Teen Parenthood and Afterwards

Flea wrote a post several days ago that I linked to in my latest round-up post. She responded to a minister who grappled with ideas of abortion and choice and teen pregnancy with her usual eloquence. I returned yesterday to find nearly fifty comments to this post, some of which were absolutely disparaging.

I’ve relayed this story many times, the story of my pregnancy and giving birth at eighteen. In short, I had an unplanned pregnancy, decided for several reasons not to get an abortion, was kicked out of my parents’ home (though this is debated within the family), and lived with friends nearly until E was born. I was sick the whole time I was pregnant with chronic bladder, urinary tract, and kidney infections, one of which landed me in the hospital for a week (at which point I was released from the hospital a week early with an IV in my arm and instructions on how to change it by myself — Medicaid rules!), and ended up giving birth two months early due to HELLP syndrome, an affliction that very nearly killed me and will probably recur should I ever get pregnant again.

I chose not to get married, but moved in with E’s dad. We stayed together for one miserable year, both of us horribly depressed, until I finally moved out and back in with my parents. Nonetheless, I managed to finish high school (barely) and immediately started college. Five and a half years later, I’m about to finish up with my undergraduate degree and plan to apply for grad school.

My son is healthy, happy, and wickedly smart. He can read at a 2nd grade level even though he has yet to start kindergarten, knows how to tell a good joke, and loves music just as much as his mom and dad do.

We’re so obviously failures. *gag*

A long time ago I wrote a post about FIPs and KEIs, the kinds of people you’re most likely to meet in large, expensive family-type environments like smelly children’s museums and aquariums pushing around strollers the size of SUVs while their kids run all over the place hitting passersby with broken $30 souveniers they don’t appreciate anyway.

For those of you who didn’t read this post:

FIP – n. abbrev. – 1. fucking inconsiderate parent. 2. parent who is so enthralled with the beauty and splendor of their offspring that said offspring is allowed to do whatever she or he pleases at the expense of other people. 3. usually consists of highly-wealthy parents who should be expecting grandchildren, and are well-versed in an ideology asserting that all forms of discipline stifle a child’s burgeoning creativity; generally buy toys that irritate by-standers and clunky accessories that take up vast expanses of lauren’s personal space. 4. passes down elitist notions of class, race, and gender to children thereby giving child EI. 5. parent to a KEI.

KEI – n. abbrev. 1. kids with entitlement issues. 2. unfortunate brat of an FIP

This post is more about FIPs than KEIs, though one may intuit where I’m going with this. When I trained as a CASA three years ago, one of the things that was drilled into us was the notion that our job as child advocates was to discern whether or not the child’s living situation was harmful to the children, not to hold their lifestyles up to our overwhelmingly middle- and upper middle-class standards. Nonetheless, I trained with people who thought that teen parents should automatically have custody revoked simply by nature of their being young. Not kidding. And they were licensed anyway. So begins my peripheral relationship with FIPs.

FIPs are people so concerned with the image of their family life that they forget there is a family life to tend to. Their children are extensions of their fragile egos living mythical lives, not real people with actual feelings and life experiences separate from themselves. When reasonable people look at FIPs, they see uppity, moralizing proseletyzers keen on harping on people whom they perceive to be lesser beings.

What is this perception of Otherhood usually based on? Money.

The FIPs are getting carried away on Flea’s thread, trying to fit all teen parents into one convenient box:

I have NO SYMPATHY for teens who … through their own stupidity (oh, my bf doesn’t like condoms! or oh, my bf will leave me if we don’t do it! oh, if I have his baby, he’ll love me forever! etc etc etc) get pregnant and then f* up the life of their baby by deciding to keep it.

and

I don’t want my child bringing home any living creature that they cannot take care of and becomes my responsibility. Yes, if carried to term, this is a baby. It is selfish of the teen to want to keep a baby she cannot afford. It just isn’t fair to the child. There are many infertile adult couples just aching for a baby.

and

…once you DO get pregnant, and decide not to abort… you have a RESPONSIBILITY to that child to give it the best possible upbringing…and that usually does NOT mean keeping the baby and having your parents raise it too. If you’re old enough to CHOOSE to have sex, and you get pregnant, you had better be old enough to deal with the consequences of your actions.

Babies are punisment for sluts and children should be raised in isolation. Right. The anecdotal evidence is breathtaking.

When people talk about lack of parent preparedness, the overwhelming thread seems to be about money, ironic considering that many anti-choice activists rail against those who have abortions in part for lack of economic stability. My oh so humble opinion states if you think parenting should be based on one’s earning power, you shouldn’t have any fucking kids. And this rhetoric about turning teenagers into babymaking machines for infertile couples is just reeks of offensiveness. One should never have one’s support as a parent cut off by virtue of age. All parents need emotional support. As young parents, we need more.

My decision to become a parent was difficult for many around me. I was told that I would screw up my life and my potential, and my child would grow up poor and without opportunity. Those were the people that I immediately cut off (some of whom are now parents from unplanned pregnancies — oh sweet karma). Of the many young, single parents I know, the ones who succeed are the ones who have a great deal of support. This support need not be economic or even familial. What we have are peers that understand just how difficult it can be, trade secrets of parenting, give one another tips on how to navigate the structural systems that lend us aid, and offer emergency babysitting. The ones I know who have failed are those who are told from the get-go that they will fail, they will fuck up their child, they will fuck up their own futures, and are immediately cut off at the root without any belief that there is a chance of success.

My family and I have since reconciled and they have become a wonderful resource. One day several years ago, my brother-in-law approached me and told me that he was thrilled to have gotten to know Ethan. He became a parent at twenty-six, having been married to my sister for several years, both of them pulling in sizable incomes. He told me that at first, he thought my choice to parent would be a disaster.

“But then,” he said, “even though I read all the books and thought I knew what was ahead of me, I realized I wasn’t prepared to be a parent either. You know, I don’t think anyone is.”


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20 comments for “Teen Parenthood and Afterwards

  1. May 26, 2005 at 11:17 pm

    Wonderful post. My mother faced and unplanned pregnancy at seventeen. As I was the little bundle of, um, joy, I’m more than a little glad she chose to keep me on board. I’ve known the circumstances ever since I could read a calendar and learned the gestation period of babies, but I don’t think I ever really gave due consideration to the magnitude of what she faced before, so thank you for that.

  2. May 27, 2005 at 12:09 am

    A friend of mine got pregnant the first time she had sex and gave birth at the age of 16. While she was in the hospital after the birth, someone from an adoption agency came to her bedside (completely uninvited) and tried to harass her into giving up her baby (“You’re only 16! You haven’t even finished school! How do you think you’re going to raise a baby!”). She gave the woman a resolute “no”.

    I’m guessing that they had looked at my friend’s chart and seen that she was a healthy, clean-living girl who’d had a completely natural birth, and they thought this would be a really desirable baby. Anyway, her son is now a 21-year-old man who walked his mother down the aisle at her wedding last month.

  3. May 27, 2005 at 2:32 am

    Mary and I were just discussing this issue a few days. Apparently, the data actually shows that teenage motherhood does not have an adverse effect on things like the mother’s future income — i.e., while it is a hard thing to undertake, it does not screw up their lives. Teenage mothers tend to be people who, due to race, poverty, family stress, etc. are likely to have tough lives regardless of whether they have children. Mary said that one study compared two groups of women who got pregnant as teenagers, one of which had miscarriages and the other had their babies. While they were similar as teenagers, the ones who had their babies were actually doing better by their 30s.

  4. Kim
    May 27, 2005 at 2:39 am

    I get the Twitchy Crazy Eye of Doom every single time I think about the FIP’s that I encounter on a weekly (thank God not daily) basis. I can’t even say enough how much I hate the mindset that a ton of money and a wedding ring = Instant Amazing Parent.

    I come from a lower-middle-class, wickedly dysfunctional family. Most of my friends through my teens — hell, even up ’til now! — were/are squeaking by on as much or less financially than my family was when I was growing up. I married a guy from an upper-middle-class family who, while they have their own mini-dysfunctions, are nowhere -near- the Jerry Springer level that my family is. As a result, I find myself uniquely bridged between two worlds: On the one hand, I have my friends, some of whom live in public housing; the friends of mine who have children are all single parents. On the other side of the family, I’ve got a few family members who’re FIP’s with KEI’s in tow, complete with SUV’s far bigger than the families they hold, children who’re taking golf lessons at the age of 10, etc. And even stepping back and viewing both sides as objectively as I possibly can, I really have to say that the kids I know who get the most personal attention, discipline, affection, and actual parental interaction are my tattooed, pierced, freaky, wickedly poor, 26-and-younger single-parent friends. And yet, they get told by people around them on a near-constant basis that they’re going to fail, that their kids will turn out to be “trash just like them,” that their children will suffer and that they will never succeed. It makes me so angry.

  5. May 27, 2005 at 8:24 am

    Kudos for writing this piece. Today is my son’s 2nd birthday and linking to this from my blog will be a great way to recognize it. Parenting prejudice prevails. But you’ve got a great attitude about it, and a great way to convey it.

  6. May 27, 2005 at 9:12 am

    Apparently, the data actually shows that teenage motherhood does not have an adverse effect on things like the mother’s future income — i.e., while it is a hard thing to undertake, it does not screw up their lives.

    Don’t say “the data” without citing any. Even the most liberal, pro-choice sources I read in social work school, such as the National Association of Social Workers policy manual, admitted that single, teenage parents are more likely to drop out of their education, and thus more likely to live in poverty. That doesn’t mean we should blame them necessarily, but you can’t deny that the statistics *are* there, and they aren’t coming just from Christian, rightwing sources.

    Now whether or not it screws up their lives is debatable, because some people eventually move up financially, while others do not.

  7. May 27, 2005 at 9:23 am

    Great post, Lauren. I was another of those babies who the FIPs think should have been given away to rich white suburbanites—I’m grateful that’s not what happened in my case.

  8. Thomas
    May 27, 2005 at 10:04 am

    Lauren, this was thought-provoking.

    I have seen the KEI. I’ve learned a lot by negative example. I have relatives whose parenting frightens me — and they’re upper MC, had children in their late twenties — all the “right” stuff. The kids neve learned any self- discipline, and are impossible.

    I’ve also seen the people in my community hand down the entitlement to their children, as the wealth and privilege of the wealthy parents in my hometown were passed on to my classmates. I grew up hanging onto the bottom of the lower middle class, and so did my wife. Our son is in a town where the school district is a greased slide to selective universities — as mine was, but I was from the poor side of town and everybody knew it.

    I don’t know for sure how to make my boy understand that he’s lucky, that his grandfather came to this country with nothing but a toolbox so he could be here, that his father laid baseboard to pay for higher education so he could be here.

    He’s not two yet. Some day, I want to take him down to the parking lot at the train station where I commute to work. I want to show him the Mexican day laborers waiting for a truck, so they can earn $80 for the day. I want to tell him how those guys have children, too, and they want their children to go to college, too, and tell him why there are so many obstacles in their way.

    When I have my worst days at work, I can still remember that it’s better than nailing off a deck in 25-degree weather. I’m worried that, having gotten here, my son won’t understand that it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t free. That it’s not his by divine right. I’m afraid he’ll grow up soft and arrogant.

    I want to pass down the drive that my mother and father had, that my wife and I have, to make a better life. I’m not sure I know how to do that.

  9. May 27, 2005 at 11:48 am

    Thomas, make your parents’ story a part of the family quilt, and never let your son get away with anything that lacks integrity. I have always encouraged responsibility and independence in Ethan since his toddlerhood, and it seems to have done nothing but good for him. Similarly, I offer a lot of praise for his accomplishments — but only accomplishments. He knows he is the light of my life, but also that this fact does not lower my expectations for him, and he never gives a second thought to sharing his accomplishments with me.

    God, I love that kid.

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  11. May 27, 2005 at 2:35 pm

    Just for the record, the cite for the study that Fred Vincy mentioned is Hotz, McElroy and Sanders “The Costs and Consequences of Teenage Childbearing for Mothers.”

    A decent review of the literature is at:
    http://www.agi-usa.org/pubs/journals/3023698.html

    Lauren, thanks for raising these issues.

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  13. May 27, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    I wasn’t a teen parent, but still a single mom at 21, just finishing school. Age and income don’t have a damned thing to do with parenting skills. Love and nurturing do.

    (My daughter turned 20 this week, and is a scholarship student at a state uni where she’s studying poli-sci. I wish I could persuade her to blog now, because someday she will run the world.)

  14. Dianne
    May 27, 2005 at 8:27 pm

    Lauren, your kid sounds terrific and I think your raising him alone while getting a degree is next to superhuman. But did you have to do the mommy drive-by? You sound like a natalist, insisting that women should have their kids in their teens and that anyone who has kids in their 3os is going to ruin them. This is no more true than the claim that teenage mothers are going to ruin their kids. In both cases it depends on the people and circumstances involved.

    I’m one of those parents who has a toddler at an age when, according to you and the natalists, I should be preparing for grandchildren. If I’d had a kid at 18 it would have been a disaster. I admire your ability to raise a child at that age without loosing your own sense of self and ambition in the process, but I couldn’t have done i. So I waited until I could. I guess that makes me a FIP in your eyes. Too bad: I’d expect that kind of expect that sort of labeling from the fundies, but it’s a bit of a disappointment to see it from someone I usually agree with and respect.

  15. May 27, 2005 at 9:33 pm

    But did you have to do the mommy drive-by? You sound like a natalist, insisting that women should have their kids in their teens and that anyone who has kids in their 3os is going to ruin them.

    Oh, no. I don’t mean to sound this way at all. My problem is with what I perceive as empty parenting, those concerned with the appearance of good parenthood and family life, something from which my single parent peers and I are immediately excluded. My overall point, especially when you consider the other writings I’ve done on this subject, is that no family is perfect, no parent is perfect, and we all need scads of support and time to recoup. The people posting at Flea’s got me into a tizzy in part because they seem to try and equate the event of birthing before the age of twenty with a low IQ and a penchant for doing lines off the toilet seat while the kid’s in the bath.

    FIPness requires judgementalism and condecension, IMO.

    And one more thing. What I do isn’t superhuman, it’s what has to be done. I have a lot of help and support, just as any parent should. My family and friends are as much a part of E’s success as anything I have done. I think my one strength has been the choices of who to let in, who to keep out, and who to bring in very close to us. Because it is just the two of us most of the time, that has been key.

  16. May 28, 2005 at 1:20 am

    ack. i try to trackback, and it calls me anonymous… and… damn wp 1.5.

  17. Dianne
    May 28, 2005 at 9:38 am

    Lauren, I apologize for being hyper-sensitive and reading into your writing a criticism that wasn’t meant. In case you haven’t guessed already, just being over 20 when your kid is born does not make you immune from criticism by every random person with or without kids who is certain they know better than you…I shouldn’t whine, I know you and others put up with much more, but it still bothers me. The most common criticism is that I shouldn’t continue working after having a child. It doesn’t seem to bother the little one, who gets to stay with her grandmother, whom she adores, and spend extra time with her father while I’m at work, never mind that she is happy and healthy, never mind that I’m happier for continuing to do work I enjoy, I should be at home all day with the baby because that’s the way they say it should be done. (/rant)

  18. judgemc
    May 28, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    Don’t forget to add the “your child needs a sibling” rant to that. As a now over thirty first time mom, I get that all the time. Like I’m some kid of baby pez dispenser or my child will be mentally damaged because mommy and daddy were smart enough to know when to say when.
    My daughter already has us outsmarted, I can’t imagine what she would be like if she had a sidekick.

  19. BillyHW
    May 29, 2005 at 2:43 am

    I…decided for several reasons not to get an abortion

    Lauren, you did a wonderful thing in deciding not to abort your baby. You made the right choice, no doubt under tremendous pressure to make the wrong one. Bless you. I will pray for your family.

  20. Cass
    May 29, 2005 at 12:53 pm

    It seems to me the whole point is that it’s not for you (Billy) to say what’s right or wrong for Lauren or anyone else (except yourself). To say that a young, single mom should have/not have a baby/abort/place for adoption — to assume that there’s a single right choice for everyone is a flawed and highly problematic presumption.

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