In my opinion, television shows like “Teen Mom” and “The Life of an American Teenager” send the wrong message to today’s teen age girls. Don’t get me wrong – I agree that these shows are semi-realistic about all the “bad” things that teen age girls must endure if they choose to get pregnant. However, they also make it seem that it is possible you will get your own television show, your friends will stand by you and your parents will always be supportive. Having a baby as a teenager is not a massive game of dress-up where someone else takes over when you don’t feel like dealing anymore. Sometimes you have to deal whether you feel like it or not.
When young women become single mothers at early ages (16-18), they are poorly prepared to give up their own lives to care for the life of another. To begin a life of single motherhood at such an age is very difficult and confining. Teenage girls are, by nature, self-centered. I do not mean to be judgmental with this statement. The truth is that most teenage girls believe that the world revolves around them. I remember the age. I was the same way. I believe it is a natural part of learning how to care for oneself and how to stand up for oneself.
When young women become mothers at very early ages, they need the knowledge and guidance of the mothers who have gone before them. Honestly, I don’t remember anyone explaining to me how often to bathe an infant, how to gently clean their ears, or why you must sometimes use a soft brush on their scalp when washing their hair. I was given a bundle of supplies when I left the hospital after the birth of my first daughter (I was age 24) and despite the fact that I was highly nervous changing those first few diaper, some type of mother-instinct seemed to kick in and I was taking care of her with few concerns. This is not to say that there were not bumps in the road, because there definitely were! My oldest had terrible colic, cried incessantly and slept little. There were times when I fell asleep in the rocking chair!
But these very young mothers do not seem to quickly gain that mother-instinct, perhaps because they have not ceased to need a mother themselves. It is terribly important for the women in their lives – their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, adult female friends – gather and support them in their quest for motherhood. We need to be forthcoming and unafraid to offer advice both in the form of stories from our own early motherhood experiences and plain-speak about the basics. What we believe to be “common sense” may be completely unknown to these new mothers. Wiping from the front to the back when changing diapers. The fact that an infant ear canal is so much shorter than that of an adult. The critical need to support the baby’s head in its first few months. How to burp a child in both the shoulder and sitting positions. How often a baby should have a bowel movement and the introduction of water into their diet if they have troubles in this area.
These new young mothers also need to realize that the mothers, grandmother, aunts, close female friends are not trying to “tell them what to do” nor are they “treating them like they are stupid.” While it is instinctual to defend ourselves and our capabilities, historically women have often worked together to teach the young and ensure survival. It is a part of family living that we need to embrace. There is a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips in the form of those who have gone before us. It is a shame to waste this valuable natural resource.
I believe that women possess great power. Our bodies nurture life and our spirit nurtures dreams. We are the source of life for our families as we hold them together and support the needs of all. We need to re-claim this power through nurturing our new mothers, especially the very young mothers. We need to reclaim our strength.
NOTE: I apologize, in retrospect, to the single fathers out there. When teenagers experience pregnancy, it is most often that the young women are the ones who make the decisions and care for the resulting child. I fully accept that there are some young men out there who step up and claim their children, making every effort to care for and do all that is right by them. These young men have obviously already been under the influence of a strong man who has shown them that taking responsibility for their actions and decisions is the right thing to do. I respect that. For these young men, it is equally important that both parents and grandparents of both genders step forward to assist in teaching them how to take care of their responsibilities. They both deserve and need our knowledge and understanding every bit as much as young mothers.