Something I talk a lot on my blog about is my niece. Something I don't talk about all that much is her parents and my family - I don't know if I have ever mentioned that she is the daughter of my younger brother, but I am mentioning it now.
More and more lately I am hearing jokes made about young parents, about young mums, about what their character must be like for having a kid so young. I've seen Father's Day cads like 'I'm not pregnant so you must've done something right' and you can' have missed the memes on Facebook like 'holla to the 90s babies without a baby'. I don't know if it's a growing theme or if I am more sensitive to it but it got me thinking about judgement and the stigma surrounding young parents.
It's not hard to work out that my niece is the love of my life, that I adore her and that I spend up to 4 times a week with her. I am thrilled to be called Auntie Gwennan at 23 years of age- but I didn't always feel that way.
The things I thought and said in October 2014 when I found out my brother was going to be a Dad were not supportive and not all that nice and although I don't regret them as such, I am ashamed I was so close minded.
I don't want to go too in depth to the events of the past year and a half because it's private to a lot more of my family than me and whilst I'm happy to talk about my life on my blog, they don't have a blog online and air their dirty laundry to the world for a reason. However, from my perspective, I was instantly judgemental. It took me till the day my niece was born to come to terms with it and to throw myself into being an auntie and a better sister. I made no attempts to spend time with my brother and his girlfriend in the 9 months before she came into the world and I know my normally close relationship with my brother suffered. I'm over the moon to say we're now back to being like besties and I have a fab relationship with is girlfriend too (I feel like I should be saying sister in law or something, girlfriend seems like such a crap term for the mother of my niece). We have the advantage of being close in age, we're only one school year apart and we're all friends not just family.
I spent the whole 9 months bitching, not really speaking to them, not seeing them and generally seething. I didn't tell any of my friends until a month before she was born and bottled it up to deal with on my own. I was worried that our family were going to be talked about, whispered about, judge...all because at 20 my brother was going to be a Dad. I remember saying to my Mum something along the lines of 'all the teenage pregnancies I've laughed at, all the kids from school who became parents and I bitched about with the girls and now people will be saying that about us.'
It's no excuse for behaving like a grade 1 bitch but I was hurt. The news came a week before I started my final year and my niece was born a week after I finished. The whole pregnancy ruined my final experience of university because I was 4 hours away from my family, dealing with it and the changes it meant on my own and supporting my parents. I was the one to break the news to my Mum and Dad and suddenly I was miles away from a home that was falling apart and trying to graduate. I was hurt, I was judgemental and it's the fact I was so high and mighty about young parents that I am ashamed of.
Hindsight is a glorious thing. My niece is one years old today. 20 months since she was announced, 12 since my mind was changed just with one hospital visit to see a 2 hour old baby. Now naturally all thoughts of judgement and resentment are gone and she is doted upon left right and centre.
She is 365 days old. She is tiny, still looks more like a baby than a toddler but is growing like a weed. She pushes you away if you're trying to stop her doing something she shouldn't, she wants to touch everything and be independent but still collapses on me for a cuddle to sleep. She knows where her feet, ears and nose are and can make the sounds of a duck and a cow. She can crawl like a demon, run if you're holding her hand, stand up on her own but has yet to bother taking a step. She likes marmite and garlic butter and raspberries and will feed herself bread and cheese. She now grins like a maniac to show her 6 teeth if you ask her to 'do the face', can give you a high five, will sometimes give you a kiss if she feels like it and knows how to smell flowers and wipe her face with a wet wipe.
Her Mum and Dad met in school and have been together for years, who claim nothing for her, didn't get a flat through the council, who had to navigate living together for the first time with a 4 month old. Her father works a full time job, is out of the house for 12 hours a day and still manages to be ok with waking up early to play on a weekend. Her mother has 2 years of uni left when she was born and juggles 4 days a week in class with crap childcare provision and still manages to get firsts in her modules.
She has 2 aunties barely out of their teens (ok I might be holding onto my youth a bit much at 23) using her as an excuse to play all day and forget their own responsibilities. She has a Mum and Dad who will only be forty by the time she reaches the age they are now. She has 4 grandparents barely in their fifties who are young enough and fit enough to keep up with her mischief and constant need to be on the move and she even has 3 great grandparents youthful enough to be around long enough for her to get to know them. She has a whole army load of great uncles and aunties and second cousins, some of whom are still children themselves that she can play with. She at a mere few hours hold made two families into one gigantic one because we are HER family.
Looking back I can see that I judged young parents as kids who made a mistake, who scrounge off the state and can't possibly give a baby what it needs. Now, looking at my niece I can see that young parents can give a baby just as much love as a parent of any age, can provide for her just as well as someone in their 30s and all with the added benefit of being young enough to keep up. They are hard working, they are still learning themselves and they get very little help. So yes, yes I think we are too judgemental of young parents.
Happy birthday monster girl, we love you more than anything.
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