Why the stigma around young parenthood is on the rise

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There's been a notable shift in lamaze classes, playgroups and preschool orientations: Moms who had a child before 25 are in the minority for the first time.


According to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, birth rates fell by 4% among women in their 20s during 2017. During the same period, only women in their 40s saw a rise in birth rates. As a result, the average age of first-time mothers is now older than 26, which is up from 24 in 2000 and way up from 21 in 1970.

This is largely credited to the options women have in planning their families—whether through birth control when they aren't ready for children or through fertility assistance options that give them more confidence in waiting.

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But as some women who had children earlier than average tell Motherly, the flipside seems to be a stigma against younger moms, even if the women themselves felt prepared for motherhood. "The most hurtful stereotype I endured was the assumption that young mothers are uneducated and live unstable, directionless lives," says QuaVaundra Perry, who had her first child during her junior year of college. "Nothing was further from the truth."

'People make assumptions about me'

Perhaps contributing to the stigma against young mothers is the fact that the rate of unmarried, first-time parents stood at 39% in 2016, according to the CDC—and many people automatically associate young parents with unmarried parents. "If 30 is the new 20, today's unmarried 20-somethings are the new teen moms," asserted the authors of the Knot Yet report in a 2013 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. "And the tragic consequences are much the same: Children raised in homes that often put them at enormous disadvantage from the start of life."

But children born to young mothers aren't necessarily born into single-parent or disadvantaged households. In fact, CDC data shows fewer women under the age of 35 are having non-marital births than in years past while non-marital birth rates are at an all-time high for women aged 35 and older.

Either way, the relationship status of a mother, regardless of her age, should not be a concern to others. Yet probing questions are just one way in which there seems to be less respect shown toward younger mothers.

"I can remember being asked some of the craziest things, like, 'Did you plan that? Are you still with his dad?'" says Sara Goldstein, who had her first child at 23. "Things that none of my older friends with kids were ever asked."

Of course, getting unsolicited advice is a nearly universal experience for expectant or new mothers, regardless of their age. But among young mothers, there seems to be even less of a filter. "I've gotten every rude question from being outright asked if we had a shotgun wedding, if my boys were planned, if I wanted to be a mom so young, if I wish we'd waited," says Morgan Wieboldt, who had her first child shortly after graduating from college and getting married. "People make assumptions about me that I don't believe they wouldn't make with an older mom. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked if I was their nanny."

The positives get lost in the conversation

With so much focus on the perceived shortfalls of young motherhood, there isn't enough attention paid to the benefits that many parents say they experienced by having babies earlier than average.

"I often received unwarranted advice about raising my son or underhanded compliments like, 'Oh, you're a good mom compared to most moms your age,'" says Perry, who obtained a doctorate degree and established a successful counseling practice after having her son during college.

Despite what people seemed to think, Perry says this is largely because of her son. "Becoming a parent was the most precious gift ever," she tells Motherly. "Being a mother provided me with increased motivation to not only achieve, but to excel academically and occupationally."

Wiebolt also says young motherhood has positively shaped the way she parents and prioritizes. "I think that in some ways, not having it all together really forced me to be a better mom," she says. "We value family time and making memories over getting our kids 'all the things.'"

As the first of her friends to become a mother, Wiebolt says the experience led her to connect women she may otherwise not have known. By opening up in this way, there is a lot young mothers can learn from others.

But it's just as important to recognize how much there is for others to learn from young mothers, too.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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It is time to take motherhood seriously.

For too long, the issues that women, children and families face have been treated as less important.

The responsibilities of motherhood considered a departure from 'real' work.

The duties of family life the problem of those who chose to have children.

The health of women, children, and families, less important than other government priorities.

But with Motherly's State of Motherhood survey revealing that 85% of American mothers say that society doesn't understand or support them, it's time to demand more.

That's why we're joining with MomCongress in declaring 2020 The Year of The Mother.

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We're calling on leaders at all levels—from the presidential candidates, to employers in our communities, to our partners, to take action to help mothers go from surviving motherhood to thriving in motherhood.

The burden on women today is simply too heavy. Mothers today are doing enough. It's time for everyone else—our communities, our corporations, our government, our partners—to finally do their share.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

Support our platform

Call or visit your representative

Demand more from your employer

Negotiate responsibilities with your spouse

Start the conversation in your community


STAY IN TOUCH

Use the hashtag #YearOfTheMother to share what you're doing to demand more.

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As a business person, Aston Kutcher did better than anyone ever expected the kid from That 70's Show to do, and his wife and former co-star, Mila Kunis has also made a ton of money—she's among the highest-paid actresses of her generation. These two are wildly successful and they recognize how privileged their kids are because of it, but they have a plan to teach their children work ethic. Kutcher explained the plan last year on an episode of Dax Shepard's podcast Armchair Expert.

"My kids are living a really privileged life, and they don't even know it," he told Shepard. "And they'll never know it, because this is the only one that they'll know."

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He goes on to explain how he and Kunis don't plan to create trust funds for the kids and want to put their wealth into philanthropic efforts instead. "I'm not setting up a trust for them. We'll end up giving our money away to charity and to various things," he said.

According to Kutcher, the only way his two kids are getting money from him is if they come to dad with a good business plan. If they do that, he'll be happy to invest in their vision. "I want them to be really resourceful. Hopefully they'll be motivated to have what they had, or some version of what they had," he explained.

We all want our kids to be successful, but sometimes too much help can stunt their growth. It's good to hear Kutcher and Kunis are so dedicated to making sure their children understand the value of money and can stand on their own two feet.


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Becoming a parent also means becoming a magnet for unsolicited advice. It can feel like every random person at the grocery store has an opinion on how you're caring for your baby, and that fact that certain safety recommendations have evolved in recent decades doesn't help.

That's why a post by reddit user MindyS1719 is going viral again. It was first posted last year, but as winter temperatures return, Mindy's message is resonating again: She wants people who haven't recently had a baby to understand why babies and little kids may not be wearing coats when families are unloading in parking lots this winter.

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"New car seat guidelines avidly warn against children wearing coats in car seats—and this makes it really challenging for caregivers (particularly those with multiple small children) to get kids out of the house then in the car then out of the car again and into the destination," she wrote.

i.redd.it


👏👏👏

This reddit user is so right. It does seem counterintuitive. If it's cold out of course you'd dress your little one all warm and cozy before strapping them into their car seat, but safety experts say parents should take off kids' winter coats before strapping them into car seats. A coat that protects a kid from cold could prevent them from being protected in the event of a crash.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bulky coats and snowsuits can compress in a car crash, leaving the straps too loose to keep a child safely in their seat.

With temperatures falling in much of the country, a video demonstrating just how this works is having a resurgence online. Back in 2015, Sue Auriemma from safety non-profit Kids and Cars took The TODAY Show to an official crash test lab in Michigan and strapped a child sized crash test dummy into a car seat while it was wearing a winter coat. During the crash, the coat compressed. Like the AAP warns, the dummy came hurtling out of the car seat.

In the video Miriam Manary, a safety expert in the University of Michigan's crash test lab, tells a TODAY reporter that parents should remove puffy coats before strapping kids in. “We want to see a nice tight harness to the child's body, you should not be able to pinch any webbing up the shoulder, and [the] harness clip should be at armpit level."

In the video, after Manary straps the dummy back in without a coat, the crash test is repeated and the dummy remained safely in its car seat.

In the two years since the video aired more and more parents have heard about the dangers of mixing car seats and bulky winter clothing, but first time parents or those from warmer climates may still be surprised to hear of the recommendation as it's not something they're used to dealing with.

In cold states or places like Canada, parents might worry about a child freezing in the event of a crash, but experts say you can still prepare your child for cold weather without preventing the car seat or booster from doing its job.

"Families can dress their babies and children in layers to keep them warm and safe—fleece is a good top layer for trapping heat without adding padding under the harness or seat belt," Katherine Hutka, president of the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada, told the Globe and Mail, noting that just because a kid can't wear a bulky winter coat doesn't mean they can't wear a thinner fleece jacket as well as their boots, mittens and hat.

"When it's really cold, kids can wear their puffy coats over top of these layers on the way to the car," Hutka said. "After they are safely buckled, they can wear their coat backwards over their arms to stay warm."

Kids and Cars director Amber Rollins takes a hard line on the issue of bulky coats and snowsuits, telling the Washington Post that parents should never make exceptions, and shouldn't worry about how cold their backseat might become after a crash. “First you have to survive the accident. If you don't survive the accident, then this is not an issue."

Those are chilling words, for sure, but if we make sure to follow proper car seat safety and remove bulky coats before buckling up, the chances of coming home safe and warm go way up.

It's important for parents to know the guidelines, but it's also important that other people don't judge parents who are just trying to do their best in this situation. As Reddit's Mindy suggested, we all need to "cut parents some slack. We're trying. And we're doing everything we can to keep our kids warm while maintaining what's left of our sanity."

To all the mamas bundling and unbundling kids in parking lots this winter, we salute you.

[A version of this post was originally published December 1, 2017. It has been updated.]

News

Most of the time, being inclusive isn't that hard. Actually, it's so easy, even 4-year-olds can grasp it. That's the message body acceptance activist and Instagram user Milly Smith wanted to share when she posted a photo of her son, Eli, explaining a very simple thing: "Some men have periods too. If I can get it, so can you."

Theoretically, it is easy to get the fact that non-binary people and some trans men menstruate. Usually, body-affirming hormone treatments stop them from menstruating, but that's not always the case. Sometimes their period will stop for years but make a surprise return for a variety of reasons, such as a medication change. Bodies like to keep us guessing like that.

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And yet, many of us, particularly cisgender people, fall back on our habitual ways of speaking about periods without even thinking about it. We have a hard enough time discussing menses as it is, so this may be one of the last vestiges of non-inclusive talk. When a young kid asks why mama is bleeding, the knee-jerk reaction could be to say, "It's just something that women do," hoping not to have to explain the finer points of sex and reproduction for a few more years.

But Smith is here to remind us not to do the knee-jerk thing.

"Eli has been told about periods since he saw blood on my pants a couple of years ago," Smith wrote on Instagram. "I didn't use the language of women have periods because it's not entirely inclusive. I told him that SOME women, SOME non binary people and SOME men have periods. It was easy for him to accept as he hadn't had to unlearn the engrained [sic] societal norm but if a 4-year-old can grasp it I'm sure most of us can have a crack at unlearning transphobic/misinformed norms and open our minds... ya think?"

Some corporations have begun to do their part to unlearn those gender stereotypes. According to PopSugar, Always announced in October that it was removing the Venus "female" symbol from its packaging. While the website for Thinx period underwear is still Shethinx.com, it has attempted to appeal to trans and nonbinary customers as well, referring to "people with periods." Last year, British period subscription service Pink Parcel launched a campaign that included trans man Kenny Jones as one of its spokespeople.

Sadly, a couple of ads and an Instagram featuring a cute kid have not quite solved the problem of transphobia in this world. Smith has turned off the comments on her post, probably because of negative backlash from the shining citizens of the internet. That's an upsetting reminder of how far we have to go.

But at least we can still enjoy Smith's concluding words, "It's not insulting to women, it's not discrediting women," she said of this change of wording. "It's opening up the community to make it a safe space for those who don't identify as women but still have periods."

The world isn't always black and white and it's time we start recognizing the beauty in accepting the grey areas.

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