parent opinion

Here's the real reason you feel like a 'teen mum'.

The other day I had to book an appointment for my almost-two-year-old. On the phone I told the receptionist I'd like to schedule a time for "my daughter" to see the doctor.

Inside my head I chuckled. I have a daughter. It is still so bizarre to me that I have a child, especially considering I am a teen mum.

Except I'm not a teen mum at all. I'm in my mid-30s.

Recently I've been scrolling TikTok and noticing a trend. There are a bunch of mums across the world who are in their 20s and 30s who — just like me — feel like they are way too young to be parents. But, in fact, we are smack bang in the average bracket, with 38 percent of all Aussie mums being aged between 30 and 34.


Same feeling I get when a cop car is behind me even though I haven’t broken any laws

♬ original sound - Lisa P

So why oh why do I feel like people are staring at me when I go to the shops with my daughter and whispering under their breath how shocking it is to see such a youthful, teen mother in their midst?

Trust me, writing that sentence out is almost as hilarious as it is reading it. On sight, I am absolutely a mother in her 30s. New Balance sneakers — check. Mum bob — check. Whispers of grey hair threatening to peek through — huge check.

But on the inside, I'm still as youthful as the day I bought my first CD to play in my Discman. It's a feeling. Perhaps it's me still coming to terms with the mammoth responsibility of being given the honour of raising a small child, which — in all it's messy and delightful glory — is still absolutely terrifying.


Watch: Be A Good Mum. Story continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

What is this feeling that me and so many other mums are feeling around the world? I reached out to the professionals on this one to see if there's an underlying socio-psychological trend that might explain why we think we're 'teen mums' when, in reality, we are very much not. 

I spoke to clinical psychologist Dr Kimberly Stirling to probe a bit further into this subject and get some answers.

First, Dr Stirling said that we have to factor in some pretty major generational changes that have changed from the way our parents raised us and the expectations now placed on millennial parents.

"There is more information readily available to us and more freedom to make values-based individual choices for our families," she said. "However, there is also a message that we should fit our children in with our existing lifestyle — 'do it all', 'have it all'. This may make it challenging to find a balance between including our children in a lifestyle that we value, and making adjustments to prioritise their developmental needs above our own desires."

@linniengoctran 🥲 #newmomlife ♬ original sound - 🫧Kymani🫧

Also in stark contrast to how we differ from our parents' generation, we've had to endure some pretty challenging economic swings throughout our formative adult years. Society tells us we can't afford a house, which is something that marked an unofficial entry into adulthood in previous generations. Perhaps this stunting of typical adult markers is making us feel like we aren't adults. In our eyes, our parents are the model of adults and we aren't living up to those previous societal norms.

Dr Stirling also added that the increase in online parenting content has also left some mothers feeling insufficient when comparing their lives to those they see on the internet. Much like many teenagers begin to feel inadequate after scrolling online, so too do parents, which can leave us feeling ill-equipped to handle motherhood.

"Parents can often struggle with a sense of overwhelm and feeling 'not good enough' due to the sheer amount of information online about parenting and child development," she said. "They can find it challenging seeing other parents who seem to have it all figured out, and can be left feeling 'too young' and unequipped to do it well enough."

We also lived through COVID-19, which for many of us took away a chunk of our late 20s. It's that idea of the 'COVID skip', where we leaped over those years of fun and independence and launched right into responsibility. While we might have physically and emotionally moved on with our lives — finding partners, getting married, having babies — there's a sense that part of our youth is still catching up to our current day thanks to a global pandemic.

@sadiehalberg I also feel this way when I buy pregnancy tests 😂 Baby #2 here we come! #momhumor #momtok #pregnancyhumor #baby #firsttrimestrepregnancy #pregnancy #hellpsyndrome #pregnantmama #pregnancyjourney #highriskpregnancy #2under2 #ultrasound ♬ Rubble to rubble by wilderado - Toria

And then there's that good ol' ageism that creeps into our minds at any given point. I'd like to think that, as a society, we've gotten to a point where we are becoming more accepting of our place in the world at the age we are right now without feeling shame. But it's still there. And feeling like we're younger, like a teen mum for example, almost acts as deflection and self-protection from our feelings tied up in age shame.

@gswagsters Yay or nay #momsoftiktok ♬ original sound - gabs

So, if you're feeling like a 'teen mum' when in reality you're not, a few different factors may be culminating in this idea in your head. But fear not! You're not doing anything wrong. In fact, Dr Stirling suggests leaning into the feeling while finding a parenting style that works for you specifically.

"The most helpful approach we can take is to find parenting approaches that fit with our own values and try to unhook from the other noise," said Dr Stirling. "We can also focus on making values-focused decisions about family activities so that we can still have fun and enjoy being young at heart, while also meeting our children where they are at."

Next time you're at the shops and you think people are staring at you for being a young mum, have a chuckle and don't let any feelings of shame or thoughts of being a substandard parent creep in. You're doing amazing sweetie — and yes, you do look incredible.

Feature Image: TikTok/@sadiehalberg; Supplied/Lisa Hamilton.

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