The dream I had at sixteen was marvelous and filled with what I thought success looked like. To me, success meant having the college dorm experience and then moving to a large metropolitan area to work for a fortune 500 company. I envisioned my adult life would consist of working hard and eating strawberries and drinking champagne at swanky business parties. I was a typical starry-eyed teen before ….. I became a pregnant and a mother. My dream shattered, but like the fabled phoenix, new life sprang forth from its demise. From the ashes of my former life, I rebuilt my dream into the one I actually live today. Contrary to what my sixteen year-old-self believed, one can still enjoy strawberries and champagne even if there’s no corner office, or even home office for that matter. One may even enjoy them more if partaking in a stolen moment of indulgence after a long day of parenting.
A shattered dream sometimes reincarnates into one that’s better than the former, because it’s feasible right now.
I found out I was pregnant the month after I turned sixteen. I want to say that I took the news well, but I didn’t. In the 90’s there weren’t television shows about being a pregnant teenager. There also weren’t trendy maternity clothes at local chain retailers. I hid my pregnancy for as long as I safely could because at that time in the South, it was like I had fornicator etched into my forehead.
I want to tell you that people were nice to me and that I enjoyed my pregnancy. I want to tell you that, but I can’t.
What I can tell you is that I refused to become a “statistic”. I refused to give up on my dreams of college and a fulfilling career. I may not have made it to the corner office, but I don’t discount my own successes, to include raising a phenomenal daughter who puts insatiable energy into her own dreams.
My outlook on success quickly changed to include raising a child who has all the opportunities to succeed that were offered to me. I’m proud to say that I accomplished that. Today, my daughter is fourteen and I’m thirty-one. She has career goals in mind and is a semester away from starting college. We’ve never done without, and I want to share the secrets that made this possible. I want to tell you how I went from being a sixteen-year old high school dropout to a thirty-one year old with four college degrees and a very promising career without ever using government assistance other than college grants.
This isn’t some preachy story laden with spiritual awakenings or get rich quick schemes. There’s no overnight solution to the problems that lay ahead of you. I’m offering a tangible guide to overcoming the obstacles often faced by teen mothers. The tips provided here build a foundation for long-term success. You may start to see the changes today, but the real effect is realized in the years ahead, when the groundwork you start now becomes the bedrock that you build your future upon. The first step toward your dream filled future is to start taking care of yourself. I’ve provided some tips to help you below.
There is a lot of work before you, regardless of whether or not you take my advice. However you choose to forge ahead, I wish you the best of success and many indulgent moments filled with strawberries and smiles.
Take care of you
The most important thing you can do for you and your child’s wellbeing is take care of yourself. The United States Air Forces teaches airmen what they call the “four pillars”. They are spiritual, physical, emotional, and social. If you aren’t taking care of all these areas, then your pillars will fall out of alignment and you will notice the difference. Make the time to invest in yourself. Work out. Twenty minutes three times a week will suffice until you have more time in your schedule. Eat and drink as healthy as possible. There are ways to eat a healthy diet that are quick, affordable, and nutritious, you just have to be willing to figure out what works for you. My daughter has never eaten a TV dinner, and I’m no Martha Stewart.
It’s okay to go out every once in a while. As my daughter got older, I had more time to socialize. I have coffee with my best friend regularly and I come away refreshed each time. I feel the same way after I go for a run. You need time to yourself and time with other adults. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to spend every waking minute of your existence watching children’s movies or playing with action figures. I’ve found that my daughter needs time away from me just as much as I need a break now and then. It’s healthy.
There are going to be days when nothing goes right. You’ll wake up and find that the shower water is running cold and your hair dryer broke. Your child will be sick and vomiting all over the house. The daycare won’t take your child because she has a fever. Your boss will be angry and threaten to fire you. On the way home from the pediatrician’s office, your car window will break and refuse to roll up. Your credit card will get declined while buying antibiotics. You’ll get home and your computer will freeze up as you are submitting your essay to your online class. It’s going to happen, and I’m so sorry.
It’s okay to have moments when you are truly upset. It’s okay to get frustrated and feel the way you will feel. Every human on Earth has a breaking point, and for good reason. Anger and pain are motivators for change. Sometimes, change is out of our reach, and sometimes it isn’t. Regardless, the way you feel in that moment is completely natural and don’t let anyone tell you different.
What you do after that moment is what makes the difference.
If you need to apologize to someone, do so. Hopefully, you were able to weather the moment without inflicting your frustration on others, but if not, forgive yourself too and move on. My best friend has a rule that I’ve come to adopt. When she feels upset or let down, she gives herself 15 minutes to dwell on it, and then forces herself to move on. Try that and see if it works for you.
Another tactic that works well is to make milestones out of lousy circumstances. Maybe you didn’t get that job you had your heart on. That’s okay. Wallow in self pity for 15 minutes, and then go apply for another one. That job wasn’t right for you and they helped you figure that out before you were too invested. They did you a favor.
Sometimes, I’m too upset and still don’t feel better after I’ve tried that tactic. That’s okay too. There are some things that require time to heal from. In those moments, I clear my schedule and do things that I want to do, but rarely have time for. Sometimes, I read a book for a few hours. Other times, I sit and watch television, which is something I almost never do. On really bad days, I sit and do absolutely nothing for ten or fifteen minutes. I watch my dogs play or go to the beach to clear my head. Once I’m re-centered, I get back on schedule, but I never rush my way to center.
When you need time to heal, take it. Otherwise, it will come back to haunt you like a wound that keeps getting reopened.
Try not to let your feelings compel you to eat junk or spend money compulsively. It’s not a good idea to drink when you’re upset either. If you need a pick me up, give in to a little cheat like a fancy coffee or making breakfast for dinner. That way you won’t feel bad about spending money or eating junk the day after a bad day.
It’s times like those that having friends to rely on is a true blessing. Be a true friend to your friends when they are in need and they will likely repay the favor ten-fold. There’s no need to keep score, especially with friends that you plan on having relationships with for life. Over the years, there will be times when you both will need each other. If you are experiencing a storm now, lean on them and then return the favor when they are going through tough times.
The difference between true friends and acquaintances is simple. True friends are there when the rest disappear. True friends offer helpful suggestions while others are merely there to watch the drama unfold. True friends forgive you when you are wrong and don’t question your worth when you’ve made poor choices. They love you no matter what. True friends listen when you need to vent instead of telling you what you want to hear or what you need to do. If you don’t feel like you have true friends, talk to your friends and see if you can change your friendship’s dynamic. Give them a chance to be what you really need. If they can’t deliver, then distance yourself from them to make room for true friends in your life.
Make a space available for true friends to fill.
When my dream shattered, I was afraid I would become a “statistic” and live in poverty while my friends went on to live out their dreams to the fullest. In truth, I did become a statistic, and my friends probably lived out all their dreams and more. I’m happy for them, and I’m thrilled that I did become a statistic. What I didn’t realize then was that statistics aren’t only negative. Statistically, I graduated top ten percent of my class. Statistically, I represent the first generation in my family to receive a four year degree. And statistically, I have proven that a child can grow up to out earn her parents, which statisticians will tell you isn’t the norm. Statistically, a drop out is unlikely to finish school, but I did that too, with my daughter in tow.
It wasn’t easy. Honestly, it was incredibly hard. My friends picked out prom dresses while I picked out baby clothes. They went on to college and spent their nights at parties, while I worked graveyard shifts at a local diner. And they very well may be doing better than I am today. I’m still happy for them, and very proud of myself. I’m proud because out of the ashes of my former dream, I’ve created a rewarding life filled with successes, both as a parent and as a professional. You can do all this and more. Whatever your dream may be, it’s achievable if you make time to take care of yourself.
By Christine Edwards