My relationship started going south when I moved in with my son's father at just 18 years old. We had been dating for two years when we decided to get our own place. I still had two more years of high school to finish, and life got financially challenging. We had bills to pay with only one income. We both started feeling stress and being disrespectful towards each other. Even worse, we found out we have a lot of differences in the way we want to parent our son. Trying to live together as teenagers is challenging, especially when you are also trying to parent a young child. Issues that make cohabitation stressful include financial stress, poor communication, and not showing mutual respect while also having different approaches to parenting.
Something that I loved about our relationship before we started living together was that I felt like I was my boyfriend's priority: He cared about my feelings and we were less stressed financially. When we wanted to move away from our parents, my boyfriend and I found a trailer. The rent was $1,100 a month, plus utilities, which is expensive for one income. I was a full-time student trying to graduate from high school, so, until this spring, my boyfriend was our main provider. He would tell me that the reason we did not have enough money was because I had not graduated on time, and that I needed to get a job to help out financially. We moved into a more affordable place until I could help pay bills. Then, we found another trailer that cost more than our first place.
Money is a major source of stress in our relationship, and we are not the only ones. Financial issues are some of the biggest stressors in relationships around the US. The American Psychological Association reports, "For the majority of Americans (64%), money is a somewhat or very significant source of stress, but especially for parents and younger adults (77% of parents, 75% of millennials [18 to 35 years old]." Learning this makes me feel more stressed and financially disadvantaged by my boyfriend's and my decision to live by ourselves when we were so young. We were not financially prepared.
I did get a job but my boyfriend and I still struggle with paying our bills on time and agreeing on how our money should be used. Something we can do to improve this is to actually talk about our money together and how we will budget. In the article for Money Under 30, David Weliver explains, "Finances for couples, married or not, need to be discussed. It's best to have a plan in place […] instead of being bitter about your finances." The plan I would like to implement is for us to have a joint banking account only for bills and to keep our personal money separate. I would also like to have certain times that we sit down to just talk about our finances.
My job helped us out financially, but it started to interfere with our relationship because we didn't spend as much time together. I am going to school and we each work about 32 hours a week on different schedules. We hardly see each other, and I feel like we do not have a good bond anymore. In "Managing Marriage and Money Problems," WebMD writer Heather Hatfield quotes marriage expert William Harley on the subject of couples and financial stress: "'Often in couples who are arguing about money, it's not money that's the problem,' says Harley. 'Instead, the money fights are a byproduct of relationship neglect.'" I think this is true for us.
A lot has changed since my boyfriend and I moved in together. Now, I feel like I am his last priority and he does not care how I feel about anything. One of the pieces in our relationship that is not working is how we communicate. Respect is one of the most important factors in a healthy relationship. Research professor Peter Gray argues that "Respect May Be Even More Crucial than Love." He states that respect starts with understanding "that the other person is not you, not an extension of you, not a reflection of you. […] [Y]our task is to understand the other person as a unique individual." Thinking like this is more likely to lead to better communication. We are trying to make our relationship work out, but when we get upset we say hurtful things.
Another issue is that my boyfriend thinks he has more power in our relationship than I do. I think we each should have a equal say in how we prioritize things and make decisions for our family. My boyfriend disagrees. He thinks he should be the one to make decisions about everything in our family. This makes me feel like I am worthless. It makes my boyfriend feel very disappointed and like our relationship is falling apart. It is hard to keep our family together if we cannot even communicate.
Healthy communication is especially important when we have different approaches to parenting our two-year-old, which we do. My boyfriend grew up with more discipline than I did and he is more stern. We both make sure our son has a nap at the same time every day and that he eats healthy food, but my boyfriend does not enforce a regular bedtime. He also does not support my choice to enroll our son in an Early Head Start Program. We may disagree on how we parent, but as the adults involved, my boyfriend and I have to remember that it is about what is best for our child.
One place that we can improve how we co-parent is to agree on guidelines for how we behave and expect our son to behave. Having consistent rules in our home is important for all of us. To establish them, we have learn how to talk with each other respectfully, educate ourselves about parenting strategies and learn to compromise. According to "The Do's and Dont's of Co-Parenting Well," by Deborah Serani, "Co-parenting requires empathy, patience and open communication for success." Everything seems to come back to how important communication is for a family.
This includes how we talk about each other as well as how we talk to each other. Fatherhood blogger Rick Johnson claims, "Bad mouthing or being disrespectful towards [each other] hurts your children, it makes you look bad, and it teaches them negative lessons on what relationships should look like and how people should be treated." Our relationship is a model for our son's future relationships. We do model positive things for our son. For example, something I love is how my boyfriend can make me laugh and how we go out on dates here and there. We definitely have some things to work through, though.
One of my first steps needs to be focusing on my own self care. A National Alliance on Mental Illness article called "Taking Care Of Yourself" begins with this idea: "To be able to care for the people you love, you must first take care of yourself." I am always busy, so I never make time to focus on myself. I feel I will be able to manage my stressors—money, school, parenting with my boyfriend and unhealthy relationships—if I can focus on self-care. Things that make me feel better are being with my family, hiking, spending quality time with my son and taking care of my health with good nutrition. Since I am graduating from high school, I will have more time to establish healthier routines. I am now 20 years old. My plan is to model how to value and care for myself as a parent, a partner and an individual.
Andrea Valencia completed the Mother Tongue Project English class and Mentor program at Capital High School, where she wrote this essay (and many others). She also co-composed and presented an original poem for the 2019 New Mexico Public Education Department Town Hall Event in Support of Young Parents. Andrea graduated from Capital High on July 23, 2019, and plans to continue learning at Santa Fe Community College.