfortable when making a similar one to my wife.
Con: You have a harder time making parent-friends
When I show up to a publishing party at school or the sideline of a soccer game, people are a little unsure of who I am and why I’m there. Further, I feel a little uncomfortable in a room full of 40-somethings when I’m only a 20-something.
This awkwardness puts me at a disadvantage. It’s harder for me to make friends with other parents, and so my peer-parent-support is limited. Unfortunately that also means my son inevitably gets invited to fewer playdates and birthday parties.
Now I haven’t taken this lying down. I’ve worked really hard to reach out to other parents, and although I have several parent-friends now, I have to admit, I think the relationships are a bit weaker than what most other parent-friends enjoy.
Pro: You get support from your community
Right before my son was born, my high-school English class gave me a stack of classic children’s books. Around the same time we had a massive baby shower where many of my friends parents gave us generous gifts that we needed.
My parents have done more for me than they ever did my brothers, and I’m not sure if I like this or not, but I’ve been a bit of a charity case.
Con: Your stress will show sometimes
Having a kid is one of the hardest things most of us will ever do. It’s stressful now as a 28 year old, and it was ever more stressful at 17.
My temper has been susceptible to flare up sometimes, usually when I’m engulfed in a task and my son is prying for attention. It appears as a scream and ends in an apology.
Pro: You’ll be prepared to have your next kids
Now that I’m with my wife I can’t wait to have our own kids. I mean I can definitely wait—as long as possible really—but when the time comes, I look forward to have more advantages and feeling more ready.