I have a friend who (with her husband) is working on “making” her first baby at age 26. She called me recently asking for advice on how to find a doctor, what to know about breastfeeding, and anything else that might help her prepare for young parenthood. At 30 and with three kids under the age of four, I was able to easily answer her first two questions. But at her last question, I stumbled.
What should a twenty-something woman know before getting pregnant with her first child? At first I couldn’t come up with anything. So I did what any good mom would do, and consulted my first parenting teacher: Master Google. There I found that mostly everything written to parents assumes that said parents are older and, thus, have a clue about these matters beyond the more obvious biological talk of “fresh” eggs and ripe follicles.
So, what are some things that no one tells you when you have kids your twenties? After giving this question further thought, I came up with these:
1. Most of your parent friends could be your parents. OK, or your 10-years-removed older siblings. This isn’t a bad thing, or it hasn’t been a bad thing for me since I’ve always had a knack for appearing older than I am by virtue of my clothing choices (hello, Talbots) and uncanny ability to say things that manage to sound like I always know what I’m talking about.
It’s just that when I imagined my life with kids at 26, this isn’t what I pictured. What did I picture? I’m glad you asked! During my first pregnancy, I had daydreams of a vibrant social life, involving lots of other twenty-somethings who either ditched or married their young careers with parenting. I imagined that these parents would spend their mornings with me at fancy cafes, drinking tea while our children quietly napped in their trendy strollers.
But after almost four years, I can safely say that I have yet to find this the case. 99 percent of the parents I meet on a day-to-day basis are in their late 30s, early 40s. They’ve already had their careers, so to speak, and have only decided to have children because they now have the savings and lifestyles in place to do so. Oh, and my children usually don’t quietly nap or enjoy the cramped corners of most cafes. And I can’t afford a trendy stroller.
2. You will likely be broke. One of the most obvious reasons why most people delay parenting is finances. I never built the kind of major savings account that’s familiar to my forty-something parent friends. When I got pregnant, I did have enough money to go on a nice vacation somewhere in Europe, involving a possibly seedy hotel room and three-star restaurants. But that’s it. I assumed I would continue working when I had my baby, but when that baby turned one, I decided to stay home and the rest is, well, history.
3. You will age faster. Unless you make a conscious effort to be different, you will fall into what I call the mid-life parenting trap, wherein your transportation, haircut, and clothing choices mature to match your oh so “responsible role” as a parent. I always knew that being a parent changes you, but I always thought that I would be different. I was 26 and smart, after all.
But I have changed with parenting. I’ve aged. I have two gray hairs that randomly sprout on my hairline, I drive a minivan, and it was only divine intervention that prevented me from getting a flipped pixie cut last fall when my second daughter turned two. I do make an effort, or I have been making more of an effort to act my age with more youthful clothing and a more interesting social life, but I didn’t start doing this until I exited my twenties and turned 30. Go figure.
4. You may never get a chance to decorate your living room how you want. If you’re reading this as a twenty-something without children, before your pregnancy, be sure to be wildly experimental with your furniture. Buy lots of white and glass and pointy things, if you so desire, just because you can. If you’re reading this as a twenty-something with kids, when deciding on your living room, remember these two things: It’s OK to have fun and be youthful with your furniture choices; and just say “no” to camel-colored microfiber sofas.
5. People will always expect more of you when you have children. I think one of the best things about being in my twenties without children was that I lived under the very naive assumption that I could blame things on my youth. Oh, I didn’t file my taxes? Whoops, must be because I’m young. What’s that? I shouldn’t drive with a broken tail light? My parents never taught me that! With children, I could never really pull that “I’m too young” card anymore. The world, it seemed, expected more of me with children. And, oddly, I began to expect more of myself, which, when I think about it, is a good thing.
These are all things I wish I knew before I had kids in my twenties. What are some things you wish someone would have told you?