PARENTS

I Was A Grandmother At 34

14/08/2014 16:47 | Updated 22 May 2015
I was a grandmother at 34

When Julie Baines discovered she was going to become one of Britain's youngest grandmothers at the age of just 34, she was shocked and disappointed.

"I became a first-time mum at 15 years old and had tried to instil in my own kids the importance of having the chance to grow up yourself before becoming a parent.

"But here was my own daughter repeating my mistake and facing a teenage pregnancy, just as I had," she explains.

Her daughter Jade was 18 when she told Julie she was pregnant.

Julie adds that she didn't feel ready to become a grandma when many of her own aged friends were just starting their own families.

"I half expected the tabloids to come knocking on my door," laughs Julie, who is mum to Charlotte, 22, Jade, now 21, Rebecca, 18, and Sam, 10.

Indeed, there's only a handful of British grandmothers reported to be younger than Julie, although the youngest one on record had her first grandchild at just 26 in 1999.

But Julie admits she has been surprised and impressed by her daughter's parenting skills. "Having had her son, who is now three, Jade went on to have a little girl, who is eight months old and she's a good mum.

"Of course, she gets impatient and fed up. How can you not when you're so young yourself? But because I genuinely know how she feels, I'm able to support her emotionally. I'm also able to step in as any grandma would and take the kids off her hands to give her a break or point out parenting tips where appropriate."

Julie lives a few streets away from Jade and her long term partner in Hull so she is able to help on an almost daily basis.

But her own daughter is not the only young mother she supports. "I help run parenting classes for mums through Family Links and most of them are quite young," she explains.

"It all started when I was asked if I wanted to go to parenting classes myself. I didn't like the idea of someone telling me what I was doing was right or wrong, so I resisted at first. But I was persuaded to just give it a go and I found it improved the way I parented, causing me to listen more and find ways to prevent bad behaviour escalating. I wanted to help others in the same way I'd been helped and I love it."

Julie was horrified when she became pregnant at 15. "I thought I was in love with my boyfriend, but that didn't mean I was ready to be a mum. I was terrified of telling my parents – and with good reason. My dad didn't talk to me for quite a while, although they both softened in the end."

Julie considered an abortion. "But it was too late for that. Adoption was mentioned to me too. But to be honest, I knew in the back of my mind that I would keep my baby."

Giving birth was terrifying. "You really don't know what to expect at 15 and the hospital staff were judgemental about my age. I was shocked by the pain."

When she returned home to her parents with baby Charlotte, she was thrown in at the deep end. "Don't get me wrong – my mum helped where she could, but they both worked. There were days I felt very low, despite loving my baby, and I'd have to remind myself to take each day as it comes rather than letting myself feel overwhelmed."

The loneliness was the worst thing, she says. "It didn't work out with my boyfriend and although some friends had been supportive at the start of my pregnancy, they seemed to drop out as time went on.

"But friends often are fickle at that age – if you can't go out and do the things they're doing, many aren't interested. Then, when I had Charlotte, I grew up very fast and have been ahead of my years ever since. That – and the fact that my school wouldn't take me back after I became pregnant - alienated me from people my own age too."

Things were also tough financially. "There were no benefits. I got £10 a week family allowance, but milk was £5 a week and nappies were £5 a week. I was reliant on my mum and dad for everything else and that was hard."

Things looked up for Julie when she was invited to attend a schoolgirl mum's unit. "Until then, I felt like I was the only one. It was wonderful to meet others in the same situation."

When Charlotte was 18 months old, Julie met Dave, who would remain her partner for 19 years and they had three more children together – Jade, Rebecca and Sam.

Julie was determined that as they grew up, they wouldn't go down the same route as she had. "I had to choose my words carefully because I'd never want them to think I regret it. But I wanted to guide them to make better choices – choices that would enable them to find themselves before thinking about a family."

But although she wouldn't advocate becoming a grandmother by 34, Julie admits there are some benefits. "I have a lot more energy than older grandmothers and it's lovely to know I'm likely to see them well into adulthood.

"Also, because there isn't a big generation gap in our family, I have the same kinds of values and ideas as my kids and we can talk to each other about pretty much anything. I'm hoping that's how it will be between me and my grandchildren too."

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