Teenage parenting is not the easiest road to take, but it can
be successful if you have the right support and attitude. Be informed
of your options and be ready to make some tough decisions, with or
without your partner or family. With a confidence and hope for the future,
your young family can be a stable one.
Once Upon a Time…
One day, a 16 year old girl (we’ll call her Fran) found out that she
was going to have a baby. She had been in a close, committed relationship
with her boyfriend, “Scott”, for about two years. He was a bit nervous
when he found out the news, but he was looking forward to early
fatherhood and decided that he would propose marriage to Fran, work part-time
and go to school.
Fran decided that she was also going to stay in
school and leave the baby with her ever-supportive mother who, when she
heard the news, told her daughter that she loved her and that she would
support her, whatever her decision. Fran was determined that her
unexpected pregnancy was not going to interfere with her dream of becoming a
doctor; motherhood simply happened before she finished college instead of
It was not always easy to study and to stay up with the baby
simultaneously, but Fran was successful and graduated with honors. Scott
and Fran enjoyed a strong, stable marriage, healthy and secure children
fulfilling careers. Teenage parenthood was an obstacle for them, but
not a handicap.
The story of “Fran” and “Scott” happens to be true but, compared to the
typical life of teenage parents, it is almost like a fairy tale. The
truth is that most teenage parents face daunting obstacles such as single
parenthood, lack of support from the community, friends and family,
nagging financial problems and a delay or abandonment of precious goals
The good news is that one does not need to be as fortunate as
Fran and Scott to survive teenage parenthood. A young parent needs to
be realistic about his or her situation, to educate himself or herself
about all available options and to ask for help when it is needed. Most
of all, have faith and be kind to yourself; the road might be tough and
you will need all the inner strength you can muster.
The Initial Shock
It is important not to judge your ability to be a parent based on your
first reaction when you discover that you are going have to take a car
seat when you drive to the mall. Many fathers are thrilled with the
idea of cuddling and showing off a little one at Homecoming football games
only to discover later that the responsibility and the embarrassment at
school are too much to handle.
On the other hand, many girls who
eventually become excellent mothers may have initially considered adoption or
even abortion rather than facing teenage motherhood alone.
yourself and your partner the full range of emotions you might naturally feel
when you find out that life as you know it will be forever changed.
(you’ll have to extend the same courtesy to your parents soon enough). For
now, don’t focus on distracting plans, but conserve your energy for the
next important steps.
All in the Family
Very few parents are happy to find out that their teenage children are
going to be having children before they graduate. Allow your family to
express their emotions, even though it may be hard to listen to,
particularly if they blame themselves.
However, do not allow them to lash out
at your or to use harsh words. Explain to them that, above all, this is
a difficult time for you and that you would like their support, or, at
least, their consideration. Although Madonna’s music is rarely meant to
be a how-to guide, her 80s song “Papa Don’t Preach” is actually a very
sensitive model on how to broach the subject. First, she expresses
appreciation for her father’s love and attention.
She reassures him that
she is mature enough to handle life situations. Only after these two
statements does she explain the crisis, but before he can panic, she
immediately tells him her plan “I’ve made up my mind. I’m keeping my baby.”
Her approach in this song is gentle yet assertive and is worth
Of course, your breaking the news to your parents might or might not
end with a spontaneous hug like in the video. Although you are dealing
with enough uncertainty right now, you might be surprised by your
parents’ long term reaction.
Many teenage parents endured nine months of their
parents not speaking to them only to see them spontaneously become
beaming, proud grandparents immediately after the delivery. Other teenage
parents become permanently estranged from their parents; you have to be
prepared for either possibility.
This might be a time to go to a
favorite uncle, aunt or cousin first, if they can be trusted not to spread
the news before you have the chance to tell your parents. If you have an
inkling that your parents may not be supportive, it is imperative that
you find another adult who will help you out. Without a guardian, you
might have trouble signing the papers you need and you may not be able
to receive government benefits, depending on where you live.
In short, try not to lean on your parents too much, because they
probably have their own conflicted feelings about your parenthood. They might
surprise you by backing away completely for a while, so have a game
plan if they do this. On the other hand, this is not the time to be too
proud, since you, more than adult parents, will need all the help you can
get, from money for diapers to babysitting.
Cruising with the Kid
One thing almost all teenage parents have in common is the
understandable feeling that their social life will never be the same. Many teenage
parents report losing all or most of their friends as the result of
their sudden parenthood. One 16 year-old mother recalls bringing her baby
out with friends and hearing the unfeeling comment, “Are you bringing
THAT with you?”
For most people your age, this is a time of fun and games and they will
not understand your situation. It is useful to befriend people who like
children, but they won’t necessarily relate to your new life. You need
to create your own support group.
This might mean making connections
with other teenage parents in your neighborhood or trying to find chat
groups for teenage parents online. It’s a good idea to seek out a mentor,
someone who was in the same situation you are finding yourself in now
and who survived it.
Depression can result from the feeling that no one
understands you, and, with everything you have to worry about, the last
thing you need to zap your energy is the blues.
Married (or Single) with Children
Some teenage couples who face early parenthood embrace the new
responsibility by getting married. They feel that marriage is a natural result
of their feelings toward one another, although the purpose for getting
married came a bit early. Many others get married only because of
parental and societal pressure, because they feel that they “have to” for
the sake of the child.
With the overwhelming financial and social
problems many teenage parents face, such half-hearted marriages rarely last,
and if they do, they are often unhappy unions. If you feel committed to
your partner, marriage is a good option, especially if you have family
Don’t get into the “It’s you and me against the world”
mentality and marry your partner only because you feel like you need someone
to cling to or because you don’t think it “looks good” to be alone.
Support is more lasting if it comes from an adult mentor or parent than an
unwilling spouse, and divorce is often so troublesome that young
wonder why they rushed to get married in the first place. Again, you
don’t have the energy now to endure a marriage made out of panic.
It Doesn’t Grow on Trees
You’ll be surprised how much those cute little bundles cost; a baby can
run you up to $10,000 the first year (including the hospital fee). But
don’t panic; sit down with your mother or an experienced parent and
work out a budget of exactly what the baby will need and how much it will
The greatest expense will be healthcare followed by diapers,
wipes, lotions and formula, if you choose to bottle feed. You can save a
lot of money by going to garage sales or thrift stores and purchasing
cribs, changing tables and baby clothes.
Babies need a lot of stuff, but
you may be surprised by how generous people suddenly become with their
kiddy hand-me-downs when they want to see your baby smile. Again, this
is not the time to be proud; accept gifts with enthusiasm.
Just the Facts…
Few teenage parents are able to rely on their parents for all of their
financial needs; after all, your parents have their own family to
support. The option for many is a part-time job and school combined with
government support such as food stamps or welfare. Most states limit
welfare to 2 years and require that the recipient pursue some kind of
training that will improve their chances of eventual employment.
It is better
to swallow your pride and collect welfare temporarily than to drop out
of school; jobs that do not require at least a high school diploma are
few and far between and are very low paying. If you have to drop out of
school, be sure that it is only a temporary measure and make concrete
plans on how you will return.
If you are the mother and are not married, you will need to go your
state Health and Welfare Department to confirm the paternity of the child.
If the father has disappeared, the authorities will assist you in
searching for him so he can pay child support. An unwed mother must identify
the father of the child to receive benefits. If you receive a paternity
notice, the law in most states that you need to report to the
authorities within 10 days.
Once paternity has been established, the father must pay child support.
This is usually taken directly out of his paycheck. Failure to pay
child support can result in losing your driver’s license or even going to
jail. However, most states are fair in the amount of child support
required from teenagers and allow a father living with his parents to pay
child support jointly with his parents. This often allows the father to
continue school and to work part-time.
Somebody to Lean On
A key to surviving teenage parenthood is to have mutual support and
hope for the future. Befriend others who know what you are going through.
As mentioned above, start a support group if there isn’t already one in
your community. Tell yourself that the first year or so will be
difficult, but you are strong enough to make your decisions, and you can
handle the challenges that lie ahead.
The most stable young families are
those that have the most support, so if your relationship with your family
is distant, surround yourself with friends. These are probably not the
same friends you went to the mall with before you became a parent, and
you will probably have to make a conscious effort to make such
friendships, but it is well worth the effort.
There are schools in the US and Canada especially designed for teenage
parents. These provide the perfect solution for kids who feel rejected
by family and peers, because everyone who attends these schools is in
the same situation. Some schools have a half a day schedule to
accommodate part-time work commitments. There are often classes in parenting
and nutrition. Usually, there are day care facilities on the premises and
job hunting resources. Check the phone book or the internet for
schools for teenage parents in your area.
Whatever decide, tell yourself that you can make it. Nothing in this
life happens without a reason, and even if you regret the circumstances
that caused your early parenthood, your child has no regrets, but
unconditional love and confidence in you.