I had my first baby when I was only 21 years old, and my second when I was 24. Although I wasn’t a teenage parent, I still experienced isolation, questioned my identity, and struggled with depression and anxiety – all of which are common challenges faced by young mothers.
At any age, motherhood is a tough gig. Endless cleaning, sleep deprivation and daily personal sacrifice are required to raise our little humans.
But for mums under the age of 25, this pressure is magnified.
Becoming a mum at the age of 21, I felt like I was in limbo. I wasn’t a teenage mum, so I didn’t qualify for many young mums Mother’s Groups, but I was so much younger than most of the women who gave birth at the same time as me. In some cases, I was 20 years younger than the other new mums that I met. I felt out of place at Mother’s Group, and I felt out of place with my friends. Fundamentally, all people want to belong; to feel connected to other people who share their interests and life experiences. As a 20-something mama, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere.
The challenges of young motherhood
Being a young mum has had a bigger impact on my parenting experience than anything else. I wholeheartedly believe that all mothers, regardless of their age, want the best lives for their children; however, being a young mum comes with its own specific challenges.
Women entering their parenting journey at a younger age than the norm are often affected by low self-esteem, financial hardship, relationship and family instability, and some are deprived of basic needs like safe housing and a high-school education (source).
In Western Sydney, less than 20km from where I live, 63% of all adolescent mothers drop-out of school (source). Many believe that it is their only option, and that simply isn’t true.
In Australia, young mums are 3 times more likely to experience Post Natal Depression (source). That’s 40% of all mums under 25.
I was one of those 40%.
I hope that Sunny Mondays is a beacon of hope and inspiration for these mothers. I want to create a space where all young mums can gather – a place where they truly belong – and where they can be inspired by the stories of other young mums, to show that it is possible to get an education, start a career, and chase your dreams while you raise your kids.
One of the main ways that I believe we can cultivate a sense of belonging for young mums is to break down the stigma that comes with young motherhood.
The stigma of young motherhood
Young mothers, myself included, often feel that their parenting ability is judged solely based on their age. There’s a stigma attached to having a baby early in life, but it hasn’t always been this way. It wasn’t that long ago that the majority of new mothers were in their early 20s. Forty years ago, half of all babies in Australia were born to mothers under 25. In 2013, that number had fallen to 20% (source).
As the number of young women having children has decreased, the stigma associated with young motherhood has snowballed.
The feminist movement has helped women take great strides towards a life where we can choose our own career path. And with the widespread availability of contraception, women are now fortunate enough to control when and if they will become mothers. These developments are phenomenal, and our generation of women owe a lot to the courageous, tenacious women who fought for this cultural change.
Growing up as a Gen Y’er, I was told that I could be anything I wanted to be. There was never a question that after high school, I would go to university and get a job (marriage and kids would come later, obviously). And I’m so grateful that I was born into a country and a generation where this was possible.
But as a new 21 year old mama, it came as a shock that what I had always been told – you can be anything you want to be – actually came with an unspoken caveat: except a mum. At least until you’re 30.
Instead of the progress made by generations of women before me making way for tolerance and acceptance for the choices that all women make, it appeared that if you chose to start a family before you started your career, you were somehow un-feminist, uncool, and un-progressive.
What really happens when we judge young mums?
The stigma of young motherhood is not just an unfortunate consequence of my life choices. The stigma has a dangerous side effect. Many young mothers don’t seek help when they need it, out of fear that they will be seen as “not coping” (source).
When my midwife visited me at home when Jack was a few weeks old, she asked me how I was coping. I told her I was fine. I was not fine. I was deeply depressed and completely overwhelmed with my new role as a mother. I didn’t seek help for my depression until Jack was six months old.
I was terrified of admitting that I wasn’t feeling well. I’m not really sure what I thought would happen if I told the truth, but I had convinced myself that it wouldn’t be good, for me or for Jack.
When vulnerable new mothers are so afraid of judgement that they refuse help when they desperately need it, babies and mothers lives are in danger.
It’s not society’s job to judge young mothers for their choices. It’s our responsibility to protect the vulnerable and at risk members of our communities.
Because when it comes down to it, motherhood is a learning curve for all women, whether they had their first baby at 21 or 41. All mothers should feel safe asking for help when they need it. And we all need help sometimes.
Turning the stigma on its head
Ironically, researchers have found that young mums are some of the most resilient and motivated people in our society (source). We want great lives for our children, so we work hard to make that happen.
The judgement is unfounded. Is being a young mum hard? Yes. But does that mean that young mamas are incompetent? No way. And does being a young mother mean that my life is over before it began? Hell no!
The fight for gender equality is nowhere near over. Our generation must continue to seek out equal rights so that our children and grandchildren can live in a world where they are free to live the life that they choose. It’s vital that women (and men) stand together and support each other as we pursue our dreams – whether our dream is to lead a country, to be CEO of a company or to be a mother. At any age.
Are you a Bright Young Mama? If so, I would love to hear from you!
Please leave me a comment below, or send me a message via the contact form above.