'People can be very quick to judge': What it's really like to have kids in your early 20s 1 year ago

'People can be very quick to judge': What it's really like to have kids in your early 20s

One of the biggest things I've learned this month is how big of a role age plays in our fertility.

The vast majority of you told us you want to put off having kids until after 30 and two thirds of you reckon that there's a stigma around being a young mum or dad.

That said, fertility rates have been dropping in the Western world because we're waiting later to start our families. Women are now being advised to think about having babies younger.

It's a catch-22, so I've asked a mum and a dad what it's really like to become a parent in your 20s.

 

Melissa

Melissa is 28 and from Dublin. She first found out that she was pregnant at 21 and is now mum to a seven-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl.

Were you the first of your friends/ peers to become a parent? 

Yes. A few girls I went to school with had had babies during the Junior and Leaving Cert, but I was the only one out of my friends to have children until this year.

 

How did people react when you told them you were having a baby?

Surprised. Older relatives were delighted but younger relatives and friends were a little concerned about how I would cope. To be fair to them I was still in college with only freelance work to support myself, I was concerned about how I’d cope. I did have a couple of people be very blunt and say I’d basically get to do nothing with my life from here on out.

 

Did you find that you were younger than the people you saw around you having children? Definitely. I didn’t attend ante natal classes because I was afraid of being the only one there in my early 20s. Even now I still get shocked reactions from people when they realise I have a child in first class.

 

How did becoming a parent affect your 20s? 

It meant a lot of planning ahead if I wanted to do anything. College and work meant hiring childcare and nights out and holidays meant organising babysitters. I can’t be too casual about making plans. I’m lucky to have a lot of family around who can help out and friends who are happy to hang out at my apartment when I can’t find a sitter. My social life hasn’t really suffered but it’s because of the people around me.

 

Who do you lean on day-to-day to make family life work?

My partner. He’s a very hands-on dad which is great. I have a huge family and we’re very much a community. Everyone looks after each other. Even my grandparents, who are my children’s great grandparents, take them on day trips and watch them overnight from time to time.

 

Is there much support for young parents in society? 

I see it a lot more in other countries than in Ireland, but I don’t think there are many supports for parents in general in Ireland. A lot of other European countries have extended periods of parental leave and childcare supports in place to help take the stress off families but Ireland is a little slow to catch up.

 

What would you like to see done for younger parents?

More childcare associated with colleges to help parents continue on with their education. Getting to finish college made such a difference in the jobs and opportunities I’ve been able to attain.

 

What are the upsides to becoming a mum at a younger age?

Getting to grow up with them. My parents were very young having me, they didn’t plan it but it meant I got to go to a lot of concerts with them and they understood me a bit more during my teens because they weren’t that far removed. I like that in a sense I get more time with my kids and that most of my memories from my 20s will have them in them.

 

More and more people are waiting until their 30s to have children, and yet we’re constantly warned that it’s harder to conceive if you wait. What would you say to that?

I think it’s a very personal decision. You need to weigh up the pros and cons for your own situation and do what is best for you. My younger sister is only a year off the age I was when I found out I was pregnant but I wouldn’t be telling her that she needs to rush into having children anytime soon.

 

Nathan

Nathan* is 23 and from Cork. He found out he was going to be a dad at the age of 21 and now has two daughters aged 18 months and two months.

Were you the first of your friends/ peers to become a parent?

I think there had been maybe just one of my peers from school that had become a parent a few years before but yeah out of my close group of friends I was the first to become a parent

 

How did people react when you told them you were having a baby?

I think shocked would probably be the best way to describe it. It was like, ‘Ah no way you’re way too young to be having kids’ and general comments like that. My closer friends were in disbelief but they got over it very quickly.

I think I’d use the word judgemental when people found out my partner and I would be parents, especially the older generation. We used to get really awful looks from people during our hospital appointments as well as when my partner was in the labour ward. Even still we get the odd disapproving look when we’re just trying to sit down and enjoy a coffee.

'People can be very quick to judge': What it's really like to have kids in your early 20s

 

How did becoming a parent affect your 20s?

It turned our lives completely upside down. There is absolutely no such thing as being spontaneous anymore. We can’t just decide to head down to the pub or to the cinema on a whim because we have to plan any kind of outing weeks in advance to make sure there is someone around to babysit for us.

It’s also matured us both massively because we’re not number one anymore. Everything we both do know is done for the benefit of our daughters (done happily, I might add!). We have to be much more careful financially and ensure there is always money there for an emergency or anything like that. It was also tough on our relationship  because we had to adapt from being young and carefree to being parents very fast. It's incredibly tough but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Except maybe a sleep in until 11 on a Saturday.

 

Who do you lean on day-to-day to make family life work?

We’re very lucky to have very supportive families who help us out and that has  honestly made all the difference. I can’t imagine a young parent with no home support system. Our friends are and have always been amazing as well.

We also have to lean on each other every day. It's a massively tough job being parents especially at this age when we didn't have our lives together yet, but it makes the job so much easier when you have someone at home with you going through exactly what you are.

 

Is there much support for young parents in society?

In our experience, no, absolutely not, especially from the government. My partner was declined maternity leave when she became pregnant because she didn't have enough stamps - bear in mind she was only short about three weeks.

There's absolutely no support system in place for us because we are still together as a couple, whereas if my partner had declared herself as single she would have received lone parents benefit. My partner was also told her job seekers' allowance would be cut (something she had to go on because she could no longer work) because we were a couple and I was still working. I don't understand how that adds up as my sole income was supposed to support three people.

We weren't looking for a free ride at all as I was pursuing a masters in teaching; we just needed some extra help. Luckily we are receiving some level of support with the birth of our second child but the process is incredibly long and drawn out.

'People can be very quick to judge': What it's really like to have kids in your early 20s

 

What would you like to see done for younger parents?

There needs to be a better support system in place to help out younger parents both financially, physically and mentally. The mental and physical toll of being a parent, especially a very young one is massive. I think there needs to be more access to affordable childcare. Access to free counselling services would also be a massive benefit, especially to new mums.

 

What are the upsides to becoming a parent at a younger age?

You have way much more energy to play and be active with your children. In my eyes, when they’re grown up and matured I will be able to begin my career rather than put it on hold mid way through.

Physically for the mum, the healing process is much faster and labour tends to be much shorter and safer. I usually have no problem surviving on three hours' sleep at night either.

 

More and more people are waiting until their 30s to have children, and yet we’re constantly warned that it’s harder to conceive if you wait. What would you say to that?

I can see the benefits of waiting until your 30s because people tend to be more financially stable and in more serious and long term relationships. However, we think if you’re in a good position to do it, having kids at a young age is definitely something to consider. I don’t believe women should be pressured to have kids at any age though.

 

*Name has been changed.

 

This October is Fertility Month on Her, when we’ll be talking all things reproductive health and having babies. 

You can check out all of our Fertility Month articles here.

Want to get in touch? Email me at anna@her.ie.