I grew up as an only child in the suburb of Aloha, Oregon. My parents came from very different backgrounds: my father was a Buddhist Cambodian immigrant, and my mother was a Catholic of Irish descent, born and raised in America. They raised me with strong values and a good work ethic, teaching me to be responsible and respectful. However, some of their differences created major challenges in raising a family together. I tried to keep the peace by being well behaved as much as possible. I was extremely shy, yet had many cherished friends to keep me busy. I loved playing outside with all the neighborhood kids until sundown. My fondest memories are of the years before my parents split.
My parents went through an ugly divorce when I was 12 years old. After that, my life changed tremendously. For the next five years, I moved homes and changed schools several times. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the extra support and accountability that an extended family can offer, especially in challenging times. Outside of my parents, I didn’t have mentors or relatives that I felt I could turn to for direction in life. My mom’s family was not very close, even though they were all local, so I never formed strong ties to them. I felt I barely knew them outside of visits with my mom. My dad’s family all lived overseas, and even though we stayed in contact I could never get close to them because of the distance and language barrier.
I had many great friends come into my life, but I became used to people I was close to leaving my life just as often. Because we moved frequently, I learned to adapt by not getting too attached to people or my surroundings. It seemed as if nothing was permanent in my life. In 1996, I dropped out of my junior year of high school. Between moving so many times and losing important loved ones in my life, I lost interest in school. I decided to get my GED and work full time.
I was 17 when I found out I was pregnant. So many complicated emotions ran through my mind and the pregnancy added challenging dynamics to my life. It took a while for reality to sink in; I had to adjust to some big changes, and had no idea what to expect. My life took a major turn. I can only imagine how much harder it would have been to be pregnant while in school.
No one has ever treated me poorly because I was a teen mom. However, people often have questions about what it was like for me and seem to reflect on how their own parenting experiences could have been more challenging.
My parents were the most helpful and supportive people at the time of Vanessa’s birth. This event brought some healing to the previous two years of my life, which had been pretty painful. Between the two of them, I felt well supported from birthing classes, to learning to cook, and getting my first car. Also, one of my friends had her baby six months before I did, and then shortly after me a bunch of my friends started having babies. The good thing was that we could all be of support to one another and understand the big changes we were going through.
Now, at age 38, I am happily married with a new baby girl and four stepsons. Vanessa is 20 years old and still lives at home. My new husband and I are able to guide our children in ways our parents were not able to do for us, and it feels good. I have learned so much over the years.
Periodically, I remind Vanessa to be prepared for the consequences of her choices. In a perfect world, I would have waited to become a parent until I was much older and experienced in my life, but things happened differently. Perhaps they happened just as they should have. Vanessa has several friends who became teen moms, so she has seen their lives change drastically. She also helps care for her baby sister regularly, so she has a more realistic understanding of what being a parent is truly like, at any age.
I look at these young moms and see myself in them. I think about all the things I would have done differently, had I been more mature. I know the struggles these girls are going to face and feel compassion for them. There are many worse things than being a teen mom; however, I feel that young women will appreciate motherhood so much more if they wait until they are better prepared, well supported, and have experienced what life has to offer before having a child.