As we drove to Kentucky for my husband’s great-grandmother’s birthday we started talking. We talked about our future and our past when the subject turned to, “What would life have been like had we waited to have children until later?” I sat and wondered.
“I made a big mistake,” my husband said, breaking the silence. “I wish I had waited to have children. I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
That got me thinking: did he regret getting pregnant at a young age? Did he regret our family?
I won’t lie: I have wondered similar thoughts before. Did I rob him of his teen and early adult years? Would he have been happier with someone else? If I had not gotten pregnant at 16 with our daughter, would we have stayed together or drifted apart? It hurt just to think about those questions.
The short answer is: I don’t know. What I know for sure is that I was 16 and pregnant—and that twelve happy, stressful years later, we share a deep emotional intimacy and four beautiful children. The great memories include the moments when each of our children were born, and their first milestones: the first time walking and talking, the first time getting on the bus. Other highlights include buying our first car and moving into a new apartment, new jobs and new schooling. We made all those memories together. Did I really regret them? Were they all a mistake?
No, they are not.
In an alternate reality, my life would be perfect. But at the same time my children would not be who they are. My marriage might be better or worse. Maybe I would have gone to college or attended other career-changing classes—or maybe not. My life might be easier—but maybe not. I could have ended up thousands of miles away from family with no home, car, job or money. Or I could have ended up with a man who hit or neglected me.
There are lots of “what ifs” I could entertain, lots of decisions that could have made my life a little easier. But I have come to accept the way my life has unfolded. Instead of wallowing in “what ifs” that could take me away from the people I love—my husband and children—I’ve made the choice to let each struggle mold me into a better person, even if it takes two or three times to get it right.
I hope my children get it right, too. I hope they can learn from the lessons I learned the hard way. I hope they can see the struggles I had and have the strength to turn away from temptations. I want them to live a happy and joy-filled life. I hope they wait to start a family until they are in a healthy, financially stable relationship with a partner who has the same goals and desires as they do. I hope they have finished college and started a career with some life lessons under their belts. But if my children were to fall on the same path I fell on, I pray they would ask me for help. I know I would support them any way as possible.
As for me, I can’t erase my own story. The choices I made have led me to here—and the choice I make today is to be grateful for what is, instead of focusing on “what if?” The choice I make today is to help my children forge their own path. Instead of dwelling in regret, I choose a different path. I have learned there are greater things to life than to worry about what my neighbor thinks of me. I am me. I was a teen mom and I’ve struggled through financial burdens, marital spats, job losses, and the separation of my family. These struggles are what have molded me into the woman I am today. Every late-night feeding and stress-filled restless night has given me bags under my eyes. Each sick child that I have held has taught me that life will not take it easy on you. But the difficulties can either break you or mold you.
I choose to let them mold me. If I had turned left instead of right there might have been a whole other world that I would now be in. But the what if’s are just that: what ifs.
Here is what is: I’m a strong mother of 4, wife to 1, and a happy woman. I have a house for my family, a job that pays, and a healthy and loving family. How could I ever regret any of that?
Photo Credit: Flickr/Ben Seidelman