Take a peek into the life of Claire, a young mom living the Army lifestyle and chronicling her experience at The Half-Hearted Housewife.
1. How old were you when you first got pregnant?
I was 22 at the start of my pregnancy and had turned 23 a couple of months before my first was born. It surprised me that it took 10 months of trying, even though I was so young!
2. How old are your babies now?
My oldest is 5, my middle son is almost 3 and the youngest is 10.5 months old. It’s chaos!
3. You planned to start earlier than your other friends -- what were your biggest reasons?
My husband is enlisted in the Army, so we knew that the payscale and job constraints wouldn’t allow us to vacation, sleep in often or live extravagantly. We also knew that we wanted to have a family that was on the bigger side of average. So our feeling was that since we had good health insurance and other military benefits designed to make life easier for families, we may as well have kids earlier rather than later. When my husband retires our children will have left the nest or be getting ready to do so. We will be able to travel and enjoy life in retirement!
4. How do you handle judgment, from getting married at 21 to having a baby at 23?
The judgments bothered me much more when my oldest was a baby. I think every new mother feels a little insecure as we settle into the role of mom. When people are judging you on top of the normal insecurity, it can be hard to find your footing. But as I gained more confidence in my mothering, I learned to ignore the disdainful looks -- as well people asking me if I'm the nanny, if the child was planned (Seriously people? Why ask that?) and “How old are you again?” If another mother doesn’t want to be friendly because she thinks I’m too young, then I think that’s her loss.
5. Your situation is unique, being an Army family. What advice would you give to other young Army moms?
I think you need to have a strong foundation in your relationship and confidence in yourself. It's a struggle for all moms to make friends. Add constant moves and frequent bouts of parenting alone (while our soldiers are deployed or training), and it makes finding friends even more difficult. So there are times when you’ll be in a new place and not have many friends yet, so your partner better be someone you enjoy spending time with! You also have to be able to put yourself out there, perhaps more so than a civilian mom. There are often playgroups or parenting support groups on post/base run by the Morale Welfare and Recreation departments. If there is a Family Readiness Group, get involved. Other military spouses are used to moving a lot too! They are usually good about welcoming new people into the crowd.
Also make sure you know that almost every post/base has people there to help you. There are usually educational liason offices to help with school issues, First Aid/CPR classes, JAG offices for legal assistance, hourly daycare (and you get some hourly daycare for free each month if your spouse is deployed), and employment assistance if you need that.
6. Is young motherhood different than you had imagined it?
I think motherhood in general is much more fun than I had anticipated. I’m not sure if it's because I started younger, but I do think that I laugh much more than I thought I would. And once I got over my initial sensitivity to judgments about my age, I realized that friends could be found based on our place in life rather than on our age. If a friend is 10 years older than I am but we can both whine about potty training while out to dinner, does it matter what year we were each born?
7. Did you find it hard to connect with your pre-baby friends?
Connecting was particularly hard when my first was born. There was something so lonely about being the only one who was married and had a baby. You can’t talk about colic, post-baby body struggles or explain the overwhelming emotions. The first of my friends had babies this summer, after my third was born. In some ways, I wanted to say, “Finally!” No one can truly understand how much motherhood changes you and your life, except other mothers. So it’s nice that I’m not all alone any more. Until other friends had children I felt like I had to downplay my kids and make sure the boys weren’t my only topic of conversation. But I'm lucky that I'm still close with all of my high school friends.
8. In your opinion, what's the biggest advantage to having kids young?
I have more energy than I think I'll have 15 years from now. That's not to say that all younger mothers have more energy than older mothers, but this is just how I feel about myself. And I have to say that although I adore my kids, I'm looking forward to enjoying retirement with my husband! We should be able to spend our 50s enjoying time together, with the bulk of our most intense parenting years behind us (hopefully!).
9. What's been your biggest challenge?
Money is definitely an issue. One of the hardest things about starting out young is that we also start out with less money. I’m sure this isn’t an issue for all young mothers, but I’m guessing it is for a lot of us! We have to budget, can’t afford fancy vacations, nor can we buy every piece of baby gear out there. But we try to make the best choices we can -- handing down clothes, using cloth diapers (most of the time), and saving up for big ticket items like car seats.
10. What's one thing you wish you knew just starting out as a young mom?
I wish I knew to trust my instincts! I’m a better mother than I think I am, but I have trouble owning that sometimes. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. But I'm doing the best I can to do my job well. That being said, I also wish I had known that I'd make mistakes, but it would be okay. My kids won’t turn out perfect (because no one is perfect), but they'll be surrounded by love and fun and support. That should be enough, right?