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On raising a child and growing up at the same time

By Melay Lapeña


People will say a lot about a teenage mother. They’ll say she’s easy, stupid, unfit, and a waste. “Sayang ka,” people will say. What a waste. How so, you might wonder – it’s not like getting pregnant means you can’t still do things with your life. People will say a lot, but what they don’t know is it’s nothing compared to what you tell yourself.

The thing about early motherhood, or any motherhood, really, is all the self-doubt. You wonder how you’re supposed to take care of someone when you can barely take care of yourself. You obsess about it the whole time you’re pregnant, worrying about what you’re supposed to eat and not eat, do and not do, not to mention how you’re supposed to give birth. Sure, you know how it goes, but how do you actually *do* it? (You just do it). At the same time, you wonder about yourself. What’s going to happen to the rest of my life? Will I still be able to do the things I want to do? Do I even know what I want to do?

Fifteen years later and guess what – you’re still filled with self-doubt. It never goes away, the uncertainty and the endless worrying. Everything was harder than you thought, but at the same time, not so hard that you couldn’t do it. Besides, there will always be people who will support you. Your family, or the family you choose to have. Without realising it, you’ve managed to be a mother anyway. It’s complicated, of course it is. There isn’t any guide for how to be a mother. How could we possibly instruct others on such a tough, and also tender, role? What do you say when your child insists that bears don’t have tails? What do you say when you discover your child is lying to you? What do you do when your child says “I hate you”?

There isn’t a guide, but it helps to think in terms of results. It may sound rather cold and detached, but it’s a practical approach to early motherhood. People will say a lot, and it doesn’t matter. You’re not easy, stupid, or unfit. You’re not a waste. You made mistakes, and what happens next is still up to you. What do you want to happen? How you parent depends on what kind of person you want to raise. It’s probably occurred to you that bringing a person into the world isn’t such a great idea – that is, unless, it’s a person who can make the world a better place. Of course, that means different things to different people. To me, it meant raising someone who is kind, who thinks carefully, and who cares.

In retrospect, having such a goal is a good anchor for almost any situation. It’s true that being a teenage mother is difficult. You haven’t gone through the usual life experiences, and now you won’t go through them in the usual order. You need to raise a person, and grow up at the same time. It’s difficult, yes, but it’s your reality now. You won’t be able to avoid worrying, but at the same time, you can’t afford to let it keep you from doing what you have to do – whether it’s looking for real bears, relearning algebra, or having a really tough conversation about telling the truth.

People will say a lot about a teenage mother, and it doesn’t matter. Being a mother isn’t about when or how you became pregnant. Being a mother is little things like reading the same stories five times a night and making up new ones on demand. Being a mother is the big things, like constantly imagining the worst that can happen. It’s struggling with the desire to keep your child safe forever, while wanting them to see the world. It’s trying your best and hoping you’re not failing as a mother. It’s knowing your life doesn’t belong to you, and your love is not enough. You have brought a person into the world. You must make it count.


Thumbnail photo by Melay’s daughter, Shibby : )


Note from Jean: If you want to share experiences the Growing Up MNL community can learn and grow from, please don’t hesitate to reach out via stories@growingupmnl.com.

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