I'm a grandma and I have a baby of my own: the other side of teen parenthood

September 9 | Guest post by Shell Feijo
[post author] and her son.
Shell and her son.

Being a grandma at forty-two is the other side of being a mama at fifteen. How is it possible that I am still thinking, "Should I have one more babe?" as my oldest is having children of his own? My kids are spread out, twenty-seven, nineteen, eight. My first grandson is seven. He was a surprise. I was nursing my own newborn when my son and his then girlfriend came over with "news." It felt strange that the baby would have a toddler as an aunt. I felt like I couldn't be a grandma, I was still a new mother.

I felt disconnected, too wrapped up in my own baby. My grandson was wonderful but attached more to "papa" than me. I think he sensed I was struggling a bit — tired from nursing 24/7, work, finishing a degree. With time, we got closer and built our own space together. Now, he fights off his eight-year-old aunt to snuggle me when he comes over. I feel connected to him through the miracle of time and the love we made, but it still feels a little strange.

I don't want to be called grandma. On the other hand, I love the look in my grandson's eyes when he runs to me and hugs me tight, saying, "I love you grandma." I wanted him to call me mamashell, a moniker that felt more like me, more like a cool teen mama — that's who I was, right? But for him, grandma stuck.

When I think about being a grandma, I feel like I should be older, more patient, have money, be able to spoil him, take him places. Instead, I walk with him and his aunt to the park. I drag them to the library because "grandma loves books." I play music loud in the car and plan my next tattoo. All things I guess grandmas don't do. Or maybe they do. I do, anyway.

Last weekend, he asked me how old I was. When I told him, he said, "Ooh, 42 is old." I cringed, thinking I still had time for babies. Even if I don't want anymore, I could. The option still seems important to me, a woman who has always been a mama.

It is such a strange place to be, mama and grandma. Young but getting older and really feeling it. As a foster kid-turned-teen mama, I didn't have a childhood, and sometimes I just want to get in the car, explore, be alone, not be anyone's mom. It would be easier, in those moments, to be a grandma. But I am still a mom to a young child. So, I stay.

Shell and her grandson.

There is a new grandbaby on the way, another baby boy to play with his girl auntie. I look forward to a new baby, the smell of his neck, the little smiles and wiggly toes. I won't be too hands on — we live far away. I will still be mamashell, or grandma, if he insists. I will love him fiercely and hug him tight. But I may still dream of my own babe snuggling in my breasts. And of buying a cheap camper and traveling.

I will always be a cool grandma, tatted up and singing loud, writing and finding ways to challenge the world my babies and grandbabies live in. Really, I am still that fifteen-year-old, stubborn and fighting, trying to build a family and survive, babe on my hip. It's just that now he has his own babies, too. And I have the privilege of being here, whatever name I am called.

  1. I love how this piece deconstructs yet ultimately celebrates the many roles we can play in a family at once. I wish I could be more patient in my familial roles, too!

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  2. This is wonderful to read. I would love to hear more from young moms who become young grandmothers. Fascinating! And yay for ink :).

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  3. I had my first at 20 and really feel like "a woman who has always been a mama".

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  4. Oh I love this. A new perspective for me, and I too would love to hear more from teen parents as they grow through parenting

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  5. This exact thing happened in my life, except I was the child. My grandmother was a teen mom, and my mom was a teen mom as well. When I was born, my grandmother had just given birth again a year prior. So my one year old uncle and I grew up together as more like a brother and sister. I didn't get my own brother until 6 years later, so my uncle has always been like my first sibling. As a child, the situation was hard to explain to strangers and classmates, but I always thought it was pretty awesome. Now at 24, my uncle doesn't have any kids yet. I am turning 23 this year, been married for two years and I haven't had a kid yet either- I feel like I'm late to the party, haha.

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    • I'm also the child and grandchild of a young mom and grandmother. Well, youngish; Grandma was 21 when she had Mom and Mom 19 when she had me, which made Grandma 40 when she had my aunt, who is a month older than me.
      I can attest that even though my grandmother is younger, she always felt like grandma. There are some family issues so I am not close to her or my aunt, but I never felt weird about the age difference—that's just the way it was. If anything, I felt more special because of the "You have an aunt the same age as you??" comments.

      However, it wasn't that I had a grandmother that was young that people found crazy, it was that she had a child when she was "SO OLD." It sounds terrible, but having a 45 year old grandmother when you were in elementary school was not that big of a deal, but having a 45 year old mother in elementary school was the thing that was strange….

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      • I think this hugely depends on where you are. I would say 90% of the parents in our area I know were 40+ when their kids were in kindergarten so 46+ at 5th grade. My own parents were 46 and 50 when I was in 5th grade. In fact, a significant chunk of the parents I know were older than 45 when their kids entered kindergarten. I think for the most part, being less than 35 when you have your first child is considered young here. (Which is a tad crazy, I know.)

        Edited to add: Just to be clear, I don't think older parents are crazy, just the culture where it is weird and unusual to have kids before 35.

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        • My best friend and I both had really young parents, and I to this day remember the moment when someone in our 6th grade class mentioned that their mom was in her 50s. My best friend and I were blown away, we looked at each other and then back at our classmate, eyes wide, and said, "Our moms are in their 30s."

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          • I always felt like my parents were old (they were 28 and 32 when I was born), at least when compared to my friends' parents. Now I see people having babies later and later and I think my parents seem very young in comparison! At my age (I'm almost 42), my mom had been married for 20 years and she had a 14 year old and a 17 year old. I'm unmarried and childfree and I just can't fathom that!

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  6. My brother had a kid when I was only 13, and I didn't feel ready to be an aunt, and my mom didn't feel at all ready to be a grandmother. Like many situations in life, we discovered that once we stopped focusing on how things were "supposed" to be and started just accepting them as they were, we settled into a groove. In large families, like the one my mom grew up in, I would guess that this sort of thing is pretty common: older kids being grown up and having their own babies while mom is still having babies of her own. Not to mention humanity's long history of teen parenthood. I guess an interesting dimension of grandparenthood is that unlike when you have your own kids, you don't really have a choice as to whether you have grandkids.

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  7. I love this! My son and my brother are eight and a half months apart. I thought it was crazy when I found out I was pregnant just 2 weeks before my brother was born but as time went on I am more grateful than I am not. I got to learn about newborns from my brother, I have my dad to go to for advice and it's not like this is advice from the 80's only but right now as well. I honestly love my brother and son very much and I wouldn't give them up for anything. It is interesting from time to time to see my dad with my son and his son but it is beautiful.

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  8. Thanks for sharing your story.
    My parents had a hard time being grandma and grandpa. When I found out I was pregnant with my son I had a sister who was still 8 years old, due to the fact that we have a larger family with a big age span. Despite the fact that I was done with school and married, my parents didn't feel old enough to be grandparents, since they were still raising their own young children. My mom agonzied over what my son would call her because of this. She settled on Gram-cracker. He (at 2) has shortened it to Cracker. It's fun to watch my very white son follow around his very white grandma calling after her "CRACKER! CRACKER!" Even worse is that he calls her house "Cracker's house," which in his two-year-old language comes out soudning like "Crack house."
    Having a grandma who is very young can be lots of fun. They still have lots of energy to play and enjoy life. But it can also be hard. I know my mom struggles with it because she wants to play with my kids, but is still busy parenting her own. But hey, young aunties make for great playmates!

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    • My mom also wanted to be gram-cracker! I thought she was nuts haha. My daughter ended up calling her Gaga.

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      • I tried to tell her that my son would call her what ever he wanted and she would probably love it no matter what. I was shocked when he actually called her Cracker.
        Even worse might be that he calls my dad "Kuhl Ayde" (like kook-aid). Apparently my dad thought Ice-T shouldn't be the only one with a good name…

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  9. This was really great to read. My mom was 19 when she had me and now she has a three year old grandson. I've never really thought about what her perspective must be like, to be in her mid 40's and be a grandma. He calls her "zsa-zsa." Thanks for making me think of this perspective.

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  10. Super interesting to hear about all these other people with unconventional age gaps in their families! My mom was 19 when she had my oldest brother, and I'm 16 years younger than he is. Though I'm not the same age as my nephew, I'm only 10 years older than he is… so I was still a kid when he was born and definitely didn't feel like an aunt. Now he's 19 years old, and he calls me his aunt but relationship-wise I feel more like an older cousin or something along those lines. 🙂

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  11. This was a fantastic read! My mother was 18 when she had my sister and 21 with me- not super young per se, but still young. It makes her a much younger grandparent than either of the other grandparents (she's 10 years younger than my sister's in-law and about 12 years younger than mine). Sometimes we lament the fact that my mother still has to work, that she's not able to spend as much time with her grandchildren, that she's still interested in going out, having her own time, and maybe not as interested in showering her grandchildren in her dotage- because she really isn't there yet in her life. But then we realize how great it is to have two sets of grandparents and influences- one that may seem more normal to other children, but one that has always been normal for us- our mother has always been young and awesome and we've always cranked the stereo on the way to school and watched crazy movies on the weekends. She's a cool lady and I'm glad she gets to be a cool grandmother- even if it means that my kids will have to realize that she's not just grandma, but Grandma T- an individual with a life and a job and friends that don't play cards but still go to concerts and bars. Stay cool!

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  12. Thank you all so much for your comments! I love hearing about these age spreads too. For me, the struggle is wrapped up in ideas about who grandmas are or somehow "should" be. I was really torn for a while~ how could I be a grandma!?! I had to take some time and remember that I am still me and my grandchildren will love me as I am. I get the "what, you're a grandma?" a lot, but that just opens up a kick ass discussion about teen mamahood. So, there :).

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  13. I hadn't really heard a lot of different perspectives on this, but I very much am enjoying the discussion. I'm not exactly experiencing the same thing, but it is interesting to think about for my future choices in choosing to have more children. My Grandmother's family was so large that she began having children while there were still very young ones at home as well. And because my mother was young-ish when she had me and I was young when I had my daughter, and my uncles waited until they were much older to start their families, my daughter is closer in age with my cousins than I am. I really like that as my daughter has these fantastic little girls to grow up with and go to school with! 🙂

  14. My dad relinquished me to adoption when he was 20, and we reunited when I was 25. His wife is 10 years younger than him, so, at the time we met I had a 4 year old sister!! He's definitely the OLD DAD at school functions, but then people are also really surprised when he introduces me to people as his daughter, because suddenly it puts him being an 'old dad' in perspective.

    He became a grandpa at 48, which isn't terribly young, but his wife was 38 at the time! Ha, I told her she was the youngest, hottest grandma around 🙂 But it is interesting to see my son with his auntie who is only 7 years older than him. I'll be excited to see how their relationship develops over the years!

    I enjoyed reading this perspective from a teen mom all grown up! Congrats grandma…er…mamashell 🙂

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  15. My family is very similar! My husband's family is spread out. He is 30, has a 21 year old sister, 16 year old twin sisters, and a 2 year old sister. Then he and I have a 4 year old and 1 year old. If they are babysitting for us, or vice versa, it's nephew, aunt, and niece in chronological age. So my son is 2 years older than his aunt. Kind of strange. It hurts my mother in law's feelings because people always assume she is grandma out with all her kids and give her funny looks when she mentions the 2 year old is hers.

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  16. My aunt is exactly the same! She became a grandma at 42 and is now a great-grandma a couple times over at 64. She's a great-grandma before her sister is even a grandmother! And that's how life goes sometimes. She also had kids a little later so she has grandkids the same age as her great-grandkids. I think it's awesome. We have this wonderful huge family of people of all ages and connections.

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  17. It's so neat to hear about another family like mine. My mom had a kid every decade from '89 to '09. So my sister and I are 24, middle brother is 14, and the baby is 4. A week before my mom found out she was pregnant, my sister made her announcement. So my little brother is three weeks younger than his niece. It's such a neat dynamic though, because the little ones are so close. It's also been a really neat bonding experience for my mom and my sister to raise babies together! So power to the teen moms/young grandmas/families in general!

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  18. My husband is quite a bit older than I am. One of his kids was a teen mom. I am 29 and have an almost 7 year old step-grandchild. It is a hoot to see the looks on people's faces when I say, "Oh, that's not my kid, that's my grandkid." with no further explanation.

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  19. My mother-in-law was the first child of my grandmother in law, born when my grandmother in law was 16. Mother in law had her oldest child at 17. When mother in law conceived her 2nd child, grandmother in law was also pregnant with her 2nd. So mother in law practically raised her daughter and her baby brother side by side. Grandmother in law had her 3rd child four years later, and mother in law had her last (my SO) four years after her.

    Family get-togethers are a blast, though! It's much more fun having everyone around the same age. It's just a little interesting explaining to our kids that Grandma's brothers are younger than their Aunt N. Lol

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    • And then, on my side, there is a 15 year age gap between me and my older brother, who had children young. So I am an almost 22 year old with a 16 year old nephew.

  20. Keep it up. Your are great.
    And the tatts are part of our society.
    Keep rocking youngster.

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  21. This was an amazing story! I have so much love and respect for you, fellow teen mom!!!

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  22. It is the same, yet differenot for my husband. He was raised with his nephew. His mother was pregnant at 48 with him while her oldest daughter was pregnant. My husband is the youngest of 13, so it was kind of expected and pretty much normal.

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