My mom was only 16 when she had me, her first child. By the time she was 23, she had three little girls. I don’t think she was ready for any of us. She needed more time to deal with the problems she herself had while growing up. She didn’t need the lives of three young girls adding to her own issues. But she went ahead and had us before she was ready. Now, partly because of all this, I’m in foster care.
Now if I’m not mistaken, my mom told me she had me so young because she wanted someone to love and to love her back. I understand the need to be loved, but if you want someone to love you, get a dog. Once you train that dog to love you, it knows nothing else. But a baby’s not like that. A baby doesn’t just give like that. A baby takes and takes and takes and takes. If you have a baby because you want to receive love, you’re bound to be disappointed, and the baby will feel it.
My Mom Didn’t Get to Grow Up
I don’t think my mom realized any of that. I don’t think she realized how difficult it is to be a mom while you’re still trying to grow up yourself. So she went ahead and had us. She hopped and skipped right over her childhood, and then she stumbled, and we, her kids, struggled with her.
By the time I was about 8, I already had too much responsibility. My mom supported our family financially, but she had me supporting us in other ways. It’s like she was the working wife and I was the housewife.
After school I would come home and do my homework, make sure my room was clean and help my sister with her homework. Then, after the other kids were asleep, I was still up doing my chores. I’d clean the dishes, scrub the bathroom and iron my baby sisters’ school clothes. I would also get my grown mama’s clothes ready for her to wear to work the next day.
I Shouldered Her Burden
Even the weekends weren’t easy. On the weekends, I washed everyone’s laundry.
Now I don’t mind helping my mom out around the house, but that’s just too much. I feel like I missed my childhood trying to clean up after my family. But I didn’t feel like I could say no, because if someone wasn’t doing all the things I was doing at home, I might have gotten put into foster care much earlier than I did.
So now I have strong feelings about teen pregnancy. I think people should wait to grow up before they have babies. If you wait, you have more time to learn how to deal with stress without resorting to violence or neglect. You also have time to save money for a child, and get used to holding down a job. You’ll be less likely to blame your children for opportunities you might miss out on.
Having babies at a young age can make everyone in the family struggle more than they need to, especially the kids.
Of Course Teen Moms Can Succeed
So when FCYU picked me to attend a conference on urban girls (which I thought should really be named “Ghetto Girls”), I looked forward to hearing the part about teen pregnancy. I thought that some of the speakers might be teen moms themselves, and some might have been the daughters of teen mothers, like me. I figured we’d all talk about teen pregnancy and how it had affected our lives.
But that wasn’t what happened. Instead, everyone who went to the session on teen motherhood sat around listening to adults tell us about the teen moms they had interviewed. (Why couldn’t those moms have just talked for themselves?) But what surprised me the most was not that adults were doing all the talking, but that they talked only about the teen moms, and not about the children of teen moms. Some of them talked about how it was nonsense that teen moms can’t succeed in life. One spoke about a teen mom who, several years after having a child, was actually more successful in her career than her sister, who had not been a teen mom.
But What About the Child?
Well, it’s type obvious that a teen mother can still become whatever she wants in life. Of course teen moms can finish high school and work good jobs. My mom has a good job, and I’m proud of her for it. But what about the children of teen mothers? Will those kids get the love, care and attention they need while their teen parents are busy trying to grow up and be successful? Not once during the session did I hear anyone ask a question like this.
And although right next door was a talk on foster care going on, not once did I hear anyone talk about what can happen to you when you’re the child of someone who isn’t ready to be a parent.
There is a teen I once knew by the name of Shauna (not her real name). She was someone who I felt fit the perfect description of an unfit mother. Shauna had two jobs-a job which paid, and a job which didn’t pay. Unfortunately, Shauna only took the job which paid seriously. Her other job, the job of being a mother, she gave only the slightest bit of time.
Shauna would wake up and get ready for the job that gave her the salary she wanted. Then she’d come home that evening to the job she didn’t really care for, the job where she let herself be lazy-her job as a mother. If only she knew that her job at home was the most important job!
Shauna’s precious little life at home, a 4-year-old boy named Leo, rarely got the care and affection he needed, as Shauna was hardly ever home to give him motherly care. When she was home, she didn’t want to be bothered with him. She was succeeding in the world, but she was neglecting her son. And what will happen to Leo, as a result? Will he be able to grow up strong without the attention he needs?
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy says it will be a hard path for him. According to their study “Whatever Happened to Childhood?: The Problem of Teen Pregnancy in the United States,” children of teen mothers tend to have more difficult lives than kids born to older parents. Children of teen mothers do much worse in school than those born to older parents, and they are 50% more likely to repeat a grade. Children of teen moms also have a higher rate of behavior problems. They suffer higher rates of abuse and neglect, and are more likely to go into foster care, like I did.
Kids of Teen Moms Suffer
But the problems don’t end in childhood. Young adult children of teen moms are 30% more likely to be neither working nor going to school. The sons of teen mothers are 13% more likely to end up in prisons. Daughters of teen moms are 22% more likely to become teen mothers themselves. (Which won’t happen to me!)
So how could anyone, in good conscience, have a workshop on teen pregnancy and spend the whole time talking about the teen mom and how she can still finish school and succeed? When a child is born, I like to think that’s one extra person that must be saved in this hard world. So thinking about the mother first is not something I tend to do. The first thing I think about is getting this child the love and care it needs. Why do so few other people think like this?
Grow Up First, Have Kids Later
Too often, when we only worry about whether a young mother can still be successful in the world, we forget to ask if the mother can be successful at home. But we need to ask those kinds of tough questions when talking about teen pregnancy, questions like: Will the teen mother make sure that child is well protected? Is she financially able to raise a child? Has she had a chance to learn how to handle stress in healthy ways? Or will she abuse or neglect that child?
These questions need to be asked, because I know too many teen mothers who act the same way after they have a child as they did before they had a child. In my agency, there are some teen mothers who walk around in name brand clothes, while their children’s clothes are raggedy and don’t fit. It’s clear to me that those moms weren’t ready to be moms-they still care for themselves way more than they care for their child.
My own mom truly loved me and wanted the best for me. She did not want me to grow up like she did, she wanted me to have things that she didn’t have, and she wanted me to live a better life than she lived. The only thing is she wanted it too much and too soon. She had me before she was ready, and ended up giving me the same hard life she had.