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Young mum stereotypes: 'Some of us are happy being mothers and wives'

I don’t have to worry about the biological clock, and I’ll be thirty-eight when my eldest starts college, writes Susannah O’Brien.

Susannah O'Brien Stay-at-home mum

BEING A MOTHER is an amazing and rewarding job. It can be tough at times, but the good bits far outweigh the tough bits.

Being a young mother in Ireland today, now that’s a different story.

I’m a 29-year-old mother of four. My eldest was born when I was 18, and her sister followed closely behind. Only fifteen months between them.

My new little family

These two kiddos were not planned, and number two was a huge shock. I had been on antibiotics for two months because of a savage kidney infection, and my contraception failed. My other two little boys were born a few years later, only one of them was planned.

Things were hard in the beginning. People didn’t have any faith in my new little family and I found that quite hard to deal with. I was told by family members and complete randomers that myself and the boyfriend wouldn’t survive the monumental task that is parenthood. We are five years married now.

There is an awful stigma attached to being a young mother. You can feel like a leper sometimes. There was a clique of mums at one of the schools who wouldn’t give me the time of day, except to throw me the odd side-eye. One of them did stop to tell me that I look like a child myself and have the face of an 11-year-old.

Snooty attitudes

My daughters didn’t get invited for playdates at certain people’s houses, and neither were certain other kids ever allowed to our house to play.

The overtly snooty attitudes didn’t bother me, although I suspect they were intended to. But my daughters couldn’t understand it and that did hurt me.

Now I do need to specify that not every mum was like this, and in fact I did meet some really lovely people at that school who never made me feel inferior because of my age. But they were overwhelmingly in the minority.

Absent dad stereotype

The jobless or absent father sterotype is another gem. My husband works, and in fact he has always worked, since we first got together as teenagers. He took two years out for a college course at one point but was straight back into work when he finished.

He has even worked two jobs at times in the past to ensure our kids got to have their mother at home with them. People have been genuinely shocked to hear that I’m happily married to a hard-working man.

The staunch feminists

Then there are the staunch feminists who I would go so far as to say hate me. Don’t you want a career and a degree? Why would you waste your twenties stuck in the house minding kids? Don’t you want to fulfill your potential as a woman?

That was an actual conversation I had with an older woman who just couldn’t understand that some of us ladies are quite happy being mothers and wives. I don’t consider spending my twenties raising a family as a wasted potential. Quite the opposite in fact.

I don’t have to worry about the biological clock, and I’ll be 38 when my eldest starts college so I’ll have plenty of time for a degree. I thought feminism was about empowering women, but unfortunately I have never felt empowered by feminists. I have however felt degraded and bullied.

So if you see a young mum at the school, reach out to her. She might be feeling isolated and left out. And don’t tell she’s too young to have kids, or that she looks 11. After all you probably wouldn’t like it if she said to you, “Jaysus Joan, you look about ninety.”

Susannah O’Brien is a married stay-at-home mother to four children. She lives in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. 

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Susannah O'Brien  / Stay-at-home mum

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