the nest

the nest

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

a paradox

I started a class with a group of teen mom's in Hartford on Monday night.  The volunteer mentor's are women who were teen mom's themselves and are GREAT!  The mom's are, well... teenagers.  The kids were hilarious and were no different than those in my traditional family classes.  As soon as the music started, their faces lit up, their little bodies started to move and you could watch the wheels turning in their heads as they started to process a language they were born with the ability to understand.

The mom's were quietly interested.  A little mystified and self-conscious.  I hope intrigued.  Mostly, they were young.  As I have been searching for ways to find more professional satisfaction, I've been exploring how to merge my previous life as a therapist/youth services person with the Early Childhood Music Specialist I am now.  As part of a project I need to complete, the opportunity to run this class fell in my lap and I jumped at it!  How perfect!  Bringing Music Together to Teen Mom's~ what a great way to "teach" them and provided them with some ways to play with their kids.  The very nature of the work I do is that lots of parent education is woven through the fun and hopefully translates out of the class and into the family's life at home.  No matter how old we are or how long we've been parents, we all need to keep adding to our "bag of tricks!"

This all sounds so great!  But here's the paradox.  How do you take a group of teen mom's who have had babies and are raising them, and love them up, play and give them ways to really embrace being a mom, without encouraging them to do it again? 
Indulge me while I muddle through this.  These young women have all been through pregnancy and childbirth - some of them twice - at an age when I could barely get myself ready for school on my own.  Despite their less than ideal entry into motherhood, they deserve tremendous respect.  The newest mom was there with her 2 week old baby who was breastfeeding.  A 16 year old mom, breastfeeding a baby, AND getting out the door at 2 weeks postpartum.  At 29 I don't think I even left the bedroom for two weeks after my second was born!  She wasn't alone of course.  Her aunt was with her and I'm sure was instrumental in bringing her.  The other "mom's" have also managed to muddle through those early years and had toddlers in tow.  I am in awe that they are managing.
But, I don't know their back stories yet.  How much are their mother's (or aunts or grandmothers) doing for them to help out?  Are they responsible for a home?  Are they working?  Are they going to school?  These are questions that will be answered as we get to know each other.  But at the end of the day, they went through pregnancy and childbirth.  My sister's and I used to joke that once you had a baby, you were elevated to "goddess" and should be treated as such.  It's hard work!
So, they've made it through all that and in order to ensure positive outcomes for their little ones, it is only logical that they need to be loved and supported and guided in really bonding with and loving up their babies.  Motherhood is so amazing and the more they embrace their role as a mom, the better off their children will be.
Here's the paradox.  These are young women who need to NOT have motherhood glamorized or put on a pedestal.  They should be going to school and playing sports, making music and going on dates.  How do we validate their role as mother without encouraging or suggesting they do it again?   How do we help them see alternative paths that may include motherhood, but also include education and satisfying work?  Can they successfully master the developmental tasks they still need to master while providing the environment their little ones need to master theirs?
After each of my children were born, I promptly "forgot" the difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth.  I couldn't wait to do it again ~ only extended breastfeeding and a husband with some common sense kept me from having my babies super close together.  Through each stage of raising them, I conveniently "forget" the last phase that put me over the edge.  I call my mother once in a while and say "How on earth did you survive me at 13????"  She says "Oh you weren't that bad..."  I remember.  I was HORRIBLE!
Ranging in age from 16-21, these girls have taken on a role that our society is not really designed to support until you are "older", but "grounding" them or scolding them for this "mistake" is not the same as the other mistakes of adolescence.  So many of the mistakes teen's make can be either chalked up to a "learning experience" or addressed by removing privileges.  It's amazing how quickly they learn when you can take away a car, a phone or internet access.  This is totally different. 
For most women, having a baby is celebrated!  It's a miracle and it's something that only we can do.  How do we celebrate the gift of a child to these young mom's while giving them the vision to see other possibilities for themselves?
In our culture, parenthood is generally seen as something that comes after you have "left the nest".  It doesn't always work that way though and in many places it never has.  Extended families live together and children are raised by a network of adults.  Young women maturing earlier and earlier are physically capable of child-bearing whether they are ready for child-rearing or not.  While my bias is that being a mother at 16 or 18 is too young, if this is a role that brings a young woman fulfillment and joy who am I to judge that.  Is it ideal?  no.  Am I encouraging teen pregnancy?  no.  I do think that once someone has carried a child, given birth and made the decision to raise this little one, they deserve respect and all the support they need to give that child the best start in life.  They are entitled to the same joy and fulfillment that motherhood brings to those of us who waited longer. 
But maybe if these girls saw other options for themselves, had the education and the role models surrounding them showing them how they could be more, they would wait.  Maybe if the choices our children in the suburbs take for granted, like college, work and even travel, were actually choices for them they would hold off on motherhood.  Maybe they are perfectly content with their life - they have these beautiful children who love them, who they brought into the world...
a paradox.

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