Mother's Day Essay: My Mom Had Me at 18 and When My Daughter Was 18, I Got It

Whatever kind of mom you are—and whatever kind you had—we see you, and we're celebrating. This is one of 11 essays in this series.

mother's day essay by Deesha Philyaw

When I was growing up, my mother was always the youngest mom and therefore the coolest. She wore Daisy Dukes, strappy heels and lots of makeup—to the grocery store. My friends thought my mom was glamorous and fun. But I would trail behind her, mortified. Yes, she was young and beautiful, but did she have to be so loud about it? Sometimes, I wanted her to be like other mothers. I wanted her to wear shapeless dresses. I wanted her to not have boyfriends. I wanted her to be more than 18 years older than me.

OTHER MOM ESSAYS IN THIS SERIES:

I’ve thought a lot about my experiences as my mother’s daughter, especially in the years since she died of breast cancer in 2005, when she was just 52. I’ve remembered the arguments, the pressure I felt to be her clone rather than my own independent self. But still, I never really thought about what it was like for her to become a single parent at such a young age. When I turned 18, it didn’t occur to me to put myself in my mom’s shoes. As an official grown-up, I was focused instead on college and the future. I had beaten the odds that are too often cast over a black girl’s life when she’s born to a young working-class single mother.

But one day, shortly after my oldest daughter turned 18, the thought of  her being a mother crept in. My daughter is brilliant, responsible and loving. She is full of plans for the future. But she has barely lived. And the idea of her raising a child brought me up short. Babies are all-consuming; toddlers never stop moving; children never stop needing. And they are expensive. Not to mention, there are a million ways even a fully grown mother can lose herself in the demands and doldrums of motherhood. I was 27 and married when my first daughter was born, and I still felt overwhelmed.

As I sat on the couch that day, crying at the thought of my 18-year-old bearing so much weight, I longed to do something I could not do: call my mother. I ached for the 18-year-old she had been. For the very first time, I saw her so clearly, and I wanted to tell that girl I’m sorry. I’m sorry that she didn’t have anyone in her life who looked at her through the lens of potential. And I’m also thankful that she taught me to love books and words, that she managed to give me so many things that she herself had not been given. Most of all, I’m thankful that she let me know every day of my life that I was loved.