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Teen gave birth to daughter at 16; today they are teammates

Mother and daughter stand in front of a handball goal net

Rokometni klub Olimpija

"When they ask me my daughter's age now, I say 18. 'What, 18 months?' they say. No, years!"

Lojze Grčman - published on 02/16/24

Janja was surprised when she learned she'd become a mother, but she was supported from all sides, and now plays handball on the same team with her daughter.

At Aleteia, we immediately perked up when we heard about a rarely seen family connection in one of Slovenia’s sports clubs. Olimpija handball players and teammates Janja Sirnik, b. 1988, and Lana Strlič, b. 2005 are mother and daughter. However, family ties take a back seat on the court. While they don’t hold back criticizing each other, they are equally happy to praise every good move the other one makes. Janja sometimes plays a motherly role for other girls on the team, not just for her daughter Lana.

An unexpected pregnancy

A quick calculation reveals the difference in years. Janja gave birth to Lana two months before her 17th birthday, when she was in her third year of high school. How much courage did it take for a girl of 16 to accept life?

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For Janja, the news of her pregnancy was a shock:

I have to admit that when I found out, I almost had a stroke. When I found out, I was 20 weeks pregnant. I was studying in the sports department of the Šibenik high school. We had tests for the youth national team. I found out I was pregnant and that I was on the national team’s roster at practically the same time.

You’re scared of what’s going to happen. You’re 16 years old, and you’re holding a little bundle. You don’t know what you’re going to do with yourself or what you’re going to do with the baby.

Support from all sides

Parental understanding and support were key. “My parents and my partner Tim’s parents took it well, and he took it well,” Janja says. “The school helped a lot. The professors were accommodating. I had individual lessons, and I was able to take the exams the year afterwards.”

As both parents were minors, Janja’s mother took a year of maternity leave. She was free to drive her to an exam or a private lesson. In the meantime, the grandmother went for a walk with little Lana and then drove home. A kind classmate took notes when Janja couldn’t be in class.

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Sports, high school, and college, student work, family … Money was tight. Things that were judged most important for Lana became a priority. “I’d rather send her to a camp than buy her a phone. She didn’t get one until sixth grade. For that reason, we had some arguments, but that was the way it was.”

Navigating all the commitments and worries wasn’t easy, but it would have been much harder without her parents, says Janja, whose injuries to both knees 12 years ago slammed the door on her handball career. Until last autumn …

Back on the court

One day, a call came from Lana’s coach at Olimpija, Marjeta Veber Marton, asking if she would come and help the young team, where most of the players are about the same age as her daughter. She couldn’t say no, and — quite unexpectedly — became a goalkeeper again.

What’s it like to be your daughter’s teammate? “It’s not strange for me,” Janja insists. “Lana has been coming to training and games with me all the time since she was two or three years old. I didn’t think we would ever be teammates, but — it might sound funny — we aren’t mother and daughter on the pitch. We’re teammates, and we also fight. We’re fierce, both of us. Sometimes we’re high strung. But no problem.”

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Which one is more high-strung? Mother and daughter look at each other and smile: “Me,” Lana says: “I want to do everything perfectly. If something deviates from that, I don’t think it’s okay. Being a perfectionist is a burden. That’s why sometimes there’s some tension. But it’s great to be on the same team with my mom. I’ve always gone to her games.”

The “downside” of being a young mom

Janja points to communication as one of the most crucial elements of a nurturing, authentic, and enjoyable family life. But… 

It’s important to talk to your child in a way that is appropriate to their age. The older they get, the more responsibility they need to have and the ability to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. Lana has the misfortune that the difference in our ages is so small that it’s very difficult for her to ‘sell’ me the tricks that I’ve already used. But every child tries.

In the shelter of trust

“What I appreciate about Lana is that she trusts me with certain things that adolescent girls often don’t trust their parents with,” says her proud mother. “We have a very open relationship. I know that she would tell me about any difficult topic, and we would try to solve the problem. She’s hard-working at school. Still, I make no secret of the fact that she has a difficult character. But I’m very happy that we have trust in the family.”

Many parents would very much like to have at least a part of this trust, Janja says:

The key is to try to talk to your child as much as possible and not to sugarcoat the world. When you have to, you should say even what they don’t want to hear. Sometimes, despite the effort, there’s no result. That’s life. It doesn’t always work out. But that doesn’t mean you should give up, but rather learn from these experiences. I, too, could have gotten depressed when I got pregnant at the age of 16. But, despite the initial shock, my partner and I were encouraged and helped to go on. I wouldn’t change my path for the world. But it has been full of challenges.

These are still a daily reality. But sometimes it’s easier to reach the top if you set yourself incremental and smaller goals, as Janja has learned from experience.

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“What, 18 months?”

What advice would she give to young people who find themselves in a similar situation to her? “Teenage pregnancy is a shock in itself. It’s so valuable to have someone to talk to. That helped me a lot. But, honestly, it took me a few months to realize that I was a teenage mom.”

Today, many people can’t believe that she already has a full-grown daughter. That’s why sometimes a comical situation arises. “When I’m asked my daughter’s age now, I say 18. ‘What, 19 months?’ the reply. ‘No, years!’ By the time Lana was three or four, they thought of my mother as her mother. I had some problems with that because it’s still a bit taboo in society. But it’s also society that can make this kind of situation easier. Pregnancy in your teens is by no means the most terrible thing that can happen to your child.”

Absolutely. Thank you for your authentic and exemplary testimony of courage and joy!

Tags:
FamilyMotherhoodPro-life
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