My mother had me when she was 18 years old. It didn’t strike me until I was older that this wasn’t typical and what an incredible challenge that must have been for her. But that it took me a long time to realize this simple fact speaks to how amazing my mother (and her support system) was (and is). Her strength, courage, and hard work are emblematic of the tenacity of millions of young mothers who make due and sometimes even thrive for their children despite innumerable challenges.

I had my first child at 28 years old. At the same age, my mom had already had four kids. My mom is fond of saying that she “could have been a statistic over and over again” for all the completely difficult things that happened to her in that span. She says this completely without judgement or self-congratulations, but with genuine gratitude for her combination of good fortune, support, and work. It’s true: Young mothers, especially teen mothers, have a lot of very scary statistics to overcome, not least among them their ability to complete their educational goals, whether high school or college. But every day, young women manage to defy statistics and expectations, drawing on incredible perseverance to create a life for themselves and their children.

They Have To Forge Their Own Path

The average age for a first time mother in the United States is 26. So young moms don’t usually have a community of friends and peers around them who can help them navigate the ins and outs of motherhood (though nowadays the Internet probably helps). In addition to managing figuring everything out, they often have to deal with feelings of isolation and loneliness as the rest of their friends do more age typical activities.

They Have To Grow Up Quickly

I think about it this way: When I was 21, I was a junior in college, bumming around New York every weekend, and spending my free time doing theater. When my mom was 21, she was a widow with two children. Needless to say, that broad was way more mature and capable at 21 years old than I was. And it’s fine that that’s how it was; I was under no obligation to be any more responsible than a typical 21-year-old college student. It’s not an indictment against the women who don't have kids when they're young, thus enabling them to retain a youthful irresponsibility, so much as it speaks to the fortitude of young moms.

They Have To Deal With Stereotyping And Judgment

Sure, to a certain degree, what woman doesn’t face judgment at times? But young moms have their own unique and particularly venomous brand of judgment to face. From the people who assume you don’t know what you’re doing (in your life, with your kids) to the politicians who use you as a rhetorical device when talking about abstinence-only education, many people assume they know everything about your life and character based on the fact that you are a young mother. (These people are douchebags, to be clear.)

They Have To Work Harder Than Both Their Childfree Peers and Older Moms

Unless they were born independently wealthy or were a wunderkind who developed a wildly popular app in 10th grade or something, young moms are usually at a disadvantage professionally. Maybe their education was derailed because they had a child, which places higher paying jobs beyond their reach. Even if they were able to finish school before having a child, they are starting their careers (at the bottom of the pay scale) while under the obligation to provide for another human being. So whether it’s a question of busting their asses working multiple, lower-paying jobs to provide for their children, busting their asses providing for their children while getting an education, or busting their asses to rise in their field while raising a child, the point is, young mothers usually have to bust their asses way more than most people. And the magical thing is they do it every damn day and they are awesome. I guess nothing motivates you quite like your babies.

They Have To Endure An Endless Barrage Of Gilmore Girls Comparisons

No? Just me and my mom? Guys, it was constant. Constant. “ERMIGERD! YOU’RE JUST LIKE RORY AND LORELAI!” No. No, we’re not. She had me as a teenager and we’re close, BUT WE ARE NOTHING LIKE THEM! WE SPEAK AT A NORMAL SPEED! Look, I know hating The Gilmore Girls is an unpopular stance to take, and maybe it’s because we got all the comparisons, but it got old fast.

They Have To Learn Who They Are While Devoting Themselves To Another Person

For a lot of us, our late teens and early 20s are prime “self-discovery” time. We’re basically just responsible for ourselves at that point: We have our own adventures, we make ridiculous, stupid mistakes, and we learn and grow from them. Young moms do their own version of all this, but they have to do it while making sure their baby is being nurtured and supported in their psychological (and physical) growth and development. To call it a difficult balancing act is putting it lightly, to say the least. Anyone who has had children will probably tell you that it’s easy to lose yourself in your children and all you have to do for them; one must consciously choose to maintain their own identities. Young mothers are not only in the position of having to maintain their own identities, but discovering and asserting them in the first place. My mom and I once discussed how much she’s changed from my childhood and I replied, “Well, we grew up together.” She thought that pretty much summed it up.

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