If I was the parent to the teen that just said, “Mom, I’m pregnant and I want to keep the baby.” things would be different from what I experienced. First reactions to teen parenthood are usually not very positive ones. It could be met with yelling, screaming, crying, disbelief, or all of the above. No matter how shocking it would’ve been to find out that my child is going to have a baby as a teenager, I would know how to help.
If my son or daughter told me they were expecting a child, I would meet both my child and the person they are having the baby with, with love and care. If I would’ve been too emotional about it, I would step out of the room for a second to calm down and think for a minute. I would understand that this is something that has already happened. The situation is here, and it’s not going to go away. I would meet them both with support and would talk about their plans for their life and baby.
This wouldn’t just happen because I had a baby at 16 towards the end of my junior year, but because I would have the love and respect to want to support my child and their wishes for their life as best I could. Demonstrating support is the most important lesson in this situation. Everyone would be a little scared, but if we all had someone to lean on to make it through, who could stop us? If they expressed the desire to parent the baby, I would never force them into choosing an adoption or abortion. I would remember that all they want is for me to listen to what they want for themselves and their baby. Even if I was extremely religious, I would not let this tear my family apart because sometimes things don’t go as we plan. Sometimes, there is a greater plan for my child. No matter what feelings anyone had towards them, I would tell them, “Obviously this is not ideal, but I love you, we love you, and we are going to get through this - together.
From my own experiences, I know that proper support is something that can make or break their success. I would know and let them know that this is all about the little life coming into the world in a few short months. It’s about getting themselves prepared, educated and ready for the baby they are going to shape and nurture. Instead of making assumptions, I would ask, “What can I do to help you?” because telling them what I think is best doesn’t necessarily help. If they ask for advice, I can advise them but also let them know that at the end of the day that it is their life and baby, and to do what they think will make the outcome the most successful.
In addition, it’s important to support them in the choices they make and help them get as much knowledge about parenting as they can before the baby comes. If they need help getting to parenting or birthing classes or finding them, I would help. If family members or friends talked down about them, I would advocate for them. I would say that it’s not really their place to judge and if they didn’t want to be supportive to just be silent about it. As a mom, I would encourage my teen and their partner to seek information, support from others, and find mentors . I would recognize the stress they both were under, and do anything I could to help them minimize it.
As an adult, I would know that being an advocate for them is extremely important. I would make sure that my teens were well versed in their Title IX rights and that their school was also. I would make sure that they were not being treated unfairly by principals, teachers, coaches, health care providers, and anyone directly influencing their futures. I would make sure they would never have to google, “Can a school really do ___ to teen moms?” like I had to. I would make sure the teachers knew that pregnancy is not a disability and that it does not influence the work ethic of my child. I would make sure that they were still seen as a valuable and intelligent student and not just a belly. I would know that some doctors do not take teen parents seriously and make sure my teen was comfortable in the care she was getting and the information that was given to her was correct. I would make sure the baby had a pediatrician that the parents could trust and know that they were not biased against them.
To ensure my child and their baby are well-supported, I would work with my teen’s partner and his or her family to ensure they support them too. I would do my best to help the other parents cope and understand if they needed it. I would know that my love for them could never be broken by something that “wasn’t planned”. I would know how important it is for the parents to be parenting TOGETHER, not separately and unequally when they both want to support one another. I would not seclude or keep them away from each other because I would know that that only hurts the entire situation.
Whenever I had the chance, I would tell them time and time again that it was their life and baby and the choices they make need to be ones that they are happy with when they put their heads on their pillows at night. Forcing a teen parent into making decisions is never the right thing to do, but helping them feel supported is. Whether they need guidance about picking a hospital, deciding how they will feed or diaper their child, or what kind of parents they want to be, I would make sure they had all the information they could ever want or need.
As a parent, my job is to encourage them and help them be happy. A baby is something to celebrate so I would throw them a baby shower if they wanted one. I would let them take maternity pictures, even if it was with my digital camera. I would encourage them to take pictures of that growing belly, because chances are that they both will miss it very much even though the baby will be here. I would let them know that it is perfectly okay to feel happy and excited for the little life they are growing.
Let’s teach teen parents how to deal with the critics and how to respond, and to make sure that they know that there will always be someone judging. Let’s tell them that it’s up to them to not let it get to them because strangers will never know your situation and life, and if they are happy and their baby is happy that is all that matters at the end of the day. Let them know that you and others will be there cheering them on and supporting them however and whenever you can. Make sure they know that you will watch their baby if they need to do homework in peace for a few minutes, or let them take a power nap when they’re over exhausted. Let them know about all those things nobody ever talks about with pregnancy and after, and let them know how the love they are about to feel is unmatchable to anything they have ever felt.
If I ever parent a teen parent, I will let them know how proud I am of them for being so strong because being a parent at any age isn’t easy, but it’s something to be proud of. Above everything else, I will tell them, you are loved, your partner is loved, your baby is loved, and you will always be my baby. I have loved you since you heard my heart beating from the inside and nothing that ever happens could ever change that.