No, it isn’t sexist to question very young motherhood
Fiona (not her real name) had her baby at 17. But she’s still a kid, and motherhood suffocates her.
“Mum. Mum.” She says, not looking up from her phone. “He’s crying again.” Her mother looks at her, exhausted. “It’s your baby, darling.” Fiona pulls a face, and bursts into tears.
“Shut up. You always look down at me over him! I deserve a life! Shut up!”
She storms out of the kitchen, grabs her car keys and slams the door. I sit with her mother- her child’s grandmother, in silence. “She’ll be back. She just needs some space.”
Yes. Yes she does. Any 18 year old does. Space to buy too much ice cream and be sick. Space to take stupid pictures with your best friend in the park. Space to moan about your parents and sneak into VIP areas at awful clubs. Fiona isn’t a bad person. She’s just a kid. Even if she is legally an adult.
She loves to go clubbing and feel worth something when a guy wants her. She does her eyeliner and wears hotpants, complains about her post birth tummy. She was never academic. To her, her pride is in her looks, her body, her flirtation. The baby has shaken her world, and cost her what she loves about herself.
The guilt of being out at 3am mingles with the ugly claustrophobia of screaming baby, nappies, loneliness, breastfeeding. The first few months of cute selfies and choosing babygrows was fun, but now reality is settling in. Parenting is really, really time consuming.
I’m not going to tell you that you should have gone to university. I’m not going to sneer at you for not having an abortion. I’m definitely not going to call you a slut. But can we say the unsayable- and admit- that a lot of young mum’s wish they’d waited?
They love their kids. Fiona, when she wants to, cuddles her son to distraction. But the nights spent in, the holidays missed, the isolation of being out of work and school: that’s tough. Really tough. The land of what might have been is tough.
Some 17–20 year olds are mature, responsible, dedicated and loving parents. But others, like any other teen, desperately need that time to establish themselves, learn what they like, what they want, and make mistakes. I was still having ‘necessary' circled on my English Literature as incorrect at 18. That caused me no end of tears and angst. The upheaval of a baby would have destroyed me.
I often wonder about Fiona’s son. Who will help him with his homework? Who will tell him about algebra and the Romans? Who will know what to say when he gets a girlfriend? Who will be his male role model? Will he be okay?
I’m enormously privileged to have older (very old actually) parents who knew enough, through collected knowledge, to answer most of my questions about the world and help me if I didn’t understand natural selection. From an educational perspective, I had a massive advantage. Almost every study on parent age suggests older parents have children who do better in school, regardless of parent income and education. Why? Because you have time to learn more and do more.
Of course, any parent who is worth their salt is good because they love you. They might not be able to help you with geography or history homework, but they will hold your hand when you get scared watching Mulan. They might not be able to give you all the toys you want, but they will cuddle you when William bites you in the playground.
So however old you are, you can be a good mum.
But is it the best time to have a child? I don’t think so.