"I was a teenage mother"
We've created a happy family despite my unplanned pregnancy. Why's everyone judging me?
From Slate Magazine, Sept 4, 2008
I met my sweetheart when I was 14 and unexpectedly became pregnant at 16. There was no question that I would keep the baby. After much discussion, my boyfriend and I decided we wanted to get married before the baby was born. Our parents were understandably cautious but supportive, and they didn't stand in our way. Eleven years later, we are still married and have three beautiful children. Our marriage is strong, our kids are thriving, and our household is a happy one. My problem is other people. When they find out how old I am and how long I've been married, it seems that their perception of me changes. Their response is always "Wow!" and then they just clam up. The feeling I get from people is that I should be ashamed. This comes up often, since I am the youngest mom at my child's school. I find myself reluctant to tell people my age or how long I've been married. By the way, I am not advocating teen marriage. The first few years were very difficult. Thankfully we grew together, and I understand just how rare our experience is. What should I say to people to convey that we are just a normal, happy family that began a little sooner than most?
If you feel judged, you must have a lot of sympathy for Bristol Palin, the pregnant teen who's getting married with an entire nation acting as if it should be in the pews whispering about the bride's belly. I hope her story turns out to be as gratifying as yours. Unfortunately, as you know, yours is a rare outcome. Only 20 percent of pregnant teens do get married. And people who marry under the age of 18 have the country's highest divorce rate, with about 60 percent of the marriages ending within 15 years. That said, the statistics leave plenty of room for delightful exceptions such as yours. Yes, you're right, when people find out how young you are, they are doing the math and realizing that, "Wow!" you were a teenage bride. But there's no reason to assume that "Wow!" is a synonym for "Shame on you." It's just as likely a simple recognition of your unusual situation. (In my circle, the "wows" over parental age are usually about the fact that the parents are as old as the Bible's Abraham and Sarah.) Since no one's asking you to explain your family situation, you certainly don't have to come up with anything to say to convey how happy you are; your happiness conveys itself. If someone does comment, you can just say cheerfully, "Yes, we got an early start." Try to let go of your lingering sense that there is something embarrassing about how your family began, and be confident about the success you and your husband have worked so hard to achieve.