Once upon a time I was a teen mom. I’m no longer a teen, but I’m still a mom, one who is, in the lovely way of things, about to be the mom of a teen.
It sort of blows my mind. And I’ve also begun to notice that it really blows the minds of others… The ones who are the most baffled though? Those are the folks that I go to church with. The look of confused speculation and denial that overtakes their faces when they learn this fact always leaves me amused and frustrated. I mean, I get it – I don’t look that old.
While my parents weren’t church going people in my early childhood, my grandparents were. From before I can remember, each Sunday I would go to church with one set of grandparents or the other. They would dress my brother and I up in button ups and clip on ties and scratchy dresses and mary-janes.
The last thing we wanted was our lax, hippie parents turning into ultra conservative hellfire and damnation parents.
It was just how it was and we were fine with that.
By the time that we got around to resenting it, my parents decided that they were going to be proper church going Christians. This was a big change in not just our weekly routines. It also slowly became a big change in the dynamics of our family and the way they acted as parents. By the height of this, my brother and I were set in our ways teens with a whole host of issues and problems. The last thing we wanted was our lax, hippie parents turning into ultra conservative hellfire and damnation parents.
We did not get what we wanted. Things we had been raised seeing as normal were suddenly vehemently being touted as the worst.
All during this time I went on my merry way doing as I pleased, as teenagers are wont to do. I just dealt with the consequences as they came. There were bouts of “whatever,” eye rolls, slammed doors and cries of “hypocrites!” Looking back now I can see all of the little paths and arrows that led me to where I was. I feel an immense pity and heartbreak for that girl. At the time I was fairly positive that adults just sucked and didn’t understand anything. (Shocker, right?)
And then it happened
I discovered a sense of the power of my body and sexuality at a young age. Hormones being what they were mixed with a deep distrust of the people my parents had become and a refusal to be open led to the inevitable. I got pregnant at the beginning of my eleventh grade year. I expected so much horribleness from my parents, but instead, they were simply amazing. It turned out that they would actually be the most supportive of anybody around me, but that is not this story.
Up to this point I had never lost my faith in there being a God, or some greater force, and had still been regularly attending church. We went every Sunday, Wednesday and to all sorts of camps, lock-ins and anything else the church decided to do.
The youth pastors took special interest in my brother and I as, undoubtedly, the troubled kids. We often smelled of things that we shouldn’t, had stories of parties and activities that we shouldn’t, and dressed in ways that we shouldn’t. We were in parts despised and held in awe by our church peers.
I became even more convinced that any organization that saw him as wrong was no place for us.
Then the news broke that I was pregnant.
I want to say that people were surprised, but they weren’t. I was fully thought to be a whore and screw up to my peers. But it was nothing compared to the reactions of their parents and the other adults in the church. I ended up leaving and thinking that if this was how I would be treated by a group of Christians then I wanted nothing to do with the lot.
Then there he was, my son. My whole world and life path shifted when he was born. I became even more convinced that any organization that saw him as wrong was no place for us. My life was immensely hectic and full. I had school, art and preparing for college. I was also trying to hold together a teenage relationship with my son’s father. And I was being a mother. I felt no absence in not going to church. Generally I just felt tired. Time moved on and then there were college acceptances, finals, prom, graduation and my son’s first birthday. Somewhere in all of that I apparently found time to get pregnant again.
I don’t remember what it was that led me to agreeing to go to church with my parents one Sunday. I had never lost my belief. It had actually grown stronger with the birth of my son. Sitting there that Sunday morning in a church that was completely new to me and still in the testing phase for my parents I just felt so complete again. It was only at that point that I came to the realization that even though one group had been horrible to me, my soul still craved the feeling of worshipping in a church setting with others who believed, for the most part, in the same things that I did. She smiled and said no, it was fine, she was going to wait for the person in charge to arrive.
She smiled and said no, it was fine, she was going to wait for the person in charge to arrive.
So with my son in the nursery, at nineteen, unmarried and 5 months pregnant with my second, I went down to the alter to cry and be baptized and join the church. While I often roll my eyes in disbelief and anger and frustration at some of the people I see in church, I still feel in my heart that it was, and is, the right place for me.
I have been at this church for a little over eleven years now. I still see people unaware of the fact that I not only have as many children as I do (now 5), but also that I have some as old as they are.
For the first several years I stayed in my hidey hole in the nursery. There I was accepted and loved and seen as an amazing woman, mom and leader. When I was given the role of Sunday school teacher of the toddlers, that changed.
The first morning that I was in charge a mom came to drop her son off. She stayed at the door and chatted for a bit, while holding her son, asking me about college. After several minutes where she kept checking the clock hanging on the wall I told her that I would be glad to take her son so that she could go to class. She smiled and said no, it was fine, she was going to wait for the person in charge to arrive. Shocked, I told her that I was the person in charge. Still smiling, she said no, the ADULT in charge. Trying not to lose my temper, I forced a smile and told her that I was twenty and a parent of two and more than capable of caring for her son. It got pretty uncomfortably strained and awkward until the coordinator came over to see what was going on. This was my first overtly negative experience at this church.
What it’s like TODAY
There have been numerous big and little things over the years. Double takes where you can see people realizing that this boy who is as tall me is my son. Awkward moments when I go to one of the older boys’ classes and a well meaning parent or leader mentions not knowing that they had an older sister. The inevitable asking of ages and then the raised eyebrows and leading questions where they try to figure out my age. The shocked gasps of “wait, your son is how old!?”
For most things I just smile, nod and try to steer the conversation to a different ground. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed. It’s just after almost fourteen years of shock, I’m tired of talking about my age and how young it is in relation to my children with nosey people. Plus, it never fails, there is always a reaction. Sometimes that reaction is one that causes me frustration and my older sons pain.
Remember the mom waiting for an adult? To this day, even though our sons are friends and have been since they were one, she still never really acknowledges me as a parent. My son is conspicuously never invited to things she hosts. She isn’t even an isolated case.
I simply hold out hope that one day more of the members will fully welcome me as I welcome them.
Many of the parents with children the same age as my older sons don’t see me as fully an adult. They treat me as if I am not much more than an inconsequential young adult child of a friend. They plan things through my mom, and never me, and since I don’t want my sons to feel excluded I just smile and bear it. A lot of times I am just ignored or given confused looks when I insert myself into conversations regarding the youth group. But mostly, it’s like I am invisible or forgettable as their parent. And since I have pink hair, sing in the choir, lead a Sunday school class, and have been an active and present member for over eleven years- I’m hard to miss. This pretense of invisibility takes a pretty conscious effort on these people’s part.
Sometimes, church feels like one of the loneliest places to me. I have people I am friendly with, people who stop and chat, but no real deep connections. There aren’t many members my age and the ones there are, well they are just getting into their adult lives. They tend to still be pretty newly married and with kids the ages of my youngest two. We are at different parenting paths for the most part.
The parents of kids the ages as my older three are often older. We are at different life paths. We never get invited to the get togethers or outside church parties. When it is time to greet each other the only people who come to say hi are the people immediately near me in the choir loft. The Sundays that I sit in the congregation it’s just me and the boys standing there awkwardly alone. Most of my social interactions come from me inserting myself into them and as soon as I stop inserting I become mostly ignored.
You might be wondering why I bother going, right? It’s simple. I feel like it is exactly where I belong in my heart. Not being ignored or shunned or anything like that, but simply in that place my heart feels whole and for the most part it rejoices in the work I do there. I simply hold out hope that one day more of the members will fully welcome me as I welcome them.