Becoming a young parent in today's society
"I knew that this would be a turning point in my life." Roving reporter Gaby shares her experiences as a young parent.
Life for today's youth is so different to what it was even 20 years ago. In some ways we have far less responsibilities and have a lot more opportunity to muck around and enjoy times with friends.
However with technology becoming so advanced we seem to be enjoying our times differently, in front of TV screens and with consoles in hands, headphones in ears, surfing the net, the list goes on. As much fun as this all is there is one thing that hasn't changed and that is the strains, pains and pleasures of being a parent.
Becoming a young parent
The week I found out I was expecting a child was one filled with many different emotions, most of them returning still to this day. I knew that this would be a turning point in my life and now the only way to go was forward. As my big 18th approached I was in the midst of preparing for the baby's arrival. Two months later I was in hospital cradling a beautiful little girl.
The first few weeks were filled with broken sleep, constant nappy changes, baby bathing, washing clothes and cleaning up pre-tasted clumps of milk spilt daily on my clothes.
This was how my weekly routine seemed to be looking and despite my efforts to be as positive as I could there were times I was emotionally flat and exhausted. It's not all cleaning and waking at 3am though. My daughter always gave me a reason to smile and as I watched her grow and develop each day I felt excited and proud.
Becoming a parent made me realise how important my own values and beliefs were. One of my main beliefs is that I am in charge of my life, what direction I go and decisions I make all have their consequences. But now I was in charge of someone else's life as well. Responsibility now rises over choice and needs come before wants.
Sticking to my beliefs
My daughter will grow up knowing what my beliefs are, but she won't necessarily feel they are right in her own time. The most important thing I can teach her is how to be herself and be happy with who she is. Most of us are constantly trying to battle our sense of self worth. Being a young parent brought about many times when I felt I had to be a different person to who I really am in order to avoid being judged and frowned upon by other people. For example:
- Being VERY dressed up when going out in public
- Having my daughter dressed very cleanly
- Parenting differently
- Not going to certain places
- Buying certain materialistic baby things
I'm not sure how to explain why I felt I needed to do these things, but I do remember one incident where I had run out of nappies and was in a rush to get more. I left the house in my trackies and a T-shirt (perfectly fine clothing). As I hurried through the aisles finding what I needed I became increasingly aware of the looks I was getting.
For the first time ever I was made to feel as though I should be ashamed of myself. When an older gentleman looked down at me and shook his head when he looked in to my pram all I wanted to do was turn around and explain myself to him. My clothes and my messy hair don't reflect who I am.
I am proud to be a mother of my beautiful daughter. I am a good mother and I give her all I can. I'm happy and my daughter is happy.
Getting asked for my bags to be checked at the counter on this same day was the last straw and I went home feeling all sorts of emotions, from anger and disgust to sadness and confusion. Even though it was hard, it was on this day that I discovered my strength.
There's no right or wrong way
Some people have children when they have finished their studies, have a career and know their life's direction. Some have children before all this and happen to also be young. This does not make us worse parents.
There is no right or wrong way of living your own life and definitely no instruction manual on being the "perfect parent". We are all learning as we go and have different techniques for how we handle our children. If we aren't dressed up as though we're going out to a fashion show or our children have messy faces and food on their clothes this does not mean we don't care for our children. It just means that we are tired and have had a long day.
Parenthood has its difficulties. It's not what everyone wants but it's definitely something that anybody can do. I am very proud of my little girl and I no longer let society decide how I will dress myself, act or parent. Like anything in life I do what I feel is right for me and if I make mistakes I learn from them.
Having children is not something that should be rushed into, though it also something that should not be criticised if it is done when you are young. I am now 21 years old and my little girl is three. We are still happy and I'm now going back to work.
I look back at my younger years as a parent and I see no differences apart from the fact that we were both younger. I'm still learning from my daughter every day and still go out and have hectic days filled with tantrums and mess. The one difference is now the looks I get make no difference.
Places to go to for help
If you're a young parent there are lots of resources out there to help you. Some of the places that really helped me and can help anyone are the following.
- Pregnancy Counselling Australia - A non-political, non-denominational organisation which has given free, practical and emotional support for women experiencing crisis pregnancies, and those suffering from post-abortion syndrome, for nearly 20 years.
- Young Pregnant & Parenting - Run by the Teenage Pregnancy Interest Group to provide support to young parents and pregnant teenagers.
- Emergency Accommodation & Support Enterprise (EASE) - Helping out with accommodation in the Bendigo area. Call 5430 3000 for more info.
These are the local places that helped me, but your local community health centre can help to direct you to the right place if you have any concerns or questions.
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