I had my son Alf when I was still doing my A Levels. I had been a promising student, so it was felt I had ‘let myself down’. I know this because one of my teachers said this to me. Other people asked, ‘I thought you were meant to be bright?’ On my maternity referral form, my GP wrote ‘unfortunately Lizzie is pregnant’.
Yet there was nothing ‘unfortunate’ about being a teen parent as far as I was concerned. After growing up in a deeply dysfunctional family, having my son young has ultimately been a very positive and healing experience for me. Alf is in his early twenties now and we are a close pair. Both of us feel like he’s ‘always’ been in my life because in real terms, he has – over half of it now!
Now I am the professional writer I always dreamed of being, plus my son is now at university himself. He is learning to be a music producer with his own band, HAAL. Alf comprehends the importance of going for your dreams. It is what I taught him!
I could understand Alf’s ambitions as it wasn’t that long ago I was doing the same and he was right there with me! Alf knows I would never tell him music is not a ‘real job’ or that he should ‘settle’ for less. He’s already made good in-roads, signing with a manager and working in promotions.
Practicalities can be very difficult as a young parent, it’s true. Crucially this is more to do with society’s perceptions of young parents and lack of support for them, rather than the child. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been told I am ‘promoting teen pregnancy’ or even that I should ‘feel shame’ just for telling my own story.
There’s also a lot of stereotyping and unfair assumptions about teen parents. ‘Babies having babies’ is a favourite catchphrase. Many like to pontificate ‘life experience’ is key to being a good parent, yet older parents often discover they have identical issues raising children. No one can be a parent without having a baby first. All of us come to this with zero experience and have to learn on the job. Most people would agree that just because many parents have to deal with poverty, this does not make them bad at looking after their kids. By the same token, age and parental ability are not automatically linked.
Another favourite catchphrase aimed at young parents is ‘You’ve ruined your life!’ Yet lots of pregnant teenagers find they level up when they become parents. This is my experience, plus the many teenage parents both male and female I am proud to know. They are now teachers, writers, solicitors, film producers, retail managers and staff, police, nurses, social workers, charity fundraisers … as well as parents to other children born at the ‘right’ time deemed by society.
Whilst parents are never ‘cool’ to their own kids, my son always knew he could come to me with any issues he was having with his peers and I would never belittle it as ‘kid stuff’. I could understand where he was coming from because I was not that much older.
Like many, Alf was a challenging teenager. Despite this, he was never able to go completely off the rails because I’d been the same age what felt like five minutes’ earlier. I remember him wailing when he was about thirteen, ‘It’s like you’re psychic, I never get away with anything!’
Lots of people like to ‘exceptionalise’ teen parents who do well for themselves. They will say they ‘got lucky’ or that they were ‘never like the others’. Yet many saying this forget most of our grandparents were young parents themselves.
It is definitely time for change and for young parents to get the support they deserve.
MORE: Looking for book recommendations for your children?
Best children's books about kindness
Written & illustrated by Sophie Beer | Published by Caterpillar BooksKindness is doing what you can for others - and in this chunky board book ideal for little hands - Sophie Beer introduces us to a bunch of kids doing just that, building friendships as they go.
Written by Judy Carey Nevin | Illustrated by Susie Hammer | Published by Simon & Schuster What does kindness mean to you? Is it planting a seed? Or pushing a swing? Or sending a card? This little book about all the different ways to be kind packs a big punch and is perfect for toddlers.
Written by Patricia Hegarty | Illustrated by Greg Abbott | Published by Little Tiger BooksOne day a little mouse dreams of building a great big house. With the help of a whole host of friends from the forest, that dream comes true. Here, everyone is welcome, no matter who they are or where they come from.
Written & illustrated by Britta Tekentrup | Published by Caterpillar BooksThis beautifully-illustrated keepsake book with cut-out details will inspire the little ones in your life to plant seeds of kindness whenever they can.
Written by Pat Zietlow Miller | Illustrated by Jen Hill | Published by Pan MacmillanA New York Times bestseller, this picture book asks an essential question: what does it mean to be kind? When Tanisha spills her drink over her new dress, her classmate thinks hard about how to make her feel better.
Written & illustrated by Ed Vere | Published by Doubleday Books for Young ReadersWhen Leonard the lion befriends Marianne the duck, the other lions aren't happy at all. A celebration of being different and choosing kindness over everything else, this stunning modern classic confirms that we don't always have to roar to heard.
Written by Polly Ho-Yen | Illustrated by Binny Talib | Published by StripesLuna and Lenka are best friends despite the fact that they are total opposites. But one day they have an argument and things get tough. Perfect for younger readers as they transition from picture books, this story is a great teaching tool on the importance of empathy and the art of understanding others.
Written by Rob Kemp and Paul Blow | Published by Hodder & StaughtonA timely reminder that heroes should be celebrated for their kindness as well their strength, their generosity as well as their success – this essential guide book on the transformative power of empathy is perfect for children 10+ who want to change the world.
Written by Onjali Q Raúf | Published by Orion Children's BooksWarm and funny, this story for older children offers an important perspective on the refugee crisis and champions friendship, kindness, curiosity and bravery. The message here is crystal clear: in a world that doesn't always make sense, you can still be a good person.
Written by Loll Kirby | Illustrated by Adelina Lirius | Published by Abrams & Chronicle Books LtdWhat about being kind to our planet? Packed with examples of young people doing important work to beat climate change, this inspirational non-fiction book explains that the future of our planet starts with the change you can make and provoke, whatever your age.
Written by Ms Maria u6167 Claridge | Illustrated by Helen Yin | Independently PublishedThis is a children's story about being mixed race growing up. The story features an English-Japanese child called Maria navigating her way through school and making friends along the way. Author's Note: Maria hopes this book will help children feel not quite so lonely if they're feeling a bit different.