Thursday, 31 July 2008

In a village surrounded by pitchforks

Spurred on by Julie's post on the wonderful villager's in her son's life, I thought I'd speak from the perspective of as a member of community supporting a baby born to teenage parents.

My cousin was 18 when he became a father and his daughter's mother was a year or so younger than that. To say my cousin and his partner's parents weren't exactly thrilled that they would becoming grandparents a whole lot sooner than they planned would be an understatement.

Out of all the choices for an unplanned teenage pregnancy, teens taking on the role of parent is often the least palatable particularly for the pitchfork brigade. For all the talk of how the community is prepared to provide an understanding and supportive role for teenage parents if they do decide to 'choose life,' more often than not, teens find criticism and ridicule for having got themselves into that predicament. If you want any proof of this scorn, you need look no further that the vicious comments that were written about Keisha Castle-Hughes's pregnancy online. While some who rail against teen parenthood are supportive of abortion as an option, adoption is usually seen as being the best course of action for ensuring that these unexpected babies are raised in the 'right environment.'*

And certainly in many respects my cousin and his former girlfriend tick many of the boxes that would conjure up images of an 'unsuitable environment' for child-rearing amongst many people. Young? Check. No qualifications? Check. Not married? Check. Patchy work history? Check. Time on the DPB? Check. Identifies as Maori? Check. Quick call in CYPS! These people are unfit to be parents and won't somebody please think of the welfare of the child?

Don't worry, I did.

And much like wriggly, this child and her parents also have their own village that ensures that she is fed, clothed, housed and most importantly loved. The child's mum is caring and loving and she has a supportive home environment with four sisters who love her kid to bits. My cousin pays child support and tries to stay involved as much as he can especially when it comes to schooling. My cousin's parents absolutely dot on their granddaughter and they usually look after her on the weekends that her mum works if my cousin is unavailable. My parents love to have the youngster come visit their house so much so that I get badgered about providing grandkids. That's not to mention all the friends and members of the community that Julie mentioned are all present in this child's life too.

The point of my post is not to gloss over the dark side of teenage parenthood, because that is well-canvassed when we try to scare the bejesus out of teenagers in order to stop them having sex,** but rather to demonstrate that there is life after teenage pregnancy and it isn't always terrible. I know of at least two women who became mums in high school who have gone onto graduate with professional degrees and one is currently studying for her masters at a highly prestigious university overseas.

I realize that these two cases are an exception. Most teen pregnancies occur among teenagers in families living in deprived areas. According to research from the United States branch of family planning, young women in this income group are less likely to use contraception the first time than other women, less likely to use it on an ongoing basis and more likely to view a young pregnancy as a good thing. However tut-tutting pre-martial sex and using these girls as handmaidens for infertile middle class couples is not the answer if wish to change these attitudes. A decent and compulsory sex education curriculum would be a nice start. But we need to work out how to convince these girls (and more broadly our community at large***) that they are capable of taking other important roles on before becoming a mother in order for sex education to be really effective in reducing the number of teenage pregnancies. Though it will take a lot longer than a menstrual, or for that matter electoral, cycle for that to happen.

In this case I don't think my cousin and nor the child's mother are heading for nice-middle class jobs but they do seem to be doing their bit to get back on their feet in order to scrape enough cash together so that their daughter can have the best life possible. Which aside from their age, doesn't make this child's parents much different from the people that the pitchforkers assume are the 'right' kind of parents.

* Adoption is a great option if that is what the teens want to do rather than what they are pressured or manipulated into doing.
**This seems to be an ineffectual strategy given our high teenage pregnancy.
*** As a fifth former, I remember my manager at the supermarket I worked at looking at two of my friends and wondering out loud 'I wonder which one of those girls will get up the duff first.'


Anna McM said...

It makes me sad that we tend to hold up teen parents as poster children for the 'having kids too young ruins your life' campaign, rather than supporting them better so it doesn't ruin their lives.

The ex-expat said...

Yup blaming the victim is so much easier than cleaning up the mess or better yet preventing the causes of it.

Anna McM said...

And the welfare-related backlash against teen parents (usually teen mums) really irks me too. It was worse in the nineties than it is today, of course. But the idea of teen parents leading cushy lives on the DPB stuns me. I have enough trouble raising kids with the support of a 100% committed partner. I truly don't know how young mums do it - dealing with the exhaustion of night feeds and so on all by themselves, particularly when their peers are out being young and doing fun stuff.