Interview with my Sister, Kate Oganowski
This week’s interview features a mother who has been an inspiration to me since I was a little girl, far before either of us were mothers: my sister, Kate Oganowski. Today, Kate shares her wisdom about single parenting, student parenting, and raising a smart, confident, and well-rounded teenage daughter. I cannot express enough how honored and excited I am to share this interview with you!
1. What advice would you give to single and/or teen mothers who are going through pregnancy and preparing for childbirth? What advice might they want or even need to hear that they aren’t hearing from most mainstream sources?
Grow up, your whole world just changed. I was eighteen years old, and one day away from final exams when I learned I was pregnant. I was 2000 miles away from home, living in a two bedroom apartment with five of my friends, working as a waitress and failing two classes. My life was a mess and there wasn’t a single aspect of it that said, “yep, a baby goes here.” I told my mom, she came and got me, and for a few weeks I tried to hang on to my youth. I went to parties, I stayed out late, I was rude to my mother, and then I had an ultrasound. I saw this baby, heard this heartbeat, and my life was forever changed. With my mom’s help I enrolled in school, got a second job, got insurance for the baby, and started collecting the things I would need. My whole life became about how to be the best parent I could be. Every decision I made had that as its foundation. I made new friends, I found a new normal, and never once did I feel cheated or deprived. Don’t get me wrong, I felt like I was in way over my head A LOT the first three years. “What was I thinking?” went through my head on a daily basis. Without the support of friends and family, Rane and I would have never survived her toddlerhood. That being said, the time for being selfish is over when “parent” become one of your descriptors.
2. In that same vein, what advice would you give to single and/or teen parents who are also attending school? What sorts of resources did you find most helpful in your experience?
First off, don’t see becoming a teen parent as some sort of life sentence into the food service industry and social service lines. If you have ambition and drive and your goals include a college education, it is completely possible, with a lot of help. That being said, look for help, prioritize your time, multitask, and ask lots and lots of questions. I never would have made it through college without my family. I was able to give my daughter a secure, stable living environment while I attended school, usually taking 18 credits, and working two jobs because we lived at home with my mom. Routine made all the difference, when Rane’s days were the same day after day, she slept better, she ate better, she behaved better, and that meant that our time together was better. Attempting to do it all is going to be hard, and sacrifices are going to be made. It is important to not lose sight of what it is all for, giving a better, more secure future to your child. Resources that were the most helpful were the fantastic childcare center on my college campus, the financial aid office, and I was able to connect with a few academic advisors who gave me advice on how to get through school faster. There are a lot of scholarships and grants available for young parents; I was able to get scholarships to help cover childcare costs, money for a computer, in addition to my tuition. The bottom line is, you have to tell people your story, you have to share your goals, and most importantly, you have to follow through.
3. Based on what you’ve observed, in what ways are partnered and/or non-teen parents often oblivious to the privilege that their circumstances afford them?
While there are no guarantees that age or relationships bring certain characteristics or quality to your parenting, I would guess/hope that a partner gives you a sense of security, a person to talk through the bad days, share the great days, someone else in the world who will have similar memories as you do – a witness to the raising of your child. Within a partnership of parenthood there is someone else who is equally as responsible as you for this child. Spending time with them isn’t a favor, it’s parenting. Taking them to school isn’t a burden, it’s parenting. Caring for them while the other parent goes to the store, takes a nap, reads a book, makes dinner, or flies across the country, isn’t babysitting, it’s parenting. When a single parent wants or needs to do any of those things it means that someone other than a parent is caring for their child and in many instances they are seen as lacking as a parent. If a young parent wants or needs to do any of those things they are seen as irresponsible, selfish, and avoiding their role as a parent. A married couple in their thirties could leave their child with a babysitter every weekend to go drinking and dancing and they would be seen as nurturing their relationship and staying connected as a couple. While that may be true, and while their child may be well adjusted and extremely loved, if a single teen mother were to do the same thing she would be viewed very differently. Assumptions are made about people every day, and in my experience assumptions are often wrong.
4. You have a fourteen-year-old daughter who is confident, funny, smart, and well-rounded. Please. Share your secrets with the world. How did you accomplish this?
Humor, humility, honesty, anticipation, expectation, and encouragement . Rane is the collection of her life experiences, the people that have and continue to be important to her and the dreams and goals she has for her future. I have always felt like her tour guide through life, never owning her journey or taking credit for her achievements. Her life is her own, and I felt that was true from the moment she was born.
Humor is how I have survived my own life, so it inevitably made its way into hers. If you can’t change it, laugh it off. If it hurts too much, it has to be funny.
Humility, I have never for one day of Rane’s life pretended that I knew it all, or even a lot. We have learned a lot of things together. A blessing of being a young mom is that I was experiencing a lot of things for the first time with her alongside me. When I made mistakes, I owned them. When I could have done better, I told her.
Honesty, this is where I might lose some of you. Rane knows the truth about things that made life hard. When she asked me questions, I told her the truth. I didn’t sugar coat or make it “G” rated, I gave it to her straight. Sometimes the answers were hard to hear, but she appreciates what she has and she doesn’t ask for what she knows I can’t give. Some might say she grew up faster than she had to, I would say she grew up as fast as her circumstances demanded.
Anticipating the challenges, preparing her to face them, and hoping she doesn’t have to. While I would never wish hard times on my daughter, I do want her to go through experiences while she has me here to support her rather than after she is out on her own. I wanted Rane to have tools to own her individuality, to make her differences a choice and not the cruel joke of the gene pool in which she swims. Growing up without a father creates issues for a young girl. Maturing early and being tall and big boned can be the worst feeling in the world in middle school. I knew it was likely she would face these challenges and I worked to arm her with tools to navigate her way through in a healthy way.
Expectations are high for Rane. They are not specific or limiting, and they are not conditional. My expectations for Rane are that she expects great things of herself, that she gives more than she takes, that she treats others as she expects to be treated, and that she leaves every place she has been better than she found it. How she chooses to accomplish these things is completely up to her.
Encouragement is my job, that is what I do. I encourage her to go out in the first place, to stick it out when she gets discouraged, to follow through when it gets hard and to celebrate when it ends up great or to look forward to a second chance when it doesn’t. Rane can choose to go in one hundred different directions, but I will never let her give up on herself.
5. If you could change one thing about the world to make it a better place for your daughter (and for you, for that matter) what would you change?
Hate would not exist. I remember when I was in elementary school and I would come home ranting about gym class or a boy and my mom would say, “Katie, hate is a strong word – save it for when you mean it.” I can honestly say, that time has never come. Even with all the challenges I have faced, the people I have met, the circumstances I have been a part of, I can truthfully say that I am privileged to have never experienced soul centering hate. I feel for those that do, for those around the world who believe that someone or something goes against their very existence, that someone or something has taken from them something so sacred forgiveness is unthinkable. I feel for them not because of their circumstances but because without forgiveness the hate will steal the beauty from their life.