I have been thinking a lot recently about teenage moms.
I wasn’t a teenage mom myself – I was 21 when I got pregnant – but I looked like a teenager, and was often treated like a teenage mom. In other words, strangers felt they could make derisive comments about (a) my assumed inability to parent, as attributed to my age, (b) my assumed lack of responsibility, as evidenced by inability to use birth control, and (c) my assumed poor choice in a job as a nanny, because clearly I was too young to have my own child.
The thing was, I knew I could parent well, that I was responsible, and that I wasn’t too young to have my first daughter. I had an inner core of strength and belief in myself and my little family that I’m not sure many teenagers have.
The way to help families, even families with teenage parents, is to hold them, strengthen them, support them. Negative and assumptive comments by strangers, acquaintances, or friends do not support families.
I am reminded of a book I like, You Look Too Young to be a Mom, by Deborah Davis. It’s a collection of writings by teenage mothers and adults who use to be teenage mothers. Here is one poem that I think expresses teenage pregnancy well:
#9 Bus by Caitlin Crane
He unfolds like a Japanese fan
and I can feel his slippery feet
kicking my ribs like fence posts,
his head growing between my bones,
jumping with hiccups.
I can feel where his heart is beating
and where his fists, juicy plums,
beat out moon-music.
I want to move my swollen feet,
brave and hysterical,
down the narrow aisle.
I want to say to
this woman sitting next to me,
watching rain from the open window drip onto her sweater,
“My son is signing, can you hear him?”
To the bus driver, who has never heard of reggae,
who spent the seventies in a cathedral with Elvis,
I want to say,
“Listen, he is singing God songs.”
To the pretty girl with red hair and two babies,
who drinks orange juice out of a water bottle,
and coughs into her fist
I want to say,
“Why are your eyes apologetic?”
But when I turn to speak,
my mouth open and half a word hanging out,
I can see it in their skin.
Their faces thin over hard lines,
over, “Get her out of the welfare office, get her out of my wallet.”
Over, “Another one.”
And, “Poor baby, poor girl. She doesn’t even have a chance.
My son is coming,
And I don’t have the time to wait for you.
My son is coming
and he will dance to your echoes of injustice,
his face to the sun.
That is a great poem, Karen! And a great, thoughtful post that I completely agree with.
I had to deal with that kind of attitude occasionally even though I was 26 when I was pregnant, because I was young-looking. The things people assume are hard to deal with. I can understand that the teenage years are not the ideal time for childbearing, but it happens, and those people need help, not dirty looks.
That attitude towards teen moms is called “adultism,” which assumes that age confers wisdom and responsibility. I write a blog about adultism and how it impacts our young people at http://adultism.blogspot.com/ and welcome all comments!
I don’t recall adultism behavior and attitudes when I was pregnant with my first, in 1973. The demographics of parental age have changed so much since then, so it doesn’t surprise me. HipMama magazine, around since the mid-90’s, is devoted to contradicting the stereotypes and providing a forum for the moms among us who haven’t towed the cultural line. I highly recommend it’s sassy take on the social negativity around young moms.
I loved the poem. I felt a lifting of my heart to imagine this young woman, bucking the culture and daring to believe that her child was a blessing. About half way through I got a strong sense of what it would be like if the default attitude among US’ers was joy and anticipation for EVERY child and unconditional support for EVERY mom. What a difference that would make!
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