Twenty-somethings with tots: Navigating parenthood in your early twenties

Whether you’re braced for it or not, navigating the minefield of parenthood is a monumental task – so, what about those of us who tackle it at a younger age?

When you think of your early twenties, what comes to mind? Maybe going out partying with your friends? Travelling the world? Or planning exactly which career path you want to go down?

But what about having your first baby?

Likely, for many of us, this probably isn’t quite what we imagined and the same could be said for Cara Puttock. Your average 21 year old,  Cara , from Derry, was working through the week and going out at the weekend, and admits loving the party lifestyle.

However, this all changed when she went for her routine contraceptive injection, to be told she was not only pregnant, but way further along than she could have anticipated.

“They make you do a routine pregnancy test before your injection, and admittedly, I was later than normal getting this one”, Cara says. “I found out there and then I was pregnant, which was the shock of my life. I then went for a scan which I thought would be about 8-12 weeks, but I actually turned out to be 26 weeks.

“Finding out I was nearly seven months pregnant at 21 in that way, I just turned into a complete mess. I never really wanted kids, so finding out I was going to have a baby so soon, I was, to be honest, unbelievably depressed and upset for a solid week.”

After the monumental shock eventually started to sink in, Cara began to prepare for her new arrival, but admits she had countless concerns.

“Even after several weeks I was still freaking out. I barely even knew how to fry an egg, so how the f*ck was I going to care for a new-born baby”, she said.

After welcoming her first baby, Cara, now 26, has two children aged four and three, and despite initially feeling unprepared, life now is much easier than she first envisioned when she was given such life changing news at 21.

“Even with two young kids, I wouldn’t say my life has done a total 180 degree flip. I still go out and meet my friends, as long as I have notice. Obviously I was put in a much stricter routine than your average 21 year old, but I do enjoy having structure.”

Although Cara admits that spontaneous plans and holidays are often not doable, she still manages to life her best ‘messy’ life, by making plans with friends on weekends and would tell any other young, nervous parents to-be, to essentially, try not to f*cking panic.

“I remember being in hospital after having my first baby. I was terrified because the midwives just pass you this baby, and it’s like ‘okay you’re the mum now’ and you have no choice but to look after this tiny newborn, because no one else can do it for them.

“I promise it’s nowhere near as scary as you think it’s going to be”, says Cara. “As somebody who had no experience with babies, you do just pick it up. You’re young, and you’ll have the energy to keep up. You will be absolutely fine.

“I really love my life now. Before kids, I never really wanted to be a mum, but having two little best friends to care for is really amazing. Also because I am young, it feels like I’m growing up with them, which is lovely.”

Although Cara’s pregnancy came as a complete surprise, even if you are totally prepared for children at a younger age, seeing those two lines on that little stick can still come as a total shock.

Hannah Watson is a 22 year old receptionist from Leeds, and has been working alongside her long-term partner, Jake for three years.

In September 2023, Hannah fell pregnant aged 21, and after owning a home together, as well as having two dogs, they felt ready to welcome their first baby.

“I remember seeing that positive test, and although we were prepared, knowing you’re going to have a child is still the biggest shock”, Hannah said. “But more than anything, we were so excited.”

However, in a tragic turn of events, Hannah experienced extreme cramps and was heavily bleeding. After being rushed to hospital, she was sadly told that she had lost her baby in November.

After her loss, Hannah spent the following months grieving her miscarriage, and although she felt she needed around a year before trying for another baby, fell pregnant for a second time in January 2024.

“Although I was overjoyed about being pregnant again, my initial feeling was genuine worry, as I was so scared of something awful happening again”, Hannah says. “I spent my first trimester worried about something going wrong, but I tried to put it to the back of my mind. Thankfully we made it to the 12 week mark.

“Although I suppose we are ‘young’ to be having a baby, I don’t feel too different from my friends. I feel like everyone grows up at different times. We had our own dog and house when we were just nineteen, which I guess isn’t really normal for a lot of teenage relationships. We grew up a lot sooner than others, but we’re happy with that.”

Hannah’s long term partner Jake, aged 22, admits that although his friends are not at the same life stage as him, becoming a father at a younger age than most feels like the right choice.

“A lot of mates my age definitely aren’t having kids, but having a baby at this age isn’t something that scares me”, he said. “I get why people my age, especially lads, probably think having a kid now is their worst nightmare, but we just did things way earlier than everyone else, and I couldn’t be happier. 

“I don’t feel like us being younger makes us any less ready. Even though we’re 22, we’ve been together for five years, live together, have solid jobs and have two dogs. Our age really doesn’t come into it.”

The couple are expecting their baby girl in October this year, and although they endured a tragic loss, they feel totally ready for parenthood.

“For any younger couples who have found out they are expecting, I would say don’t be concerned about what other people have to say”, Hannah said. “Everybody does things at different points, but as long as you’re happy and stable, and feel truly, other opinions don’t matter.”

So whether you’re settled and somewhat prepared like Hannah and Jake, or couldn’t be further from ready like Cara was, both are completely fine, and more importantly, everything will turn out to be okay in the end.

But if you are wondering how on earth do I navigate parenthood as a twenty-something, we spoke to Natalie Rosado, a mental health professional, for expert advice on tackling this.

“Readiness for parenthood is a multifaceted issue that can’t be determined by age”, Natalie said. “While it’s true that younger parents might face certain challenges, such as financial instability or limited life experience, these factors do not apply to all young parents.

“In many cases, younger parents may have strong support systems, high levels of energy, and a deep sense of commitment, which contributes to effective parenting. Readiness for parenthood is influenced by emotional maturity, resilience, and the ability to provide a loving, stable environment, which can be present in individuals of any age.”

Natalie understands all too well the anxieties new parents may be facing, and has extensive experience in advising people how to protect their mental health, before such a drastic life change.

“It’s completely normal to feel anxious about the prospect of parenthood, especially for young people”, says Natalie. “Acknowledging your feelings, educating yourself, and building a supportive network can help ease your concerns. Prioritise self-care and set realistic expectations, understanding that no parent is perfect and flexibility is key. 

“Remember that feeling anxious about entering parenthood is a common experience shared by many, and it’s a natural response to the significant life changes ahead. By addressing these aspects, you can build confidence and readiness for the journey ahead.”

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