Dear Carolyn: I had my son, "Mark," when I was 15. I raised him with enormous help from my parents and the father's parents; the father not so much, but that's not why I'm writing. I'm very proud of Mark and love him so much.

But I admit I often don't tell strangers how old he is if I can help it because I get harshly judged. And it's not just a feeling — some people say the cruelest things about it and somehow think they're praising me.

I took a new job recently, and I like it a lot. My last job was not a good situation, and it took me three years to get out of there, so this new job is very important to me. I do talk about the fact that I have a son, am a single mom, but have been very vague about his age. People have asked to see pictures, and I keep saying I am having trouble with my phone, and they just assume he's very young based on my age. I eat lunch with several of my colleagues almost every day, and it is getting to be very awkward to avoid the fact that I have a teenage son. My boss, who is in her 50s, was talking about her son getting his learner's permit, and I almost slipped and said my son would be getting his, too.

How do I go about introducing the fact that my son is almost 16 without making it seem like a big deal?

— Hiding

Hiding: You show the pictures as you would of any child of any age. You say, “My son is getting his permit, too!”

I.e., you do exactly what you’ve been suppressing. Sooner was better — since you have nothing to hide — but you can only work with what you’ve got, so now is better than later.

You had a child young — so what. It’s not our situations that define us, it’s how we handle them. You’ve hung in there and raised your child, and seized your chance to do so surrounded by a loving extended family. Anyone who would judge you for that is an ass.

And the people who “say the cruelest things [and] think they’re praising me”? They’re giving you a choice: Hear the cruelty or hear the praise. I suggest you take the praise. Even if it’s hard to, at least that’s an obstacle you eventually clear; hiding never ends.

Own your life. Why be any other way? It has the collateral benefit of making those around you comfortable with it, as well.

Readers’ thoughts:

●I was a young-looking mom. My son was born when I was 22, but when he was a teen, many people thought I was his girlfriend when we were together. When people heard I had a son his age, I always just laughed and said I was a precocious kindergartner and left it at that.

●I find it impressive that someone who has a child at 15 worked through that difficulty to get to where she is now. Sure, I think, wow, that’s young, but I also think, wow, way to go to raise your child. Even with help from the parents, that couldn’t have been easy.