Some people have their children early, some late. In this blog, I’m discussing the stigma related to having my child young. So, what’s one to do when face to face with a youthful looking mum, a teen mum at that, well, read on, and grab yourself some sweet tips to be inclusive, open and less likely to offend. Also, I get that many of these will also fit with parenting at any age, so feel free to use this advice at any time, with any one.
One of the main challenges is the response from strangers when I mention something like my daughter’s age and the general response is; “You don’t look old enough to have a daughter that age. My oldest child is 28, so I have heard this question for 28 years now. I’m going to be honest here; I don’t know what to say, even after 28 years. I feel like it is meant to be a compliment, you know, in line with society’s expectations of women being youthful. For a while, I used to reply “it’s Oil of Ulay, I’m actually 40, but this product does wonders”. Another teen mum Sandra, responds; “some people don’t think so, but here I am!’ A perfect blend between acknowledgement and shutting it down. I love this, a powerful, clear message that to spite society’s expectations and perceptions, she is still ‘here’.
Another invasive question “who’s the dad?” This little ‘gem’ is a bunch of nasty just waiting to explode all wrapped up in ‘I’m trying to show an interest but really I’m just a gossip!’ It feels like a carefully worded short version of “Do you know who the father is, because if you are a teen mum, and you got pregnant, then you must sleep around, and that means there is a chance you don’t know who the father is- and I’m keen to know if you know – which will confirm my suspicion of you being a teen mum who slept around”. Advice: don’t ask.
It’s not all bad, really it’s not! Jessica, a teen parent commented, “being a teen mum doesn’t end your dreams, it just changes the journey.” You delay, not cancel. You move things around a bit, you work out a new plan, and it’s not all bad. Once I had my daughter, I worked on my fifth and sixth form subjects via correspondence school and was still able to enter teachers college about the same time I had originally planned to. I moved my interest in primary school teaching to early childhood. My plan changed because I had my daughter, but my goal to be a teacher didn’t. I still had dreams for myself, and I still achieved them.
I’m trying, let me give this a go. I’m giving this my best shot, generally speaking, and I think that would stand for most mums. All parents, even teen mums, for the most part, try our best. What a parent considers ‘best’ for their child, won’t always meet with societies /yours/the neighbours/the mother in laws/bus drivers/Plunket’s (you get the picture) view of ‘best for your child’ but most parents try to do what’s right no matter their age. Give credit where credits due, parenting is lonesome and thankless. A Louise says; ‘It’s still my right to raise my baby the way I want to and my age doesn’t give any one the licence to tell me what to do in that condescending way”.
Support me- stay close by, help me when I need it. Support is good, lots of support, and, actually, let’s just say it; support on my terms. I need people in my life that will ‘support me through the roller coaster with respect and love’ said one teen mum who shared her experiences. I totally agree, anything else is conditional love. Ask me what you can do to help. We are all aware of the golden rule; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. But, there is now the platinum rule, Do unto others as they would have done unto them, you can read more about it here.
Some babies are planned. Many teen mums are not parenting alone. There are a lot of assumptions out there that teen mums are going it alone. True for some, just not for all. Many teen mums have great support from family, their mums, and partners. It pays to think wider than the constructed norms of society (those things that make us assume that it’s the same for everyone).
So, in summary, keep cool, don’t let the first thing into your head be the first thing out of your mouth. Not all teen mums have ‘surprise’ babies, some are planned. Resist the urge to offer unsolicited advice- BUT, offer support, maybe “what can I do to support you” will go down better than “I see your baby didn’t have a hat on last week, so I have knitted ten”. Hope you have an awesome week, till next time, hei konei ra, Kath.
Teen parents: what’s it been like for you, we would love to hear your experiences.
Teachers who have supported younger parents into the centre environment, any tips or tricks you want to share that make this process easier or any advice about ‘what not to do?’ we would love to hear from you too, leave a comment below.
About the Author
Kath Cooper lectures in Early Childhood Education at Ti Rito Maioha in Wellington New Zealand. She has spoken about her research on heteronormativity here on our Mat Time show.