Having a Baby, Raising a Person

17 teenagers at Gloucester High School made a pact to get pregnant. 17 girls made a decision that, one way or another, will change the course of their entire lives. What were they thinking? Well, I'm sure they weren't thinking, “I'm going to get pregnant and then raise a person!”

No, they were each thinking, with dreamy visions of sweet pudgy toes and chubby tummies, “I'm having a baby!”

I don't want to seem flippant about the sad, foolish pact these children made. Doubtless there will be ongoing debates about the best way to change a girl's circumstances so that she doesn't think a baby is the only way escape an otherwise grinding existence.

But maybe we could start by owning that motherhood is a 25 year journey. We do give birth to babies, but we have those babies for under two years at the most, and then they are toddlers, frequently willful, loud, egocentric toddlers. Then we are parenting school children, for 12-16 years. Then, if we've done a reasonably adequate job, the young adults we've loved and nurtured begin to make their own way and we are left to figure out the second half of our own lives.

We don't have babies, we have people. If we are lucky, we spend perhaps 1/25th of our mothering lives with real, cooing pudgy babies. Often our babies are bawling, frustrated, smelly, violent egomaniacs. I know this to be true and I love babies. I love motherhood, but it's not a Disney colored dream, it's difficult, sometimes dirty, sometimes heartbreaking, joyous work. Perhaps one of the most powerful things we can do to curb teen pregnancy, and to legitimize and prioritize the work of parenting is to rename it:
We are not having babies, we are raising people.

Kathy’s response:

Wow! What a topic. I saw this on the news and it just floored me.
What could these girls possibly be thinking? Or is it rather that they are not thinking? Either way, it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend and doctor who is the mother of 2 girls. I respect her opinion very much. We were discussing the mistakes our children would inevitably make and how best to handle them.

She told me that she had mentioned to her girls that there are really only two mistakes you might make that you can’t change, fix or take back. One is killing someone. Nothing you ever do will bring that person back. The other is becoming a parent too soon. Once you become a parent, you will always be one, whether you take responsibility for that or not. It will change your life forever. While many of those changes are miraculous, most alter the course of your life and temporarily limit your options.

How I wish someone had pointed that out to these girls! While they will no doubt love these children, they could have done better, for themselves and for their future children.

My husband mentioned when discussing this that these girls had no hope in their home. It’s not the schools fault or the town’s atmosphere; it’s their homes, and what they feel there. Had they had hope for their future and all they could accomplish, they might not have had such a hopeful romantic view of parenthood arriving too soon. Maybe, while we are raising people, we should focus on the hope of all they can be and accomplish. We can raise them to be smart adults, who when able, are well equipped to raise people.

Sharon also responds:

Not only was I shocked by what I read in the newspapers, but I was saddened. Sad for the girls and all the fun they would miss, sad for their parents and siblings who will surely have to share the burden, and. of course, sad for the babies being born. I am not saying that all young mothers are bad mothers. I am just saying that any girl who enters into a pact to have a child without recognizing the consequences is definitely too immature to be a good mother. Being a mom at any age is difficult but I can’t even comprehend what being a mom at sixteen must be like.

I don’t understand why anyone would choose to do this. I fear it is because some celebrities in Hollywood are becoming pregnant at such a young age and without partners. Does having a baby seem glamorous? Trust me, it is not. Maternity clothes, hemorrhoids, poopy diapers, and spit-up are anything but glamorous.

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