Thursday, September 4, 2008

Um apparently being born to a teenage mom does not ruin your life (cough, Barack Obama,cough)

A lot has been happening in the political arena these days. Between the conventions, the VP picks, the historic candidates;etc.etc. I'm not about to go on some diatribe about my own political opinions, so you can breathe a huge sigh of relief. What I do want to address is what I think may be one of the single best things that the American people can learn from this election, and that is that teenage pregnancy is NOT the end of the world.

Now I am not advocating that anyone call up their daughter's boyfriend and invite them for a sleepover. Whoa Betty. I was that kind of teenager whose parents looked the other way, sometimes, or just enough times for me to get into too much trouble. My daughter will not date until she is financially independent or forty, which ever comes first. Given her penchant for designer labels and the finer things, I'm thinking she will probably be forty.

I have learned in my life as a young mother, who had her first child at age nineteen, that "mistakes" happen, and they happen a lot more often than people would like to believe. The narrow stereotype of the teenage mother does not permit mainstream Americans to believe that good girls, smart girls, capable and competent girls can also be teenage mothers. As a result, a huge prejudice exists against teenage mothers that often extends to their offspring.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my daughter who recently completed middle school and is now headed to a different school entirely for high school confided in me that during her days at her small, private, elementary school, she was often teased about having the youngest parents by both students and teachers alike.

Just last year, she told me "Mrs. so and so said, she could be your mother, and my grandmother and she is only in her fifties." Well, whoop dee doo, I thought in my head. Amazing, the woman didn't even teach math, and yet clearly she was a mathematical genius to be able to calculate that!

I tried to pretend to be exasperated by that remark and by some of the other snippy remarks my daughter told me about. The truth was, I was surprised by none of them, I have heard them a hundred thousand times before.

People have asked me questions, such as "What did you start when you were like 15?" If I had a nickel for every time some one said to me, "You don't look old enough to have a child that age", or "you must have been a baby when you had her." As yes, babies giving birth to babies is a very common occurrence. I remember taking my daughter to school for the first time and the headmaster said to me, in a very condescending tone, "you look like you could be in eighth grade."

Of course, the stupid comments aren't so bad in and of themselves. What frustrates, and agitates, and angers me when people say these things, is the fact that they clearly lack any respect for me. Any person with a normal level of sensitivity would understand that such a subject might be difficult to talk about, and therefore would not, for example, ask me at the shoe counter how old I was when I started having children? The notion in our society is that young mothers are not worthy of and do not deserve respect.

Young mothers place a drain on society. They are not competent or capable of being good parents. Nowadays, the bar is raised higher and higher everyday as to at what age a person can be a really good parent. The acceptable age seems to be at a minimum 25; with people over thirty being concerned more perfect for the job.

It's kind of like the whole presidential debate. Do you need experience to be a great president, or is good judgement more important? Do youth or old age significantly impact what kind of job a person will do? Does doing something for a longer time necessarily make people better at it? Or does it depend on the person. The totality of who they are, what they believe, how hard they are willing to work, what their intellectual ability is, what their educational background is;etc;etc.

I believe it does depend on the person and that everyone deserves a shot. You can't simply judge people by numbers and facts on a paper; and you shouldn't look at people differently or believe they are less capable simply because they have made a "mistake", or they have made a lifestyle choice that is out of the norm. And yet I see this happen everyday. When people ask me how old my oldest child is, their faces drop. Their minds quickly attempt to calculate, to add up what, to them, just isn't right.

I hope during this campaign season, Americans will begin to reevaluate their prejudices against teenage mothers and their children. I hope that they will see Barack Obama as a historic candidate, not only because he is African American, but also because he is the son of a teenage a mom. A mom who loved him; who struggled against adversity; who stuck through the hard times to raise a son so special that he became an historical candidate for the presidency. Apparently, she was old enough, smart enough, competent enough to do a good job.

The story of Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter should also give the country a chance to see firsthand that all teenage mother's are not selfish, stupid, and lazy. The scrutiny that this poor, young girl will have to face as the daughter of a vice presidential candidate will most certainly be ten times the scrutiny she would face as an unknown teen mother; but I hope that her additional suffering will not be for naught. In a more modest setting that celeb teenage moms, this young woman will have the chance to show the nation that choosing to become a teen mom is, in most cases, a brave choice; a great sacrifice; and the type of job that only a person of true substance and character would be willing to undertake.

So many see this race as a win for women; a win for African Americans; and of course it is. But no matter what party wins, I see this as a win for young mothers everywhere. We mustn't hide in the shadows; we mustn't believe those who tell us we have ruined our lives forever. We mustn't allow society to define us. Rather, we must hold our heads high knowing we are capable of making the best of things; of turning our lives around; of putting our noses up in the face of adversity; and of raising children who one day might be president.

After all, everyone in this life makes mistakes, faces challenges, and comes to a crossroad. What defines a person is not what happens to them but how they handle it. Hopefully this campaign season will help to illuminate this truth especially as it pertains to teenage mothers. If it does, then no matter what else happens, this election will truly be about change.

6 comments:

hillsmithfamily.com said...

Very nicely said - and not so much a push for either party, but a push to look beyond prejudice.

I was an older mom (in my 30s), but my mom had me at 20, after getting married at 19. A lot of my friends' parents would ask similar questions - including people who had known my mom in high school. They made it sound like I was some "dirty, little secret," since she had me so young.

In truth, she was in nursing school when I came along - not so much a secret. And, for the record, my parents have NEVER used public assistance. Times were rough (mom inherited a second child when she married my father - my wonderful older sister, and I remember cutting our milk with water and powdered milk to make it last), but we always made it work and were certainly far from being a drain on society.

patty said...

Really interesting perspective.

I think it's great that this election is raising so many questions about gender equality, and race, and here you bring in yet another angle I hadn't thought of. It's good for us all to be challenged and to rethink our old dogma.

Laurie of the Seven Stories said...

hillssmithfamily,

Thanks for sharing your story. T try my best to be objective- I think being open minded may be one of my better character traits.

Thanks Patty for your compliment. I'm gonna check out your blog next. You sound like a good read.

Mel @ A Box of Chocolates said...

Beautiful post and very thought provoking. My mom was 19 when she had me and I always (and still do) got the "Your parents are so young" comments. I always thought it was great because while other parents were home resting, mine were out playing with us. We had a blast growing up and I love that my kids have young grandparents who can keep up with them! When I was 18 I also became pregnant (I had a miscarriage) and I would have hated for people to think that because I had a baby so young I was this stupid person. We are all human and we all make mistakes, it is what we learn from the mistakes that truly show what kind of people we are.

sheasy said...

Fantastic post! I thought it was classy that Barack immediately responded to the media by stating, "My mom was 18 when she had me." YES! Be proud! Thanks for this post. People need to stop stereotyping teen moms. There are a lot of mature women having kids that are crappy moms! Age and experience don't trump a person's character.

Musings of a Housewife said...

Well said.