Imagine you are just out of college, you are bright eyed and ready to go out into the world and contribute. If you’re anything like me, you chose a liberal arts major with the goal of a law degree or Masters in your chosen profession. Teaching, inspiring, doing good is what you want to do. Now imagine you have an 8-year0old. He’s sitting at the kitchen table discussing the latest kick ball win from the playground earlier that day, you’re stirring pasta sauce, making sure you don’t burn the noodles. His homework has to be done, and he needs to get to bed at a reasonable time. Tomorrow, he will go to school and you will punch the clock at the best job you found in an economy lagging especially for just-grads. And you’re torn, because having a good job with good benefits is something many in this country do not have, and yet, you want more. Hell, you want a job in the area you studied in college.
That feeling is what I’m going to call the Quarter Life Crisis. I think a lot of people my age are experiencing this, the struggle to find work in their field of study out of college, the struggle to pay rent, all the bills, and of course, student loans. Some my age with a college degree don’t have a job. And many of us are wondering, is my life going to be like this forever? How can I get to where I want to be?
Steps like applying to grad or law school, rigorously applying for new jobs and promotions, working over time and the like, are options for many. For a person like me, with an 8-year-old eating spaghetti at the table, grad and law school seem like a distant dream. How can I pay for it? More importantly, when will I have the time? Guilt piles up when I think of night classes, my son’s lived through the night/day care and babysitters for much of his life while his mom worked and went to school; law or grad school seems like a selfish goal.
This dilemma is one that rarely makes it to the front page of abortion rights news. Teen moms that choose to parent are generally written and talked about as the people that chose not to abort. Depending on the group framing the message, our lives are framed as either one constant and terrifying struggle, or as tragically heroic. Either narrative essentially errases the reality that many single moms are college graduates and face many of the same issues other college graduates in their 20’s face today, with the added joy and stress of having a child to raise.
The added stress comes when you can’t just leave a job you’re unhappy with because you know you need the health benefits for your child and yourself (and you’re the sole provider who needs to stay healthy) . The added stress comes when you miss out on a promotion because you are unable to travel more due to lack of a reliable babysitter (it’s damned hard to find reliable and affordable sitters). The added stress comes when you’re constantly thinking about how your child is doing–is he happy? is he healthy? Is he getting all the nutrients in his dinner? Is he getting enough exercise? Is he performing well in school? Do I coddle him? Does he need space? I mean, parenting does not actually come with a manual. So all of these questions and concerns pile up in your brain and perhaps you don’t perform as well as you otherwise could because of it.
Leaving the ultimate feeling that you’re stuck, spinning the wheels but going nowhere, the quintessential quarter life crisis.
Many struggling right now are those of us that some would say “have beaten the odds.” We’re single moms, former teen moms, domestic violence survivors and well, we have “beaten the odds,” because we graduated from college, or have decent paying jobs, or are trying and succeeding in getting on a reliable career path with a 401k to boot. But saying “we beat the odds” erases the very real and very scary issues facing us, that raising kids in your twenties, alone, is damned hard and there are not a lot of options out there even though we “made it.”
Getting to grad school is, for me, a long term goal , when before it was an immediate action following undergrad graduation. It’s been six months and yes I have a good job, but the reality is, I have to be able to afford graduate school, and I need the time to do it. I am short on both. I have been so stressed about money and life in general for my son and myself that really sitting down and figuring out the pros and cons of graduate school now or later has been a simple after thought.
This is a challenge many face and when discussing abortion, parenting, and reproductive rights the issue rarely comes up. It is far past time to start a conversation about barriers to goal achievement and success for parents in their middle twenties.