Put a Ring On It!

MTV’s VMA awards, in all their freakish glory, have been a favorite of the pop-culture crowd long before Kanye snatched the mic from the unsuspecting Taylor Swift…what’s changed, in the last few years, is  the heightened use of social networking by viewers which creates a storm of instant discussion and play-by-play feedback as the circus unfolds before our eyes.
This year, Beyonce’s surprise pregnancy announcement was undoubtebly the  ‘bump’ heard round the world, as her fans have long-awaited the news of a little Bay-Z.  The web indeed went wild, with tweeters predicting gender, names, and due dates within minutes of the announcement–but it was one commentary that particularly caught my eye.
Tony Anderson of BET  quickly responded with a piece entitled, “Will Beyonce’s Pregnancy Cause Black Teens To Get Pregnant As Well,” in which he contemplates the possibility that Beyonce’s fans may purposely get pregnant in their effort to imitate their favorite “big sister.”  He also goes on to say that Beyonce, who is one of  Hollywood’s 10 highest earning women,  has “EARNED the right to be a mother. She has the money, she has the husband and now she will bring a child into the world…”
Okay, timeout. There are so many problematic assumptions here that I can’t even begin to tackle them in this space—But let’s start with the  simplistic statement that black teen birth rates may see an increase due to Beyonce’s baby bump. I had the pleasure of attending a Beyonce concert in 2009 , and one of the coolest things I remember about it was the heterogeneous nature of the crowd;  it was like attending a United Nations gathering. Beyonce’s fan base is pretty darned diverse, so to suggest her pregnancy announcement would possibly cause a spike in the black teen birth rate is to 1) overlook a large portion of Beyonce’s followers, or 2) suggest that only her black fans are thoughtlessly impressionable enough to run out and get impregnated so that they may emulate their idol.
Secondly, Mr. Anderson claims that Beyonce earned her right to parent, based on the fact that she makes an insane amount of money and is married. Newsflash: Britney Spears made crazy cash as well, and had a husband before giving birth to two children…and well, we all remember how THAT turned out.
 Sorry, I don’t mean to get into the blame game (see previous post), but the whole  “earned motherhood” discussion makes me uneasy. It reminds me of the parenting license debate… that is, deciding who is ‘fit’ to be a parent, and who is not. Sounds like a good idea on the surface, right? That is until you realize that no two people could ever agree upon what makes a person a “good” parent— throw the government into that debate, and you’ve entered some really dangerous territory. Remember eugenics? Yeah. Me too. And I don’t care to revisit that era anytime soon…
 Give our youth a little more credit, please. If you want to discuss factors in teen pregnancy increase, such as access to affordable health care and birth control, rising poverty rates (60% of teens who give birth fall in this category), or the problem of sexual abuse/molestation (a whopping 70% of teen mothers have been victims)- then I’m interested…but a teen pregnancy trend fueled by Beyonce? I’m skeptical.
 
 

Forever Young

Being a young mom means we met a little early, but I get to love you longer. Some people said my life ended when I had a baby, but my life just begun. You didn't take away my future you gave me a new one. I am proud of being a young parent, and the person you helped me become...

Not long ago, I came across a thread on a teenage parenting board in which a former teen mother posted a message offering to share her story or advice with other young mothers on the website. Most of the replies were positive, however one snarky reply advised the helpful mommy to “Give up the ‘Teen Mom’ label, you’re 24 now. It’s not cool.”
I’ve thought about this quite a bit, as I think I may be guilty of holding onto the “Teen Mom” identity in more ways than one.  For starters, I occasionally lurk on the “pregnant teen” boards on the BabyCenter just to see what topics are being questioned & debated. I regularly  keep tabs on the latest trends & statistics regarding adolescent pregnancy & parenting. And,  in addition to the Colbert Report and Democracy Now, I religiously set my DVR to record each and every episode of MTV’s Teen Mom, 16 & Pregnant, and (I’m ashamed to admit) the dismally written, awkwardly casted Secret Life of An American Teenager, which seeks to portray the ups & downs of adolescent parenthood.
Since having my first at the age of 17, I’ve had three more children, my last of which was born when I was 30. I am by no means a “teen mom” anymore, yet the fact that my firstborn arrived before  I had graduated from high school seems to permeate my parenthood identity to this day.
When my baby was 18-months-old, I chose to pursue an education in the field of child development. Though I thoroughly feel that this was my calling, I can’t help but wonder if my motivation to do so was partly a subconscious effort to prove to the world that I was fit to be a parent. Oddly enough,  when you drop the fact that you have several degrees in early childhood education, people begin to assume you’re an expert on all things child-related (I’m not.) However, when you’re a high-schooler toting a baby on your hip, you are not likely to be nominated for any variation of the “Parent of the Year” award– And I wanted desperately to be recognized for the good parent that I was trying to be…
 I researched the benefits of breast-feeding vs. formula and chose to nurse. I made sure my diet was wholesome & nutritious. I all but abandoned my normal teenage activities (and as an unwanted result, my social life was abandoned as well), I read nearly every pregnancy and parenting book I could get my hands on…but, try as I might, I could not fit into the Mommy Club. It was as if there was an unspoken age requirement that I hadn’t quite reached. I signed up for a “Mommy & Me” group soon after my son was born, and found myself playing in the corner with my little guy—something we easily could have done at home—without the glances and whispers from the other mothers who were markedly older than I. While running errands, I was often asked if I was babysitting , and was met with looks of disapproval when I replied proudly, “No, this is my son.” Its a funny thing-being a young mom…you don’t quite fit in with your peers anymore, yet you are not likely to be accepted by the Gymboree play group crowd, either.
 My baby is going to start high school next week and I am 31. I still get “the looks”, when I first introduce myself to people as his mother. But it doesn’t bother me much anymore. My boy is academically at the top of his class. He is kind & empathetic, well-rounded,  responsible, and has a killer sense of humor. I cannot take full credit for all his accomplishments,  but I can’t help but feel proud every time someone comments on what a wonderful young man he is growing up to be. At 16, I could have continued along my wayward path of pseudo-rebellion; the drinking, the smoking, the mediocre school attempt, the self-created mini-dramas…instead I was given the inspiration for an instant life makeover. And that’s exactly what I did. 
The young mom stigma does not automatically leave you when you pass your mid-twenties. I will always be young in relation to my oldest son’s age. I am reminded of this each and every time I attend one of his school functions, and I am mistaken for his sister, aunt, etc….Often, when we are together, people will comment, “You look too young to be his mom!” I’ve learned to just smile, and nod. I may be too young to be his mom, but I sure feel blessed to have been bestowed with the honor.
 
 

The Blame Game

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the parental blame game…you know, the one you play when your child is misbehaving and you phone your significant other and began with, “Guess what YOUR child did today…” as if it is their genetic traits & not yours that are responsible for the offspring’s temporary malfunction…
The tug-o-war on child rearing issues between parents can get heated, but  the blame game can get downright ugly when family, friends, and strangers began to stick their noses into the parenting practices of others.  I once read a quote that stated,
“Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.”
Likewise, I remember having judgemental thoughts about the way people raise their children, until I was elbow deep in parenting children of all ages, stages (and personalities), & the realization sunk in— there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to child rearing. Granted, there is a definite list of no-no’s which would include verbal, psychological, and physical abuse in addition to other forms of neglect and mal-treatment. But on that note- anyone who has read and taken sides in the recent debate over Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother knows that in our diverse world, even cultural beliefs can muddy the waters of the debate over mal-treatment & psychological abuse…
It is easy for a parent of a very small child to assume that they will always have perfect control over what their child consumes (food, media, etc…), who their child associates with, and even what political leanings their child will adopt. However that sweet little bundle of joy will eventually develop into an individual with views and attitudes that are not likely to be in lock-step with their parents.
When I became a mother at 17, I’m sure there were people who were quick to blame my parents for my “mistake.” Granted, my parents are human, therefore, they are not perfect. Were they too lenient on me? At times, yes. Were there other family issues at play that the critics could site as the reason for my presumed faults? Of course, but what family is without their delinquencies? In their defense I’ll say this: My parents always spoke of the value of higher education. They never spoke negatively of one and other in our presence, nor were they demeaning to my sisters and I in any way, shape, or form. They raised us lovingly, and with consistent support , yet still, their daughter was branded with a scarlet letter. And when push came to shove, they did what any “good” parent would do….they stood behind me, they encouraged me, and with their support, my son & I were able to thrive in a loving, nurturing home. Rather than placing blame when children go astray, lets instead focus more on the ways we can support them so they may succeed despite their mis-steps…
My Family; from left to right- Dad, me, my mom, & sisters

While You Were Sleeping…

Always a baby in one arm, a textbook in another...

Ever look back on your life and feel like you are watching a  movie? The plot & characters all seem so familiar, you may even have certain parts memorized line by line…yet you are a spectator. Removed and distanced from the actual events.

 That is my experience when I look back on my early years of motherhood. I can tell of specific events, and create a vivid picture of what life was like, yet it always feels as if I am telling someone elses’ story, instead of my own.

Most often, people ask how I managed to complete high school, and continue on through college with a young child (and later, children)  in tow. My answer: It was like sleepwalking. Literally. Anyone with young children knows that it is nearly impossible to complete a simple phone conversation-let alone write a research paper- when juggling the day-to-day tasks of parenting. My only option was to burn the midnight oil, and make the most of naptimes. While the baby slept, I worked. I read textbooks into the wee hours of the morning, and raced my way through papers during his naptime. I caught up on sleep in between classes, and became an avid coffee drinker. I look back on those years and remember night after night of lonely solitude in the living room. Just me, my homework, the humming of the fridge and the sporadic *click-clack-clackty-clack* of the keyboard. It seems like a dream. And in many aspects, it was. Even now, I find myself most productive in the late hours of the day, long after the bedtime stories have been read, and curtains drawn. Even now, I look back on the accomplishments of the past fourteen years and wonder if I am dreaming…

Teen Mommy Bandwagon

Seems like everywhere you look these days there is news of another Teen Mom, thanks in part to MTV’s popular shows Teen Mom and 16 & Pregnant. Of course, anyone following mainstream media in the last decade knows that the current pre-occupation with pregnant and parenting teens is nothing new…every few years or so, some news story pops up that brings up the discussion once again (think: Jamie-Lynn Spears, Bristol Palin, etc…) Fact is, teen moms are easy targets in the mommy wars. What could be worse than a young (presumably single) teenager struggling with the newfound responsibility of parenthood? Step aside, working moms & formula feeders…a new bottom-feeder has emerged— complete with raging hormones, maturity issues, and an unquenchable thirst for partying, plastic surgery, and relationship drama. Or so the tabloids would have you believe. This blog is my attempt to tell another story. A story of unexpected challenges, and the beautiful outcomes that came as a result of some very hard decisions. They say that every cloud has a silver lining. This is the story of my silver lining: his name, is Elijah.