It’s that time again. MTV’s 16 & Pregnant has started a new season, and the blogosphere is brimming with commentary about the new line up of featured young mothers. Granted, nearly all reality TV stars are subject to the harsh opinions that are so freely given in cyberspace, But I can’t help but feel like the girls on 16 & Pregnant are held up to a different type of scrutiny. The kind that ruthlessly delves into the most personal aspects of their relationships, sex lives, financial situations, and family dynamics. In case you missed last week’s episode (or you’ve made the understandable decision to skip the show all together), I’ll give you a brief rundown—16 & Pregnant features teens and their families as they deal with the consequences of unintended pregnancies. The stories are often sad but inspiring, and are always ripe with raw emotion. Some claim MTV is glorifying teen pregnancy by airing shows such as this. But avid followers of the show mostly agree that there is nothing glamorous about the girls and their situations (unless of course, you count the six figures that MTV reportedly pays the girls who are chosen to take part of the lucrative spin-off show, Teen Mom. But that’s another story…) Anyhow, I continue to watch the show because I believe it shows teen motherhood for what it is: difficult (at times), potentially alienating, confusing, and life-changing. That’s not to say there are not beautiful, joyful moments to be seen. Life is not easily categorized into good and bad, especially when it comes to bringing a new life into the world. Beautiful things arise out of ugly situations, and vice-versa. However, in last weeks episode, it was hard to see the silver lining in the storm.
The show featured Alex, a 17-year-old who is entering her senior year in high school. She and her boyfriend Matt are expecting a baby girl, Arabella. Although I try really hard to give people the benefit of the doubt, it was terribly difficult to root for Matt. He appeared high and/or hung over during many of the moments when he should have been most present (i.e, the ultrasound), and he quickly lost interest in his newborn daughter once the adrenaline from her birth wore off. Everyone deserves a second chance, and, for Arabella’s sake, I hope Matt proves everyone wrong. Moving right along to Alex’s mother, who was one of the unsupportive mothers I’ve seen since the show began. Early on, she gives Alex an ultimatum: adopt the baby out, or find a new place to live. Alex, who is still grappling with the prospect of adoption weeks before her due date, eventually moves in with the neighbor of a close friend. It was heartbreaking to watch her struggle through the first night “home” with her newborn, alone, and in a strange house, without a soul to support her. Anyone who has ever gone through the emotional roller-coaster of birth can understand how crucial it is to have a strong support network in place in the days following. Alex had no one. Thankfully her mom eventually softened her stance and let Alex and Arabella move back home. The tentative adoption agreement that Alex had with her friend’s parents was put aside and Alex opted to keep Arabella. The morning after viewing the show, I opened my laptop to a news feed of criticism for Alex and her decision. Bloggers wondered if “Alex had made the wrong choice” and many went so far as to say that baby Arabella’s life would have been much better off had Alex only chosen to adopt her out. My response: How do they know?
Many comments I read referenced Alex’s financial situation as proof that she was unfit to mother her child. The problem with that stance is that it assumes that a child is automatically better off when raised in a wealthy family. Granted, money can easily provide a child with necessities such as healthcare, food, and shelter, among other things. But does money ensure that a child will be loved & nurtured? At what income level is a person then “fit” to be a parent? Are you comfortable with putting an income threshold on parenting? Just playing devil’s advocate here.
Aside from that, there is also the assumption that Alex’s age, and her boyfriend’s demeanor prove them unfit to be parents. Okay. I understand where people are coming from on this, but let me offer you two very real scenarios:
Scenario 1: Mom, 17 when baby is born. No high school diploma. History of partying a little too much for her own good. Lives with her parents. Unmarried, with no income. Dad, also 17. Works are a nearby fast-food restaurant. Makes a concerted effort to continue high school but also continues with typical young adult behavior after birth of the baby, causing a rift between him & the baby ‘s mom.
Scenario 2: Mom, 32 when baby is born. Graduate degree, stable career, married to college sweetheart. Drives a mini-van. Is a member of a local mother’s group. Active in the church. Dad, 35. College-educated. steadily employed, homeowner, church deacon.
Based on that information, which baby will have the better outcome? Which couple is more stable? Fast forward 14 years…Couple #1 have both matured, and though they have moved on to other relationships, they’ve maintained a great co-parenting relationship. They are active in their community, shuttle their child to and from sports games, church events, and family gatherings. Mom completed a graduate degree, Dad has been steadily employed since age 17 and now has a stable career, a wife, and daughter. Their son is enrolled in college-prep courses, volunteers regularly at various non-profit organizations, and is a well-rounded, well-adjusted teen. Couple #2 divorced three years ago. Dad ran off with a women 12 years his junior and moved out-of-state to start a new family. He (by choice) has limited contact with his children. Mom is now struggling to keep the house, and will likely be forced to let it go soon. Their son is having difficulties in school and is seeing a counselor for issues surrounding the terms of the seperation. He has dappled in drugs & alcohol. The younger siblings are grappling with the task of coming to terms with their father’s decision to abandon them.
Skeptical? Look around you. For every scenario I described there are many, many more like it unfolding. My family story is told in Scenario #1. Unfortunately, the family in Scenario #2 was also based on real events. Could anyone have accurately foretold our family outcomes from the get-go? Not likely. Do our family situations have the potential to drastically change from one year to the next, or even one day to the next? You bet. I’m not smug when it comes to my family’s situation. I count these blessings everyday and try to take little for granted. There is no way to predict the fate of a family. Life is dynamic in nature, ever changing, and subject to so many various influences.
Who is to say whether or not Alex made the right decision? Who’s to say I did? The other night, I glanced across the dinner table at my firstborn. He was holding my baby daughter on one hip, and offering his little brother baseball tips as he attempted to help me set the table. The thought flashed through my head–what would this family have been without him? We all would have missed out on so much…Someday I hope Alex has the same clarity when looking back on her decision to keep Arabella. In the meantime, she shouldn’t worry about those who openly second guess her decision to raise her daughter. There is no way on earth to foresee when or where a rainbow will appear once the storm has passed.