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.
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.
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.