Published on October 5th, 2018 | by Heather Jackson0
Figuring Myself Out
When I got pregnant, I was not prepared. In fact, I still do not feel that prepared. But isn’t that most parents?
When I finally decided to take the pregnancy test, I knew it would be positive. I just knew it. And it was. I sat in the bathroom with my sister and her girlfriend, staring down with dread at the stick with the positive sign. I was terrified and felt as if I had failed.
To make things more confusing and scary, I was single and a teenager in high school. My baby-daddy was in high school, too (in fact, a grade lower). We were no longer together; he was selling drugs and dating someone else. Still, I called to tell him the terrifying news. He told me he didn’t want to hear it, so I told him to fuck off and told him anyway. He said nothing, then hung up the phone.
I considered adoption and abortion. I looked up adoption agencies and called them. I even went to an adoption agency and browsed photos of couples wanting to adopt a child. I remember thinking how much better these parents would be. They were stable and had an education and resources (I assumed). I was the opposite. How could I provide a decent life for the growing fetus inside me?
I had a difficult time deciding who would raise my child: strangers who were seemingly more suited, or me? If I chose adoption, I also had to decide whether it was going to be closed or open. These were very overwhelming choices for me to make at my age. But I also feel these choices would be difficult for anyone.
In the end, I did choose to keep my daughter. I didn’t feel like it was the right decision for me to choose adoption and by the time I found out I was pregnant, I was too far along to have an abortion in the state where I lived. I also felt, deep down, that I could have my baby and figure it out.
Why did I feel like I was opposite of those couples who wanted to adopt my baby? Research demonstrates the outcomes of children in various households. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the CDC, and other sources, the outcomes of children in teen and single parent homes are not as positive as children in homes of coupled and/or married parents. However, I would argue that this is a societal issue, not a simple problem of the parent or an individual. Further, there are patriarchal assumptions of how families “should be.” Capitalism and the state push us away from each other, support, and communities. We are shamed for not fitting into various expectations, but also shamed when we seek the state’s support (social services, welfare, and so on) because we need it to survive. Since I did not fit into society’s expectations of what a mother should be, I felt like an inadequate, unacceptable parent. That’s why the married, more stable couples in the books at the adoption agency seemed more suited to parent my child than I did.
Being a teen mom has defined my life more than anything I’ve experienced. I always thought that as my child and I got older, teen parenting would have less of an impact on our lives. But it really hasn’t. My daughter and I basically grew up together. As I was growing and figuring myself out, I was also raising another person. I had to really focus on making sure that I was okay in order to provide the best possible life for my daughter.
It was hard to navigate me as an individual while having a child. I never had time to figure out who I was outside of my role as a mother. She has always been part of the crucial development periods of my life and I never felt like I fit in with my peers. I still feel that way! Not many of my friends have children, let alone children the same age my daughter is now.
Part of the struggle has been the expectations placed on me. Everyone in society has expectations and judgments placed on us; we do not have to be defined by them or give them power over our lives. Regardless, we have to navigate ourselves through them.
One of the most annoying things I’ve experienced is people thinking I am my daughter’s sister because I look and sound young. I am fairly short and small, so this also impacts how people see me as a person in relation to my daughter. Once, I was taking her to the bathroom and someone thought I was waiting for my sister and that I was 14 years old. When I explained that I was the mom, she was shocked. I thought these comments would diminish as my daughter and I got older, but they have not. It gets frustrating because I don’t feel respected when this happens. Further, I am single and have been the majority of my daughter’s life (besides people I have dated), so this also impacts how I relate to my daughter and how people relate to me.
While teen parenting has presented some challenges, it’s also been empowering for me. The reason I went to college and left my abusive baby-daddy was because I had my daughter. I worked on my mental health so I could be the best parent possible. Teen parenting made me grow up, and it made me more focused on my life because I knew someone else relied on me. I have also learned so much about myself, social problems, politics, and how to interact with the world. Being a teen parent has made me realize how important it is to support people that don’t fit into the expectations society places on us.
Our society expects a lot from everyone. There is so much separation, and it’s hard to get the support we want. And then we judge and shame each other. Why? We all need support, no matter what. No one wants to feel like a failure, especially when there’s pressure to raise children in a particular way. People of all ages and backgrounds have difficulties raising children. No one has it down perfect. We all have our struggles, even if we try to do everything by the book. And even so, what book is that?
Instead of blaming teen and young parents for their choices, take a look at what society places on all of us. We are expected to fit into various roles and be perfect. But we’re not. All people need support, love, and help. Circumstances can add to the positions we are in. Sometimes we have to fight really hard to get out of poverty or deal with racism and sexism and everything else. Of course not everyone is going to be okay with our personal choices and at some point, we have to learn how to accept that, but teen parents shouldn’t be judged for choosing to parent at a young age. Instead of thinking about the negatives, think about why someone may be in this position. Perhaps becoming a mom at a young age was the best choice for someone and their child loves them just as much as a child with an older mom.
Look around you. I am sure you have family members, friends, and neighbors who were teen parents. There are many ways to be a good parent; it is not based on a particular age, class, race, or identity. I know a lot of teen and young parents. All of them are amazing, loving parents who have thriving children.
Raising a child while you are going to school, working, and figuring out your own life is really difficult. Some of us are navigating high school, college, low-wage jobs, welfare offices, mental health, physical health, being single, and so much more. At the same time, we are raising children to be self-sufficient, resilient, and mindful of the world around them. Parenting is challenging work for anyone! And to do that while you’re young, single, poor, and so on just adds to the struggle. Teen and young parents are good parents. We go through a lot and are juggling a lot of things at once. We deserve praise, not shame.