When I was in high school and looking forward to my 20s as the pinnacle of adulthood (“After that, you just get wrinkly and wait to die, right?” – me as a child), I envisioned a decade defined by thrilling career milestones, rewarding friendships, amazing sex with a multitude of prize partners (one of whom would, of course, end up being the Love Of My Life™), and most importantly, complete and total freedom. The idea of having kids was something that belonged to my idea of my 30s, if it was going to happen at all, which I wasn’t entirely convinced it would. This idyllic portrait of adulthood lived in my mind for my entire life until, as it always goes, my 20s actually arrived and reality set in.
Don’t get me wrong, my 20s has contained everything I ever expected — there have undoubtedly been thrilling career milestones, rewarding friendships, and amazing sex — but there was also something I never saw coming: having a child at age 25. (Although, to be fair, with all the amazing sex I was having, you’d think I would’ve at least considered the possibility, but hey, live and learn.) While dropping a shorty this early in life was never a part of my plan, I’m a few years into the parenting game now, and I’m starting to think embarking on this part of my life at this particular point in my life might be the most flawless timing possible.
It’s like this massive item on my Big Life To-Do List has been crossed off. A huge question — will I have kids or won’t I, and if so, when? — has been answered, and there’s undeniably an incredibly comforting sense of relief with that. If your 20s is supposed to be a time of sorting out what shapes and structures will go on to form the rest of your life, certainly it’s convenient to let this huge piece come into the picture while everything is still in the building stages. There was never any need, like so many older first-time parents find themselves tasked with doing — to deconstruct my life, to break it apart, and reassemble to pieces in a new way to accommodate for the inclusion of a child. He showed up while I was putting it all together the first time, in my mid 20s, which is so much easier.
Whether you planned on having a child in your 20s or it was a total surprise that you just rolled with, you’ve probably discovered some of the following upsides. (And if you’re just now pregnant, or a 20-something parent to a new kiddo, take note of what’s to come. Welcome to the club.)
You're Physically Less Of A Disaster Than You'll Probably Be At Any Other Time In Your Rapidly Decaying Life
Giving birth and raising a kid require so much physical strength and endurance. It’s shocking the extreme limits your body is called upon to reach when you’re pregnant, and when you give birth. (And that’s true whether you shoot it out the old fashioned way, or get a c-section — your body goes through a lot.) And then, once that grueling endeavor is over, and the kid is actually here, in the world, you have to spend roughly the next 2 years carrying it around. It’s like if you had to carry a kettlebell in your purse for two years and also that kettlebell sometimes wanted to accidentally scratch your eye, or punch your throat, or bite your nipple until it was literally bleeding. And then, just when you get to stop carrying the kid around all the time, you realize something worse has happened than it not being able to walk: it can walk. It can walk toward stairs, and hot stoves, and spike-covered edges surrounded by flames and venomous snakes (which you’ll suddenly realize are absolutely everywhere; who designed this death trap of a world anyway?), and now you have to run after your child. Running all the time. This lasts for several more years. And often, you still will find yourself having to pick the kid up, only this time they weigh 45 pounds and they flail around when they’re pissed off. Carrying a melting down toddler is not unlike trying to hold a thrashing shark: They’re surprisingly strong, and the experience is genuinely terrifying, and you might die. (You probably won't die. I'm sorry, I haven't had a good night's sleep in 4 years; I can't put together a metaphor.)
The point: Being a parent is an incredibly physical job. No, not every 20-something is lucky enough to have a body that doesn't suck. And no, not every older-than-20-something has a body that sucks. It’s not that older parents can’t keep up, but from what I understand about how bodies work, they’re generally stronger and better able to recover from things like birth and child-induced injuries when you’re young. I sprained my ankle chasing my 3-year-old. It healed in a few weeks. My mom sprained her ankle last year. It took her 3 months to fully heal, and she still complains about it sometimes. I can’t imagine being in your 20s is anything but a huge advantage when it comes to physically enduring parenthood.
The point: Being a parent is an incredibly physical job. It’s not that older parents can’t keep up, but from what I understand about how bodies work, they’re generally stronger and better able to recover from things like birth and child-induced injuries when you’re young. I sprained my ankle chasing my 3-year-old. It healed in a few weeks. My mom sprained her ankle last year. It took her 3 months to fully heal, and she still complains about it sometimes. I can’t imagine being in your 20s is anything but a huge advantage when it comes to physically enduring parenthood.
Sometimes It’s Easier To Take Time Off Work In The Beginning Of Your Career
I’m not asserting that having a baby necessarily means taking considerable time off of work. It doesn't mean that for everyone. Or maybe you don't work outside the home, and that's cool. I don't know your life. I know plenty of moms (myself included) who worked until the day they gave birth, and went back almost immediately. I also know plenty of moms who have jobs that physically made them unable to work the entire time they were pregnant, and even more who simply chose to take some time away from work because they could and wanted to. There is no single, universal prescription for how to manage your work life during pregnancy and beyond.
But for most people, your 20s is a time when you’re still in the building stages of your career. For me, this was the case, and if you had asked me before I got pregnant (or especially while I was pregnant and totally freaking out about the amount of energy that I was putting into planning for a baby instead of planning for the future of my career), I would’ve said that the fact that your 20s is when you’re breaking ground on your professional life meant that it’s a particularly bad time for having kids. This, I’ve come to believe, is not actually true.
My new feeling is this: If you’re going to divert energy away from your career, it might actually be better to do it in the beginning. Because the thing is, even if you work all through your pregnancy and never officially “take time off” work, or only take off a few months, your attention is going to be unavoidably less focused on work for at least the first year or two. Your kid is like this whole other project — an incredibly challenging, mega-involved project — that you’re getting off the ground. Even if you keep working, there are literally only so many hours in the day, and you’ll end up with fewer of them for work.
It’s a bummer, but it’s OK. Because eventually, you get the hours back. Your kid will always be there, but in a few years, you’ll find they take way less time (no person requires as much of your time and energy as an actual fresh baby), and then they go to school, and have sleepovers, and camp, and a life of their own. And if you had your child when you were in your 20s, then by the time they’re in school, you’re still so young with so much of your career ahead of you. Slowing down your professional momentum early in the game might feel like a huge setback when you see your peers hustling to get ahead, but what’s seems far more damaging to a lot of careers than hanging back at the starting line is waiting a few more years until you’re in the middle of the race — maybe you’re climbing the ranks, starting to make things happen, vying for promotions, living out a power suit-clad montage of excellence, and really starting to accomplish things — and then taking a time out.
Again, everyone has to make a timing judgment call based on the specifics of what’s right for them, their job, and their family, but for me, slowing down on work stuff when my son was first born was hard. But when I look at where my career is now, just a few years later? I sincerely don’t know how I would manage to take energy away from work without feeling like I was taking myself out of the game at a crucial moment. People who have kids in their 20s get to benefit of taking their time out before the game even really gets interesting.
Your Own Childhood Isn’t So Far Behind You
This is such a strength in parenting, I think. Maybe it’s just my memory that sucks, but the further away from my childhood I get, the less I remember. And remembering your childhood is crucial to making the most of it for the benefit of your own kids: You’re better able to recall the things you loved doing, so you can share them with your brood, and you’re better able to recall all the things your parents did wrong (don’t get smug, we’re still going to ruin our kids in our own special ways) so you’re less likely to replicate them. Mostly, being still somewhat attached to our child selves — but with all the wisdom, stability, and food-buying abilities of adulthood — makes us infinitely more able to relate to our kids. This will not only result in our children getting all the powerful reassurance that comes from feeling truly understood by their parents, but it makes the whole relationship so much more fun for everyone.
Your Parents Are Younger Too
Sure, your parents might’ve been on the older side when you were born, so it’s not like they’re super young, but still, they’re younger than they would’ve been had you waited until you were older to have kids. Ha! You can’t argue with my pristine logic. Having a kid in your 20s not only gives your child young parents, and all the perks that come with that, but younger grandparents too. Basically, you all get more time together to have great experiences and make important memories together before people start getting old and dying (oh, stop acting like I just told you Santa isn't real; you know people die).
Fewer Of Your Friends Have Kids
I know what you’re thinking: “But isn’t that a downside to having kids in your 20s? Won’t I wish I had friends who could relate to what I’m going through, and won’t my kid wish my friends had children he could play with?” No, you fool! I mean, OK, some of that is valid, and you probably will feel those things at times. But mostly, being one of the first among your friends to procreate is pretty fantastic. For starters, you’re talking about a ton of honorary aunts and uncles to love your kid, buy it presents, and teach it about the White Stripes. If they had their own offspring, they would be too busy bestowing those joys on their kids instead of yours. Lame! Forget their kids! Way more fun for your little pal to be the center of all of your worlds, at least for a while. And then, once your friends do start popping off with babies of their own, you get to be the knowledgeable, experienced friend who gives them great advice. Plus, there’s nothing better than having survived the intense, exhausting newborn days, and then watching someone else go through it and being thankful that it’s not you. (You know it’s true. It’s fine. We’re all somewhat terrible people.)
Anything You Haven't Done Yet, You Get To Do With Them, Which Isn't As Lame As It Sounds
When I was pregnant and had not yet met, and thus, did not really “love” my child, I would sometimes get bummed out thinking about all the things that I hadn’t yet done, like, say, travel to Russia. People would say, “Oh, but just wait a few years and you get to do that with your child, and that’ll be even better!” I thought those people were insane. I’ve always enjoyed doing things on my own, and who wants to drag a kid around? Sounds like dead weight, if you asked me back then. But then a weird thing happened: I had a baby, he grew up to become a tiny person, and that tiny person is, by far, the best company in the world. He’s funny and weird and gets so incredibly psyched about experiencing new things that it makes me more psyched about them. Although, yes, he’s definitely dead weight sometimes. (You can’t carry ONE Trader Joe’s bag the 3 blocks to our apartment? Really?) Not to be a traitor to my pre-baby cynicism, but I’m actually starting to think that I might really enjoy getting to continue my Bucket List in a few years with my kid — and that doing so might not rob me of the integrity of those experiences at all. It might actually make doing all of it way more exciting.