In the step part of my family, we have had some teen pregnancy. My older step-sister’s daughter had a son when she was in high school who will be 10 this summer. She finished high school with her class, and with lots of support from her family, has been raising her son. He is deaf, and had a cochlear implant when he was about 2. Her relationship with her son’s father is extremely tense and they do transfers at the police station. She got married last fall and is expecting her first child with her husband next month.
My younger step-sister’s daughter dropped out of high school at 16, got pregnant a few months later, and now has a son who is 18 months old. She and her boyfriend (who is sometimes her son’s father, and sometimes another boy) are relying on public assistance, and while she has promised to get her GED several times, has not yet taken any steps to do so. I should add that I am not close to her so my information comes largely second hand through my step-mother.
Why am I telling you all this?
My girls are very aware of their cousins’ teen pregnancies, even though one of them happened before they came into the family. They both comment whenever it comes up that 17 is too young to have a baby, and they don’t understand why you would have a baby with someone you break up with right away. I of course reinforce this thinking, telling them that having a baby is a big step, and you want to be old enough to make such an important decision, and to have a partner who supports you in that decision when the time comes. I am also not naive enough to think that what they say at age 9 and 6 will stick with them when they are 19 and 16, but hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?
My mother and I have had a rough time of it these last few months. She and I don’t seem to speak the same language anymore and my fuse with her is extremely short. In my opinion she is turning into a bigoted old woman. She doesn’t act like she likes my children (is constantly mean to them, making them cry), although I know she loves them. She seems to love the idea of them though, and can’t really stand the reality of them. She also has a knack for offending me, and I don’t think I’m particularly easy to offend….although I will admit to having fairly sensitive buttons where she is concerned.
My point in all this is that yesterday on the phone I was telling my mother about the baby shower I’d been to for the step-nephew due next month, and how his mom-to-be’s life has transformed. She made a point of telling me to use that example for my children as a lesson to “keep their legs closed.” I found that wording to be extremely offensive concerning my young children, as well as condescending to me as a parent. I think most parents hope their children refrain from sexual activity until they are well into adulthood, but from everything I’ve read, a higher percentage of children, at younger and younger ages, are sexually active. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect all teens to be celibate (though of course I hope mine are for a long time to come). I do think we as parents have the responsibility to share our values around sexual activity, as well as ways to stay disease and pregnancy-free should they choose to become sexually active. In the end, our children must make those choices for themselves, sometimes quite literally in the heat of the moment.
My mother was fairly liberal with us when I was growing up. All topics were open for discussion, and many topics were discussed that a lot of kids don’t feel comfortable talking about with their parents. On the sex front, I don’t remember being told to wait until marriage (and I don’t think I ever had that expectation), but I did wait longer than most of my peers. My first was also someone “important”. We’d been in a relationship for quite awhile and talked about it for several months before taking that step. It was the kind of “first time” experience I’d like my kids to have – physically, emotionally, psychologically. You only get one first time, and it should come with no regrets – that’s my own value on it anyway.
So to my mother: Sometimes I might ask for advice, but most times I’m just sharing a story. Please don’t turn every detail I share with you into a life lesson for me or my children. I’m not a perfect parent, but I’m doing my best, and unsolicited advice serves to drive the wedge between us further and deeper. Please relax and enjoy your grandchildren.