I was a teen parent. I am not talking here about parenting teenagers, although I have done that; I am talking about being a teenager when I gave birth to my first child.
I was sixteen years old when my daughter was born. My daughter’s dad and I never got married; as a matter of fact when my mother found out that I was pregnant she forbade me from seeing him again. I have always thought that trying to forbid me from seeing someone whom I obviously, at the time, was “in love with” was the craziest thing that she could have done. The only thing that forbidding me to see him did was provoke me to sneak around and lie about where I was going so that I could see him. I understood that in her mind she was doing what she thought was best but in my mind I believe she was being a “thoughtless” parent.
The definition of thoughtless says that it means “showing lack of thought or care”, and “inconsiderate or inattentive”. Lack of thought or care and inattentiveness was what my mother was exhibiting. In my opinion, she reacted without thinking, thus “showing lack of thought”. Had she thought clearly about the decision she made to forbid me from seeing my boyfriend instead of reacting to the fact that I was pregnant perhaps she would have decided differently. What, I wonder, did she think was going to happen? After all, it’s kind of like the expression “shutting the barn door after the horse has gotten out”; I was already pregnant and there’s no such thing as “getting more pregnant”. And of course I would want to continue to see him; he is my daughter’s father!
She never discussed with me her reasons for her decision. The only conversation we ever had about my pregnancy was when she tried to pressure me into having an abortion or putting my baby up for adoption. I am sure that she probably was concerned about the fact that having a child would change my life and that it was a huge responsibility that I would be taking on but the fact that she never discussed this with me was in my opinion being “inattentive”.
Don’t get me wrong, I now love my mom but while I was growing up she was not someone to whom I could go to discuss anything, and especially topics like sexuality, sex or relationships. Perhaps if she had provided an atmosphere of openness and I knew that I could talk to her about anything I may never have gotten pregnant in the first place.
I was thirteen years old when I lost my virginity. I was dating a sixteen year old boy who constantly pressured me to have sex with him. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do; I didn’t know much about it and I was afraid of becoming pregnant. I didn’t even think, or know much about sexually transmitted diseases. I think that if my mother was someone to whom I could go, and discuss the fact that I was being pressured to have sex and that I didn’t know how to handle it, without her reacting angrily towards me, then I probably would have retained my virginity much longer. Instead, I was embarrassed by what was happening and had no one to turn to. I ended up giving in to the pressure of that sixteen year old boy thinking, due to my inexperience, that if I gave into him once that he would just leave me alone after that. Of course, I can now look back and understand how foolish that was. Unfortunately I didn’t have anyone to whom I could go at that time to have that explained to me.
I always wished that I had a parent that I could turn to and because of that I vowed that when I had children I would be the type of parent that they could talk to. I have always tried to be patient, have an open ear, and be a “thoughtful” parent. The definition of thoughtful is, of course, opposite that of thoughtless. It means “engrossed in thought”, “exhibiting or characterized by careful thought”, or “having or showing heed for the well-being or happiness of others and a propensity for anticipating their needs or wishes”. We have an atmosphere of openness in our home; there is no topic that cannot be discussed.
I can’t honestly say that my reactions have always been positive and that I haven’t had instant reactions sometimes. The difference, however, between my mother and me is that I do think about the reactions that I have had and if I have reacted negatively I try to figure out why and discuss that with my children. I don’t just say “because I said so”; I give an explanation of why I agree or disagree with something they say or do. I am also open to changing my mind about something once I have thought about it or I have heard their arguments for or against something they want to do or have done. Again, as in my relationships with anyone else, I can say that I am sorry or I was wrong. I don’t believe that I am always right, nor do I have the need to be. I think when you are able to tell your children that you are sorry or you were wrong you are teaching them to do the same in their relationships with you and others. That is an important ability for them to learn and have.
I have had people react with surprise and ask me, “Why do you allow your kids to talk back to you?” My answer to that is “I think they have the right to question what I think, say and decide. We have open discussions in our house.” Why wouldn’t we? I respect them as human beings. I don’t believe in the old adage “Kids should be seen and not heard”; just because someone is a child does not mean that what they think or what they have to say is insignificant. They have as much right in our home to have emotions, express their opinions and disagree with me as any other person with whom I have a relationship.
As for the topic of sex, I believe that this is a topic that should not be ignored. Sex happens, sometimes at a younger age than we would like. It is important that whatever your opinion on the topic that you are open to discussing it with your kids. If you just tell them they shouldn’t have sex because you “say so” or because “the Bible says so” that is not encouraging open and frank discussion. Encourage your children to talk about relationships and sexuality and why it’s important and better to wait to be in a committed relationship. Tell them about the diseases that exist, especially HIV. Make sure that you tell them how to keep safe; talk about condoms. Talk about why having multiple partners is not the healthiest thing to do, neither physically nor emotionally. If they start having sex before you think it’s appropriate don’t shut them down, allow them to tell you. Help protect them if they are having sex. Wouldn’t you rather keep them safe than have them either get pregnant, contract a sexually transmitted disease or, even worse, die from it?
Having gone through the experience of being a teen parent, I wish that I had been able to talk to my parents or that they were able to talk to me and be frank and open about sex and sexuality, and relationships. They weren’t. I, thank God, I only got pregnant. In this day and age there is much more at stake!