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Did I Miss Out Because I Had a Kid at 21?

A mom comes to terms with what might have been

Published on: September 14, 2017

Woman on phone

I like to believe that when I decided to get married at 20 and have my first baby less than two years later, I knew what I was doing; I like to believe I knew what I was losing.

I knew I’d turn down invitations and say “no” to nights out. I expected to skip sleep. I even made peace with putting off my return to school. I thought I understood what changes motherhood would bring but I never anticipated I wouldn’t like them.

I was the first of my immediate friends to have a baby so, at first, I made a lot of effort to befriend other moms. Their kids were my kid’s age but the moms were often five to seven years older than I was. 

While I learned a lot and made a few friends, there were noticeable differences between our lives. They'd spent their 20s traveling and establishing careers, and then they'd had a baby. My 20s were just beginning and I was already pregnant with my second child.

At home, my husband and I switched off, balancing work schedules with no daycare. I stayed home during the day and worked nights and weekends. It made for a lonely first year of parenting and a wicked case of FOMO.

Each day was a messy clash of hopeless love for my daughters and relentless fear that I was missing out. I watched as friends my age took exciting new jobs (I could barely squeeze in writing after my kids went to bed), traveled the world (we needed the money for diapers and formula) and spent evenings out on the town (as if).

Soon, scrolling through Instagram ... became more than a way to pass time: I saw it as my link to the life I could have had.

Soon, scrolling through Instagram as my middle child slept on top of me became more than a way to pass time: I saw it as my link to the life I could have had. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my third that I realized something needed to change. No longer would I compare my life — full of sleepless nights but overflowing with unconditional love — to the lives of my single and childless friends. 

Deleting my social media apps helped but I realized that only addressed the symptoms. I had more important work to do. I had to accept that the life I had chosen wasn’t easy. I had to listen when my therapist told me to grieve my other life, the one I said goodbye to when I had kids. I had to quit shoving down my disappointment. I had to cry.

Then, I had to rebuild. Some of my dreams would just have to come later; others would never happen at all. 

I can’t pretend I’ve done this well. But now, a 28-year-old mother of three, I remain committed to the work. I make a deliberate effort to see my family as the strongest threads holding my dreams together — not as the scissors cutting those dreams apart. This means I spend a lot of time talking myself into a healthier mindset. 

When I find myself thinking about a solo trip to Paris that may never be, I decide to instead look at family-sized cottages in the French countryside. When I recall the 1,500 words of my first novel that have sat untouched for two years, I remind myself of the writing career I’ve built with stories of my family.

But while I’d like to say “In conclusion, I’m good now!” that wouldn’t be honest. There are many, many days when I’m deliriously happy with the life I’ve chosen. There are also days when it’s still hard. I know there are consequences to every choice, including mine to become a mom at 21. But they’re sacrifices I’m willing to make in exchange for sharing my life with these three, beautiful little souls I helped create.

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