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The Small Generation Gap: Advice for Teenage Parents 
by Miriam Metzinger May 24, 2005

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 after.

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 and 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 and dreams.

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.

Allow 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 imitating.

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 support.

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 couples 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 cost.

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.


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