Dear Dr. Wes: I read your column almost every week and generally like and agree with your advice. However, I was a little upset with the advice you gave to a young girl with a pregnant friend. I got pregnant at 17 and went through many of the same problems she is sure to face. I considered adoption but knew I would always wonder. Abortion was never an option due to my beliefs, so I kept my son. I agree whole-heartedly about needing a great support system. I wouldn't have been as successful without parental assistance, even with the regular bickering between us. It's not an easy situation, and not many girls purposely get into it. But almost everything you said was negative. There are a lot more resources out there for young parents than you let on. I graduated from high school and am attending Kansas University and living on my own. It's not easy, but I pay all my own bills, and the only assistance I get from my parents is baby-sitting. My son's father is not involved, but I have my son in activities that surround him with good male role models. I'm glad you warned about the possible outcomes, but I believe you also should have mentioned some of the positives and things that you still can achieve as a single and/or young mother. I do believe that the child of a 14-year-old would be better off if adopted, but I do think it's important to give examples of ALL possible outcomes so that she can make an informed decision.
Dr. Wes: We'd never want to upset a loyal reader who's come through an early pregnancy successfully, lives on her own and is attending college. I have great respect for what you've done. While the difficulties you recount actually underscore most of the points we made, you do remind us that many young moms do pull through. That wasn't the emphasis of our original column, which read a bit like a horror story of teen pregnancy. In contrast, your letter brightened my day. However, I don't agree that there are many resources for teen moms. Instead, our society increasingly punishes them and their children. Government policy actually has been engineered to dissuade early pregnancy by withholding support. Most, like you, tend to succeed in spite of limited resources, not because of them.
Your letter does point out what it takes to succeed in early pregnancy. First, one must actually make a decision and follow through on it. A parent must desperately want their child - making an affirmative choice to be a parent regardless of the circumstances of conception. Without that choice, one is destined to parent half-heartedly, which is hard to hide from a child. I've seen many kids who came to the disturbing realization after 15 years that they weren't ever really wanted, or not wanted enough. You made a choice to want your child, and you followed through. I commend you for it.
Next, one must work incessantly to balance caring for a child and getting one's own life in order. This is where the support system is vital because it allows a young mom to stay in school while providing a loving home. It's also where the party bus gets a flat tire. It's not that young parents can't have a good time. There's just little time left to do it when you're fully engaged in parenting, going to school, working, etc. Parenting is at its core about sacrifice - something that isn't clear to young adults until they are, like you, in the throes of it.
Other factors that predict success for very young parents can't be changed easily. Your family's financial situation, your energy level, mental health, ability as a student, connection to the child's father and raw tenacity (stick-to-it-ness) all improve the odds. Because the biggest factor is family support, my final advice is for the parents of young parents - don't give up. Things may seem bleak, but as our reader notes, you're now past the point of no return and must deal with things as they are, not as you wish them to be. Your help in making choices and sticking with them cannot be overestimated.
Julia: It's amazing to see how you've handled your situation, but as Wes said, you're one of the special ones who has been able to emotionally and mentally take on such a huge responsibility. Most teenagers, despite numerous sex-ed classes, talks with parents and certainty they know all the details, can't or won't wrap their minds around the idea of pregnancy when they come face-to-face with it. We did focus on the negatives, but in doing so, we hoped only to warn other teens in advance of what they might face. You are right that not everyone goes through every single trial and tribulation with pregnancy, and many people do emerge as successful and proud parents. The advice I gave the 14-year-old and her friend reflected her age and the urgency of the letter. The emotional maturity and experience gained between the age of 14 and 17 is vast, and although yours is a shining example of what strong will and perseverance can achieve, I couldn't give the same advice to a 14-year-old.
It is possible to get through a teen pregnancy with an immense support system and a lot of knowledge on what you are getting into. It's important to deal with each situation singularly and hope that other teens learn from another person's problem. Within that context your story was a good balance to our advice, but not a replacement.
Next week: The Kansas "kiss-and-tell" case started under then-Attorney General Phill Kline has returned the office of therapists and physicians to places of safety for teens dealing with sexuality. We'll update readers.
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Julia Davidson is a Bishop Seabury Academy junior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.