Dear Dr. Wes and Ben: I’ve read your column since my daughter was 10 and tried to follow your advice on being open about sexual issues with her. I’ve brought up contraception several times and she’s declined. Now she’s pregnant. Do you have any advice on how a parent can deal with this, after having tried to do everything right in this arena?
Ben: Pregnancy has a huge potential to throw everything out of whack. There are all kinds of decisions that must be made and a handful of social consequences come with them. Judgments are made, relationships tested, and people talk. There’s a good chance that your daughter will reach a point, if she hasn’t already, where she feels like things are falling apart. The best thing you can do for her is to remain consistent.
Many parents find themselves with a teenage mother or father on their hands, in spite of their best efforts to avoid that situation. Some decide that the consistent thing to do is to stand behind their sex policy rather than stand behind their child. They look at their teen with contempt, or even decide to disown them. Do not take this course.
I understand it hurts to see your daughter falling into this situation when you were clear in warning her. However, let your love for her inform your actions. There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed or angry, but that cannot define your relationship with her. If your relationship is to change in light of this, then you should love and support her more, not less. She needs you now more than ever.
It is a mistake to look at this situation as some fatal blow to your daughter’s future. True, this is going to be a trying time for her, and yes, many people’s lives do go downhill after a young pregnancy. But what will certainly destroy her is if she has no one, especially you, to rely on. It tells her that you love her very much — until she gets pregnant.
Many people who experienced early pregnancies are now flourishing. While this situation has potential to hurt your daughter and her partner, it also has so much potential to make them stronger and to show them what being a parent and an adult is really about. Your daughter has a lot of growing up to do in a short time, and she needs someone to help her through it. That will be harder when it seems she’s already ignored your advice, but who knows, maybe this time she’ll listen. Either way, stay consistent. You could be the only thing in her life that is.
Wes: First let me say that I’m sorry your efforts did not succeed in preventing an early pregnancy, and I applaud you for trying so hard. I have seen numerous parents in the last couple of years who seem flabbergasted that their kids are having sex. Apparently they weren’t reading this column. I can imagine the pain you must feel realizing the difficulties this will bring to your life, your daughter’s and her partner. As for dealing with it, Ben’s advice is superb. Thus I’ll focus on something you may not have considered, and need to — how exactly this happened.
You and Ben assume this was an accident or matter of poor judgment. Maybe it was. But, increasingly I’m seeing teenage girls who do not see early pregnancy as a complex burden. In fact, anyone who sidesteps contraception as you describe and then ends up pregnant has some serious explaining to do. One may argue that this is ultimately her body and her business, but once she exposed herself to the consequences of unprotected sex, she exposed you and her whole family.
There are a host of reasons teens choose this path, but at the top of the list is the feeling that they are not ready to grow up. Yes you read that correctly. I’m proposing that some teenagers think that if they have a baby they will essentially be able to hold it hostage, requiring their parents to extend support beyond age 18. FAR beyond. I’ve seen this repeatedly, especially with immature teens or those who have attention deficit or other psychological problems and don’t feel ready to face life challenges. Why does this work? Because if you follow Ben’s advice, which I urge you to do to the letter, you cannot help but reward your daughter’s decision.
Alternatively, if your daughter is very close to her partner, do not rule out the possibility that she actually sees this as a very functional move in securing their relationship. A number of teens are practicing what I’ve called “radical monogamy” in earlier columns. Recently I noted the unwise trend to buy puppies and property together within those relationships. Sometimes that same super-romantic ideal generates babies.
So the bottom line is that parents must not make any assumptions about their children’s sexual motivation. In a world filled with information about contraception, and near perfect access, there are few reasons for a teen to get pregnant other than an rape or even more commonly, sex under the influence.
For you to really help your daughter you need to get to the bottom of which issue is at play here. If she meant this to happen, or at least made an active choice not to stop it, you have a very different dynamic at play. You’ll still need to be supportive, but your daughter will need a lot of help coming to terms with the consequences of her choice.
Next week: How do I ever have a normal life if my family wasn’t normal?