I May Be A Young Mom, But I’m Officially Too Old For Cut-Off Jean Shorts

young momI am not what you’d call a typical teen mom. There is, of course, the little detail that I’m not a teen anymore. I’m not even close. Turning 30 last summer involved the time honored ritual of folding up my jean shorts, placing them high on a shelf in the back of my closet, and vowing never to take them down again, except in cases of extreme emergency. The impetus to put away the shorts was not the insistent ticking of some kind of propriety-focused biological clock. And it wasn’t based on not looking good in them anymore. Frankly, I’m not so sure I looked good in them to begin with. I’ve got the kind of pale skin that only reddens in the sun, giving my legs the flattering look of lightly boiled weisswurst. No, this decision was based on a dinner conversation during which my 10-year-old son remarked, ”You know, Mom, Olivia at school wears shorts just like that. Only yours are a little bit shorter.”

And so that’s when I decided to pack up the jean shorts””I still patently refuse to call them “jorts.” I packed them up because, if my head-in-the-clouds 10-year-old notices that I’m dressing like the girls in his class, then the parents on the playground notice too, and I go out of my way to avoid being judged. Or at least, I go out of my way to avoid being judged on the basis of things I can control.

Everyone knows that judgment goes hand-in-hand with parenthood. While many parents turn their most critical gazes inward, many others can’t help but focus their withering disapproval on those around them. And there are plenty of things of which to disapprove. There are the parents who let their 8-year-old daughter splash in the playground fountain; naked as the day she was born. There is the mother who gives her 10-month-old son a bottle full of chocolate milk. There is the father who watches his 5-year-old shine a column of searing sunlight through a magnifying glass and onto a column of ants and shrugs, saying, ”Boys will be boys.” There is the mother who never even tried breastfeeding and there is the mother who breastfeeds her kindergartener.

The list goes on and each hot button parenting decision’s controversy rests mainly in the established norms of whatever social strata a parent finds himself or herself in. This is crucial because what is looked askance at in a brownstone Brooklyn might be welcomed as a traditional method of childrearing in Appalachian Kentucky.

In my case, the decision to have a child before I was legally able to drink the pint of Guinness that my doctor recommended to increase the quantity of breast milk I was producing has set me up for a decade of questions and comments from the parents in my neighborhood. Some of the stuff people say is barbed, ”Oh, you were so smart to have them young. I was focusing on college and my career, but I see that it’s working out for you just fine.” Some of the questions are more innocuous, ”Are you the nanny?” But everything puts me on guard, makes me feel like I need to prove that I am not just an adequate mother, but that I am a Supermom. So I have overcompensated by breastfeeding my kids for the perfect amount of time, giving them only organic snacks to bring to the playground, establishing a pre-school cooperative in my neighborhood, closely monitoring all television time, signing them up for all the right classes and all the right lessons, only bringing homemade cookies and cupcakes to bake sales, and becoming class parent. If I do all this, I think, they will know I belong.

But will I? In some ways, I do belong. Yes, I had my kids at a relatively young age; I was 20 when the first was born and 23 when the second came along. But I was also married and we were homeowners and had the kind of stability and resources that are accorded very few young parents. In other ways, I feel like I will always be looked at as an anomaly; someone not to be fully trusted because my life choices took me to maybe the same place that most people were in, but in a completely different way. I understand the impulse to judge other people’s parenting skills. I do it all the time. But I’ve lately realized that I don’t judge because there isn’t one objectively right way to parent. Rather I choose my routes because I am constantly afraid that my choices will take my children’s lives to a place where I am afraid for them to go. Maybe””definitely””that even includes places that I have ventured.

The only thing I know for certain is that when someone tosses off a casual remark about getting in the tub with her fifth-grade son, one of the reasons that I silently wonder what the chances are that this special tub-time WON’T be therapy fodder in a decade or two, is that I cling to the hope that if I don’t have that particular parenting quirk, then maybe my kids will end up okay. Just as I’m sure that some of the parents who see me with my kids in a particularly harried moment congratulate themselves on having waited to marry and raise a family because their own kids will likely benefit from that sense of security and accomplishment that comes with parental age and experience.

The truth is that the group that I want to belong to is not the mothers clustered in the schoolyard at pick-up time, looking for all the world like the cliques that we either belonged to or were shunned by when we were our children’s age. I want to belong to that group of parents who can look at their own children and their own decisions, not anybody else’s, and feel confident that they are doing their best. However, that is much easier to aspire to than to act on. For now, I try to do my own thing and try not look too harshly on other’s choices. And I am mostly successful, except for those times when I go to pick up my child from a play-date and am confronted with life-sized framed nude portraits of the mother and father lining the hallways. 

You can reach this post’s author, Kristen Iversen, via email at kristinmiversen@gmail.com

(photo: Shutterstock)

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