According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 300,000 babies are born to teen mothers every year. Count me in on this dubious honor — with my first child; I was a statistic.
I live in Wyoming, and people tend to look at you weird if you’re not at least married by 20. A baby at 19 after a couple years of cohabiting is no strange thing, except to my mom, who promised to get back to me after she’d had a chance to bang her head against the wall for 24 hours following my pregnancy announcement.
Unfortunately, by then, the relationship with baby’s father was already starting to crumble. I felt overwhelmed, and had next-to-no parenting support except from other equally inexperienced parents. The sad fact is, I was so busy tending to my son’s basic needs that I can barely remember anything about him as a baby.
So, when IS the right time to have a family?
One thing I knew for sure about starting a family: that’s not the way I wanted to do it. While I wanted to have more children, I wanted to wait until I had a supportive partner, and could spend some time enjoying every life stage. More importantly, I wanted to have kids with the kind of husband that I’d be proud if my sons grew up just like him. I wanted someone who could show my daughter how men should treat women, so she wouldn’t settle for mediocre or get caught in abusive situations.
The right man came along when I was 23. Even better, he had grown (or nearly grown) children who had turned into intelligent, respectful human beings who I truly like and admire. Refer to “age-gap relationships;” it’s not typical, but it works great for us.
Like anyone, my husband had already had many life challenges. He’d acted as a surrogate parent to a total of 11 biological and adopted siblings, struggled with human failings, and gotten generally beaten up by life. Why is that important for starting a family? He’d recognized the lessons in these life experiences, and internalized them to work toward being a better parent and human being. Besides, every parent of young children knows that those kids will beat you up worse than practically anything else.
We now have two kids together, in addition to my son from the first marriage. These children have a daddy who plays with them, and who loves to teach them things. He and I are able to openly discuss and agree upon our respective responsibilities around the house, and on disciplinary strategies with the kids.
The kids get to see a true partnership and a loving relationship every day of their lives. It helps that we’re both stay-at-home parents now, so the kids get undivided attention from one parent or the other any time they want. Most importantly, they have two parents who will never stop trying to find the best possible strategies to keep moving forward as a family.