Going Beyond the Stigma of Teen Parenting

When someone hears that a teenage couple is expecting a child at such a young age, the initial reaction is one of shock, pity, even disgust. Everyone automatically assumes that the parents will be dead-end ‘welfare cases’, doomed to a future as trailer park trash. In some cases, this may be true, but the fact that this is the automatic assumption is rather unfortunate, as it doesn’t always end this way. Most people reading a piece such as this are already recalling solemn statistics and negative stories from daytime television or news specials. Rarely do they fathom to think that some teen parents adjust, adapt, and thrive. Why do I have the right to defend the existence of successful teen parents? I am one.

At the age of 15, neither I nor my beau Jessica were prepared for the news that we were about to be teen parents. We were the last kids anyone would expect to be in our situation. We were both high honor students, active in the school band and various extracurriculars, and we were one of the unofficial, ‘class couples’ – everyone knew we were together and very much in love. Our family members’ reactions ran the full emotional spectrum. Jessica’s mother was in a daze and worried, her father quite infuriated, my father standoffish, and my mother (the most liberal and open-minded of the bunch) was cautiously optimistic and the first to get excited about the new addition.

We heard nothing but horror stories from adults, and we must have been told adoption was the best option at least 100 times a month. Jessica and I were not about to give up our baby, regardless of our fears and insecurities, and there was nothing anyone would say that would change our minds.

We were put into contact with an organization known as Healthy Families. They were a program designed to help and support young parents and their children through what is a challenging and stressful time. We had numerous home visits throughout Jess’ pregnancy, and were given lots of information, help, advice, and resources by a caring staff. We met other teens in our situation, and were reasonably surprised at the type of people they were. They were like everyone else our age, with hopes and aspirations, and a reasonable amount of excitement and anticipation towards the journey we were all about to embark upon.

As the months went by, the big day came, and we met what my mother always called, our ‘unexpected gift’ (she was probably the only one to never refer to the baby as an accident or mistake besides Jessica and I). Late in the afternoon on a beautiful summer day, we met Bianca. We had countless visits from family, friends, Healthy Families staff, and even some hospital employees who had taken a shine to our new little family.

Fast forward 5 years, and you can watch Bianca as she boards the bus to the afternoon session of kindergarten. She comes home with plenty of stories, and lots of colorful pictures. We are constantly told she is extremely intelligent, and has a magnetic personality and precocious way about her that never fails to leave a lasting impression on everyone she meets. She is starting to read to us, requiring little to no assistance, and loves to spell increasingly longer words (which eliminates the previously handy strategy of spelling between parents!). Her first report card was almost perfect…we learned she can be a bit chatty at times, but that really wasn’t a big surprise with her ‘social butterfly’ nature.

So Bianca is a success, and that’s wonderful, but only half the picture. Her parents? Are they the doomed stereotypes, destined to live off the state for the rest of their dreary days? Very doubtful. We have yet to receive one dollar of welfare, as eligible as we were. Instead, Jessica is adding up countless credits from a state college, and has begun work as a substitute teacher and translator. As for me? I am well on my way to my psychology degree, and plan to continue on to put my skills to use in the US National Guard and someday perhaps a private practice. I was on the front page of a Boston newspaper while Bianca was about 1 year old (the Father’s Day edition!), and helped teach in a program called ‘Boot Camp for New Dads’, giving tips to future fathers who were anywhere from 5 to 20 years older than I was.

I hope that reading this might prompt a different reaction when someone mentions a teenage pregnancy, Instead of a dirty look, or look of pity, offer some support. Direct the couple to associations and programs to help them, instead of reminding them how young they are, or trying to scare them into making a decision they may regret years down the road. Agencies and programs are just a Google away, and readily available almost anywhere. By no means do I promote or advocate teen sex/pregnancy/parenting, and I can affirm that it is extremely difficult, and a strain on the sanest of individuals. I do, however, refuse to agree with anyone who says it is a disaster and/or a life ending scenario.

I can’t say that anyone expected much out of us, and I understand. We had placed ourself into a precarious situation which does tend to produce broken homes and sad stories. But despite all the horror stories and statistics that were stacked against us, we prevailed as parents. We had support from several family members, and we eliminated all doubt which seemed to be everywhere for so long. I admit a guilty pleasure whenever I encounter someone who doubted our ability to raise a child successfully. Instead of the sad scenario they were so quick to forecast, they are faced with a lovable young lady with a bright disposition, a heartwarming smile, and a promising future ahead of her. Her eyes light up when she sees me, and mine do the same when I see her. She’s Daddy’s little girl all the way, and I wouldn’t change anything about my life as a young parent for anything in the world.

For personal reasons, I am sad to say I was forced to end our 7 year relationship, but Jessica and I are still focused solely on raising Bianca, and remain on the best of terms. We are both in our twenties now, and appear a little more like your typical parents, but neither of us will be forgetting our humble beginnings as parents any time soon. Neither of our families were rich, and nothing was ever handed to us without a lot of work, but we are still standing. We are both extremely proud of our little girl, and love to watch her learn, and never fail to smile as she teaches us a thing or two along the way.

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