On my 21st birthday, I sat in my apartment and looked out the window. Within the next month, I’d be giving birth to my first wildling, and I knew that I wasn’t quite prepared for the momentous journey ahead of me. At the same time, I felt as ready as I ever could be to become a mother, recognizing that the majority of people, regardless of their social and financial circumstances, probably never feel completely prepared for parenthood. I rubbed my belly and imagined how life would be once I had a little cooing baby in the pack-n-play. I got the nursery ready and sat in the glider, reading and journaling.
As my first son went from a squishy newborn to a firecracker of a toddler, I found myself slowly coming out of the fog of postpartum and I started wondering: What am I going to do with my life? What will make me happy? What will be good for my family? Where do I start?
Before I had children, probably in high school, I dreamed of my twenties. To me, I would have life figured out and be pretty much settled in the world before I was thirty. A career, a well furnished house, and awesome wardrobe…
Now, after three pregnancies in four years, I’m still asking myself the same questions, despite getting an associates degree and four certifications. Now, at almost 25, I’m just starting to map out my journey to financial stability and fulfillment. I’ve found myself sometimes wondering if having kids when you’re in your twenties is better or worse than having kids when you’re a bit older, and have a better standing ground in the world.
Honestly, I just can’t decide. Probably because regardless of your age or financial standing, being a parent is freaking hard. It blows the top off what you believe about this life, and it changes you immensely. And yeah…you lose a lot of sleep, so being twenty might help with that part, although I wouldn’t be able to tell you before I drink my cup of coffee.
Yet, sometimes I feel like people can smell the twenties on me as I slowly enter the more adult world of caring about my credit score, pondering mortgages, and building a career. Sometimes I feel it when I’m out in public with my kids and I make the wrong decision as I parent. Sometimes, I spend too much time comparing myself to moms who seemingly have it all together…moms who have a true sense of identity and purpose in the world. Moms who don’t have to budget every single paycheck just to barely make it.
And at other times, I find myself so removed from being twenty, especially when I’m around other twenty-somethings with no children. I can’t decide if I’m jealous of their freedom or annoyed by their misunderstanding of it. A fellow twenty-something once complained about how tired she was after a great night she had, and all I could do was stare at her and then walk away. My baby hadn’t slept for more than two hours at a time in four months.
Being a twenty-something parent is like being trapped in a little bubble. We’re not teenagers, but we’re not quite adults yet. We don’t fit in with the “young adult” groups and can’t attend social gatherings with other twenty-somethings without feeling misplaced and strange.
You might find yourself asking, “How can they be so carefree?” as you worry endlessly that your husband or babysitter is going to let your child eat crap food or fall in the toilet, while you watch your peers lament about having to work the next day.
I used to think that being twenty would be the time I would have life figured out, but I realize now just how young twenty is. My life couldn’t be further from being “figured out,” yet now I am also rocking this journey with little humans who need me to be their pillar of strength and safety. It can feel terrifying as you leap out into your career field. Taking chances feels more threatening than exciting, because your children and their livelihoods come first. Going back to school to start a career can feel daunting when factoring in childcare, studying, and paying bills. While I once thought that I would be well established in the world by the time I was 30, I’m realizing now that it’s completely realistic that I will probably be just starting to feel secure in my career by the time I’m 30.
Something else about being a twenty-something parent: all of this is okay. It’s easy to get wrapped up in comparison. I’ve found myself looking forward to success as I see other women already reaping it, and feeling inferior. It’s said that “comparison is the thief of joy,” and this couldn’t ring more true for me. I live paycheck to paycheck. I rent my house. I don’t have awesome credit. It’ll take me double the time to get my bachelor’s degree. Compared to the mom with an established career, my life might seem quite poor.
But I’m not poor in spirit, and I don’t have to be so concerned about figuring it all out as I think I do. If you’re a twenty-something mom like me, you don’t have to either. Sometimes it may feel like we’re standing in a room, messy hair and two kids on our hips, staring at our dreams for the future behind a thick wall of plexiglass. Sometimes, we may ask ourselves, “Why did we do this to ourselves?” or “Am I a good enough mom?” Because being twenty-something means you’re just continually questioning your worth and your decisions. We may wonder if we’ll ever “make it” and if we have what it takes to get where we want to be. We may redefine ourselves over and over again in the process.
Like me, you may struggle at times between wishing you could enjoy the fullness of your twenties or just skip to your thirties already. Finding peace with the reality of parenthood is difficult at any age, and navigating your twenties while doing it is not a task for the fainthearted.
Yes, my mornings are met with cuddles and sometimes complaints from little people who are ravenously hungry. I might feel like I’m hungover without having had a drop to drink the night before. I might feel like doing everything other twenty-somethings do is impossible. But my world is also met with gummy smiles, sweet hands reaching for mine, and the challenge and also the gift of raising a family. To all my fellow twenty-something moms, I raise my coffee cup to you today. Cheers.