The age of the average first time mother in New York City, where I became a mom, is the same as it is nationally: 26 years old. So I was technically two years older than average when I had my first child. But in my social circle (consisting of women who, on the whole, look a lot like me on paper) I was the first. In fact, four years after the birth of my first child, none of my friends in New York have had a baby yet. So over the past few years—half of that time in my twenties, half in my thirties—with a solid 8 years of “childfree twenties” memories under my belt, I often find myself frequently wondering what my life would have been like had I waited to have children until later. What if I’d waited until now to start my family? What would my life be like if I’d waited until 35? 42? What if I decided to be one of those women who give birth in their 60s that you sometimes read about? OK, no, thanks. You do you, other ladies, but that’s a big no thanks from me.
Ultimately and every day, I know I made the right decision for me. Just to be absolutely clear on this issue: There is no universal right decision about when or if to have kids. I know for a fact all of my friends who went through their 20s without having children know they made the right choice for themselves. But it’s still a fun little game to wonder “what if” and to look back and reflect on how different my 20s looked before and after the birth of my lovely boy. Becoming a mom was “the record-scratch moment” of that decade. It was the moment when my 20s as I knew them stopped and all of a sudden life was different.
Not knocking these lists at all (I mean, hello, I too am a professional maker of Internet lists. Respect, fellow list writers.), but most are obviously not designed with parents in mind. And that’s fine. But it’s still funny to see them pop up every now and then and be like, “Oh, I should point my finger on a map and go there? And I should take big career risks? Be selfish? All this while raising a child?” Yeah, these aren’t going to work at all.
This is tough. These are the years where you’re hoping to make yourself known and set yourself down the path toward your career goals, and it’s hard to put in the extra hours often necessary to catch the attention of your bosses or even to live up to your own high and ambitious expectations to achieve that. Also, you’re doing this while running on not too much sleep and a constant preoccupation (for better and for worse) for something you love more than yourself or career. Of course, this is an issue for mothers with careers at any age, but by your 30s or 40s you’ve probably built up a more substantial resume to prove yourself. In your 20s, you’re mostly running on grit and Starbucks.
Here’s an impression of my Facebook feed back around the time my son was born.
Me: [Picture of my kid]
Friend 1: [Picture of vacation]
Friend 2: [Picture of Happy Hour]
Friend 3: [Same picture Friend 1 posted, because the are on vacation together, along with a couple other friends, who posted the same picture on Instagram]
Friend 4: [Picture of the same Happy Hour Friend 2 is at]
Friend 2: Yo, Friend 4, are you at Lilie’s on 17th?
Friend 4: LOL! I’m at the end of the bar!
Friend 2: I see you!
Friend 4: Look who I found! [Selfie of her with Friend 2]
Friend 5: [Picture of a wing of a plane] Heading to San Francisco for a business trip. Will be available some evenings and Friday after 2. Anyone want to get together?
Literally all of our mutual friends who live in San Francisco: YES!
Me: [Picture of my kid]
First of all, nothing is done spontaneously, because it can’t be. You’re going to have to plan child care, which can be a whole damn ordeal (and a costly one at that). Once you’re out, you always have to keep in mind that you have an agreed upon time to be back to your little one, and you’re going to have to take care of them when you get there (so it behooves you not to go too buckwild). Even if your friend is like, “Oh, just bring your kid,” it’s not going to be casual because you have to be responsible for your kid, which is often a full-time job in and of itself, which will suck any casualness out of the social event in question.
Before I had my son, sometimes I would play hookie. I would email my boss that I wasn’t feeling well, curl up under my blankets and sleep for another four hours. Then I’d get up, get a bagel (pumpernickle with veggie cream cheese, obvi), get a mani-pedi, and then maybe hit a museum before going to the park with a book. Or I wouldn’t leave my apartment and would watch an unhealthy amount of Law and Order. Because I could. After my son was born, hookie was a no-go for a few reasons:
There are no more days off after you have kids, despite what your 20-something dream life might look like in your head. There are simply "days when you work" or "days with your kid" and usually all days involve both, but there are very rarely, if ever, days devoid of either.
Look, I’m not saying that people in their 20s without children are trainwrecks who need to get their sh*t together. I’m also not saying that having a child instantly makes you know what the hell you’re doing. For example: I have a ton of child-free friends who started very serious and adult 401K and Roth IRAs and a lot of other bank accounts with letters and numbers I do not understand. Meanwhile, I’m over here, 32 with two children like, “I think robots are going to overthrow us all before I’d ever be able to cash in on a retirement account, so what’s the point?” Like, procreating does not a perfect adult make.
Regardless of your ability to adult-as-a-verb, chances are it’s better as a 20-something with kids than it was when you were a 20-something without kids, and that’s by necessity. When you’re responsible for another living creature, you really can’t be flip. I mean, you could try it, but chances are that attitude will come back to bite you in the ass sooner rather than later, and then you go out of your way to avoid such a bite in the future. This is how adults are made.
Before I had children, I could kind of ignore the ass-bites from time to time, because I knew I could survive another, and I knew I would be able to pick myself up in the very worst case scenario. But when you have kids, bad decisions don’t just bit you in the ass—they also bite your kids in the ass, and that hurts so much more. So some people heed the assbites faster than others and get good and grounded; you don’t need a kid to achieve this level of adulthood, but they are a great way to reach said level in a jiffy.
Images: Jessica Blankenship; Giphy(6)