Whether you have children or not, everyone has an opinion on parenting. Many parents claim that people without children should simply “mind their own business” and that “nobody can truly know what parenting is like until you become one yourself”, and while these points may apply to some situations, the over-generalization doesn’t stand. No, people without children of their own may not know what it’s like to breastfeed, wipe another person’s ass, or poop with an audience; but everybody was a child once and at the very least, the majority of people have their own views on what makes a healthy childhood. What happens though, whenever the only example of a childhood you have is unhealthy?
In my last entry, I told you all that I’m a “ghetto teen mom”. I’ve been compared to a character from the hit show “Shameless” on more than one occasion, and while many people claim to want to be a Gallagher, it isn’t as glamorous as some might think. I got “knocked up” at the age of 15, but I was more prepared to parent than you might expect, having had prior experience raising children thanks to being the eldest child of 4. I’ll elaborate on that in this entry by sharing with you my life prior to becoming a mother. This entry will be quite long (as it is intended to be a general timeline of my life from birth to age 15), so if you don’t have the time or energy to read at the moment, maybe pin this page to revisit later (or just say “fuck that, this bitch is cray” and retreat to the simplicity of social media scrolling). In future entries, I plan to focus on my current thoughts, struggles, and accomplishments- but it’s best to understand the background of the character you’re reading about, aye?
Let’s get down to business: In 1996, I was born in Georgia, but moved to Cahokia, Illinois before I was even a year old. I was raised primarily in a low-income single parent household. My younger brother Brendon and I were very close growing up, born only a year and 10 months apart and sharing the same 2 parents and early childhood memories. Our biological father was an abusive addict, and our very first memories consisted of witnessing the domestic abuse inflicted upon our mother as well as plenty of police visits. They eventually divorced and my mother remarried when I was 6.
My little sister Miracle was born in 2004 when I was 8 years old, and we then all moved to Georgia (my birth place) where my military step-dad was stationed. I was very excited to have a sister, and I began changing her diapers almost immediately. I enjoyed helping out my mom and caring for my little sister; that is, until a year later when she decided that finger painting with her feces all over her bedroom wall was a fun thing to do! At that very moment, I decided I didn’t want children of my own until I was 30 (didn’t exactly work out that way, as you can see). My brother Gabriel was born in 2007 when I was 11, and my mother divorced their father/my step-dad not long after (that’s a story for another time). I navigated the map from the passenger seat as we moved from Georgia back to Illinois, and I still vividly remember my mother telling me that I’d have to be “their other parent” from that point forward. And so I was.
I thought of my siblings as my own children; I bathed them, cooked for them, and even began babysitting them overnight while my mom worked night shifts at Walmart. My responsibilities not only consisted of child care, but household chores such as dishes, laundry, cooking, and everything in between. My mother went into a deep depression after her second divorce, and everything fell apart. There was no structure. Our trailer home was far from clean, something I was very embarrassed about when I was young. I rarely had friends over, and seldom had the opportunity to hangout with anybody outside of school due to my responsibilities at home (not that I had many friends to begin with, being the new kid in school while struggling with social anxiety, depression, and the general preteen awkwardness). I began skipping school frequently. I couldn’t tell anyone the full extent of what was occurring at home and consequently I felt alone with my thoughts, so I started a diary.
Life had become pretty dark for me between the ages of 11-14. The department of children and family services (DCFS) came into my home on multiple occasions, to the extent that my mother was charged with multiple counts of child neglect and our trailer was even condemned, “not suitable for human habitation”. Concerns about losing custody arose and my siblings and I were sent away to live with our aunt temporarily in the state of Maryland during the summer of 2010, before my freshman year of high school. At this time, I took full responsibility in caring for my siblings as we were away from our mother.
Our little vacation in Maryland was an interesting one. Not long after arriving, we discovered that our aunt had the agenda in mind to take custody of us all, despite being only biologically related to my younger 2 siblings. But after realizing that my siblings and I weren’t going to cooperate (and that she had no legal right to keep us), our aunt sent us back home to Illinois by plane. At 14 years old I flew almost 800 miles with my 3 year younger siblings (12, 6, and 3 years old) as unaccompanied minors. Being distracted by caring for the kids on the first flight (in addition to my own motion sickness), I forgot our tickets for the next plane on the previous one, and had to ask a flight attendant to watch my siblings as I ran back to grab the tickets. This was one of the most anxiety fueled experiences of my young life.
When we returned home, we were all excited to see our family and embraced the toxic air that embodied our steel mill driven town. Our mother remarried 3 months after our return, and her new husband helped rehabilitate our trailer to a suitable living condition. Suddenly I was demoted from the role of “their other parent” back to just their older sister. The abrupt shift of responsibility and authority was confusing, and I rebelled against it; not wanting anyone else to assume responsibility of disciplining my siblings or myself. Their marriage lasted only a few months though, making that our last official step-dad to this day. I regained my position of authority for a short period of time before live-in boyfriends became a “thing”. This inconsistent family dynamic continued into adulthood, making for a very unstable upbringing.
In 2011 at the age of 15, I met my first boyfriend and became pregnant with my first child. I was scared to bring a child of my own into this world while being so young and damaged, but I now believe that the decision I made to become a mother was the first step towards saving my own life from a destructive path… even if it eventually resulted in becoming a single mom. I learned how to improve my environment for my son and myself, rather than just being a victim of circumstance. I gained motivation to construct goals for my future and work to achieve them. And ultimately, I was given a reason to smile through the bullshit.
For this entry, I spared some character molding details of abuse, fear, and loss that I may elaborate on in future entries. I don’t share this information in attempt to gain pity or achieve victim status; I share my story to help others understand me better, and in the hopes that my own experiences could help prevent others from feeling as alone as I did as a child. I used to be so ashamed of my childhood despite having no ability to alter it. I used to be terrified that my peers at school would discover what my home life was like, that I’d experience more bullying than I already had. That my siblings and I would go into the foster care system. I had no self worth, thought myself to be just a pathetic poor kid that would never become anything more; but I have discovered otherwise along the way through self-reflection, acceptance, and healing.
So what happens whenever the only example of a childhood you have is unhealthy? That’s something I’m still working on figuring out myself. For the most part, I try to remember the things that I DON’T want my son to experience if I can help it: the fear, neglect, lack of guidance, abandonment, depression, and overwhelming unrealistic responsibility. I think that the key to raising children is to try to be the parent that you needed whenever you were a child, to try to create a stable, supportive, and inspiring atmosphere for learning and self-expression. Though teen parents may frequently be referred to as “babies raising babies”, as a parent, I’d just like to let my kid be a kid.
One of my main goals in life is to help children in similar situations as I was, and possibly also help adults trying to overcome their past understand themselves and discover their full potential. If you’ve made it this far, I’d like to thank you for allowing me to share my story with you. If you feel the need to reach out and share your own story (or simply share your views of mine), you may leave a public comment or email me through the “contact” section of my site. I hope that your life is filled with laughter, happiness, and understanding in the not-so-happy moments.