Teen Moms Shouldn’t Be Ashamed
When one of my family friends announced her teen daughter's pregnancy this spring, the reaction to her news was definitely lukewarm.
Some expressed outright shock, some offered sincere congratulations, and some kind of just avoided the whole topic altogether.
It can be confusing to know how to react to a teen pregnancy: Do you offer congratulations? What if she's not happy about it? What if she's scared to death? You want to be supportive, but you also hope that she won't face some of the struggles that teen pregnancy can bring. Most of us know how hard motherhood can be, so it's easy to feel conflicted in wanting to wish that she would have an easier life.
Even as a “young” mom at 21, I encountered some of those mixed reactions from others. Some people really didn't know how to treat me: Should they feel sorry for me or happy for me? I understand how it can be hard to know how to treat a teen pregnancy, but there's one thing that no teen mother deserves, and that's shame.
Gloria Malone, my teen-mom idol, recently shared the most compelling thoughts on how mistreated teen mothers are in our society. Her interview in The Cut was so eye opening and refreshing and completely will change the way you ever look at a teen mom again.
She shattered all sorts of stereotypes and revealed some truths, such as:
Sometimes adults make more problems for teen parents.
We often hear how difficult life can be for a teen parent, but surprisingly, Malone found that some of the adults in her life actually made things even harder. “My academic adviser stopped talking to me completely,” she said. “I had teachers not give me assignments; I had teachers who would change the seating arrangements and purposely put me in a tiny desk when I was super pregnant.”
Teen pregnancy doesn't make you stupid.
For some reason, people equate pregnancy in young moms with ignorance, but can I just point out that pregnancy isn't always something we plan or control? Treating teen moms like they are stupid or like they are only capable of making horrible choices can be a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way. “When adults continue you tell you you're not capable, you start to believe it,” pointed out another teen mom.
Many teen moms are still shamed by their own families.
So a teen mom who will only need more help in building a successful life will get all the help she can find, right? Not so much. Some parents still shame their teen daughters simply for getting pregnant. “I didn't have much financial support from my family, and my daughter's father worked out of town often, so all of the child rearing was left up to me. Alone,” related Malone.
All of the negative messages don't help anyone.
We really need to take a step back and decide what our goal is in demonizing teen motherhood. Who is it helping? Is it really deterring teen pregnancy, or is it only serving to trap young mothers in a vicious cycle of poverty, lack of an education, and lost dreams?
“For my entire pregnancy, people had been telling me, ‘This child is going to ruin your life,' ‘You're never going to be able to accomplish your dreams.' As I was giving birth, I was thinking, Holy crap, I'm giving birth to this person, whose life is going to end mine,” related teen mom Natasha Vianna, who gave an amazing TED talk on teen motherhood. “It took years (and I'm still trying) to unpack the ways in which I internalized a feeling of worthlessness.”
There are good parts about being a teen mother.
It may be hard for some, but it is OK to acknowledge that there are positives to be found in any situation, including teen motherhood. From growing together to raising children who see a mother who overcomes obstacles and sets goals, Malone is proud of her relationship with her daughter. “I love that my daughter has seen me accomplish things,” she said. “She's seen me graduate high school; she's seen me graduate college.”
Stopping teen pregnancies doesn't solve the real problems behind teen pregnancies.
Although we associate teen pregnancies with other issues, like children who are more likely to grow up in poverty, do drugs, or have other problems, Vianna and Malone point out that simply focusing on not getting teen girls pregnant doesn't really solve those problems, which are often deeper societal issues.
“Instead of focusing on teen-pregnancy prevention, we need to focus on positive youth development,” said Vianna. “My pregnancy was this lightning rod for people to blame all of my issues and all of my problems on, but the reality is that preventing a pregnancy does not increase opportunities for young people. It does not improve their equitable access to quality education. It does not make their communities safer.”
Bottom line? Shaming teen moms doesn't help anyone, so it's time we support, encourage positivity, and work to solve the real issues behind teen pregnancies to improve the future for women and their children, no matter the age of the mother they are born to.