When people find out my mom was sixteen when she had me, they are often shocked. Sure, it’s one of those tidbits that evokes curiosity. What was your childhood like with a child for a mother? they wonder. But I also think they expect me to be a little less . . . well . . . successful. Someone recently told me, for example, that after she learned I’d had a teen mom, she automatically assumed I grew up in poverty, or that my mom was absent or an addict of some kind. I imagined her thinking I must have overcome so much adversity to become a reasonably grounded, thriving entrepreneur.
She had no idea just how fortunate I had been.
The first time it hit me how different my mom was from other kids’ was in kindergarten. Echoes of my classmates exclaiming “Your mom’s so young!” “She’s so pretty!” “I love her hair!” “I love her clothes!” followed us both home. But it wasn’t just the absolute coolness of my youthful mom that made me beam with pride inside and out.
As I started going to new friends’ houses to play, the disparity between other people’s moms and mine glared even brighter: some were downright stern; some wouldn’t allow children to speak unless spoken to; others shut their children down for asking “Why?” with a curt “Because I said so.”
This was not the world I lived in at all.
From my earliest memory, I was my mom’s playmate and virtual equal. No doubt there are pop psychologists who would assess that relationship as unhealthy or inappropriate, but that would be an unfair and shortsighted label. For us, much like mom Lorelai and daughter Rory of the esteemed show Gilmore Girls, I simply came to this Earth as the often (in my mom’s words) “wiser, more mature one” of our duo, making our frequent role-reversal relationship perfectly natural—and nurturing—for both of us.
Despite, by her own admission, being “sixteen in body but more like twelve in mind,” my mom took virtually no mothering cues from her mostly structured, mid-century upbringing; instead, she relished allowing me to “dance to my own drummer,” as she coined it. As such, her mother role was never about exercising control over me, or dampening my unabashed individuality, or pushing me toward a desired likeness. In contrast, she instinctively ditched the hugely ineffective paradigm of authoritarian parenting in favor of giving me a voice and the space to bloom in my own particular soil.
In short, our relationship was wholly based on unconditional love.
That, and playfulness. And laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.
One cornerstone of our bond was the conversations we had from the time I could talk, where my mom was both interested in my opinions and welcomed my questions. When I was four, for example, I asked, “Are your friends Peter and Brian brothers?” “No,” she said with complete frankness, “they’re a couple.” And just like that, “love is love” was communicated to me with no caveats.
Within our singular dynamic, my mom and I not only shared a deeply rooted mutual respect and adoration for each other, but an innate knowing that we were meant to be together in the precise way our twosome played out.
While we thrived in each other’s orbit, it was clear early on that my mom and I embodied very different characteristics. I was the bookish, conservative, straight-laced “Rory,” and my mom was the unstructured, happy-go-lucky, wild child “Lorelai.” A more immature or self-possessed mother might have tried to reshape such an incongruous daughter into something more resembling a “mini-me” of herself. But like the Gilmore girls, that wasn’t my mom’s style. She razzed me at times for being such a perfectionistic pleaser, but mostly she marveled at, and expressed admiration for, how I turned out so different from her, despite her (tongue-in-cheek) attempts to “corrupt” me with her influence.
As I got older, our uncommon bond only blossomed. After several significant life decisions, my mom fully supported, including starting college at age twenty-five, breaking off an ill-fated engagement, and converting of my own volition to Judaism, I fell in love with a woman. While it was a surprise to me—and to my mom—I escaped the burden of “coming out,” or worrying what my mom would think, or hiding my relationship the way my partner had to. I simply shared the jubilant news with her, and she instantly, and joyfully, embraced my soul mate as her second beloved daughter.
Did I grow up in what people considered the quintessential, intact family? No. I believe I was gifted with something even better. I had parents who had the sense to know their marriage wouldn’t work and divorced before I was one, sparing me potential drama and heartbreak; I had a dedicated young father who never failed to be there for me; and I had the most adoring grandparents on the planet, creating a trifecta of beautifully influential flavors in my life. But perhaps most striking was that my mom—a childlike girl with a bubble hairdo and braces on her teeth who got pregnant just shy of sixteen—so naturally and strongly believed in acceptance and freedom and allowing her daughter to be her authentic self, she infused me with more gems than she could have imagined.
The product of an exceptionally loving, accepting, and big-hearted family, Stacey Aaronson is the author of the memoir Raising, and Losing, My Remarkable Teenage Mother. She is also the founder of The Book Doctor Is In, where she takes writers by the hand as a ghostwriter, editor, book and website designer, and publishing partner to bring books of excellence to life. To date, she has been gleefully and gratefully involved in the full or partial production of over two hundred books, both within her business and as a layout artist for She Writes Press. Stacey lives on Whidbey Island, WA, with her soul mate of twenty-one years, Dana, and their rescued Maine Coon kitty.