Relationships

When a Teen Mom Hits Midlife

Raising children alongside folks much older than I failed to align my friends and me in many ways that matter now

33 years ago with my first daughter.

In the summer of 1982, I graduated from high school, turned 18, got married and had a baby. I went from kid to wife and mother in the span of three months, just like that.

My husband was 21 at the time. Now, 33 years later, we're empty-nesters. We've patted ourselves on the back for a job well done. We beat the odds and raised three lovely and amazing daughters from diapers to dorm rooms and into the real world. Our journey featured little outside the typical bumps, bruises and pains of parenthood, despite the fact that we were mere children ourselves at the outset. Our girls are grown and gone—one has even made us grandparents.

Time to rejoice! Time to enjoy midlife!

Time for an unexpected reality check, is more like it.

Once my kids split and I recovered from the initial empty-nest jitters, it became clear that having been a teen mother would continue to affect me—in some ways define me—into midlife and beyond. It hit me that raising children alongside folks much older than I failed to align my friends and me in many ways. Ways that matter now.

Because I was a teen mom, I've lived a life far older than my years. I missed out on all kinds of pivotal moments, experiences and opportunities that were commonplace for many of my contemporaries. You know, those experiences that provide fodder for storytelling at backyard barbecues and dinner parties, as well as the monetary means to mark items off bucket lists in a relatively unfettered fashion.

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Nowadays, there's more time to spend face-to-face or online with friends old and new, and in these recently increased interactions with fabulous fellow mother (and grandmother) buddies, I realize I will never catch up, never fully connect with them—because our experiences before parenthood bear so little in common.

For example, many of my current gal pals wore out the grooves of Janis Ian and Joni Mitchell record albums during the years I swooned to the Bay City Rollers and Eric Carmen. They made lifelong friends in college dorm rooms while I battled fickle BFFs in the junior-high hallways. They danced to “Saturday Night Fever” tunes in clubs while I learned the disco steps in high-school gym class. Many traveled abroad while I traveled to mommy support groups. As young women entering adulthood, my friends' idols leaned toward women with a feminist bent who could teach them to be strong; I sought role models that might teach me how to be "Mom."

I'm unable to catch up to their present experiences, too. Consider the television commercials aimed at baby boomers, the ones wherein happy silver-haired couples frolic on the beach and in foreign locales, thanks to savvy financial planning or plump pensions. Such golden moments are but a pipe dream for me. I won't retire. My husband won't retire. Neither of us went to college, so we don't have careers that required degrees and paid off in pension plans. We did OK, for the most part—just not the part that results in frolicking in the sun once we hit our late sixties.

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The plus side? As we keep our noses to the grindstone, we don't worry about the stats regarding middle-aged folks who kick the bucket soon after retirement because they're bored stiff.

Of course, not all my fellow empty-nesters wait until retirement to fill their passports with stamps, thanks to bank accounts that can support such pleasures. A fortunate few even plan annual vacations for their entire families, not just themselves. And unless we hit the lottery, that will never happen for us.

Despite our differences in age, I love the empty-nest moms I'm privileged to count among my friends. They look beyond my years and accept me as one of them and get a kick out of my having become a grandma before they did. Thankfully, I went through menopause early, so we at least have that in common.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not bitter about what I lost or lack due to my crash course into adulthood. I was simply caught off-guard to find that at midlife it still mattered.

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