As a parent, we want to see our kids succeed. But honestly, let’s admit to ourselves, that it only gets harder with age. For years we build up our relationships with our children. It’s a tedious but rewarding labor of love. However, none of us are infallible. Not us, and not our children. We all make mistakes. I know my own teen years speak to that. How about yours?
Unfortunately, some of us will face the day when our teenage daughter comes home to tell us that she’s pregnant. If it were you, how would you react? Or, how do you think you should react? It’s the kind of news that will test all the years of bonding, teaching, and love. What we want is for our kids to find success in life. The teen years are when we expect our kids to move in this direction. Toward success in early adulthood and beyond.
So, feel the disappointment if your daughter shares this with you. Ride the rollercoaster with her. As parents, especially moms, we know the ups and downs of pregnancy. All the highs and lows of emotions your daughter will experience. But they’ll also be experiencing uncertainty. Perhaps even a sense of failure.
Weathering this storm won’t be easy. Hopefully, some of the points below will help guide your decisions.
Rights of the Teenager
All right, I know that as a parent that you’re used to calling all the shots. After all, this is your daughter, right? However, a teenage parent also has rights. In this situation, it could be the first time when you are not one hundred percent in charge of your child’s decisions. In spite of being the parent, it can be awkward when your child has decision making power. Admittedly, our children always have some say over what they want. It’s part of the process of parenting, and giving our children the ability to learn to make decisions as they grow older.
Still, it will be a stepping out from traditional roles of sorts between you, the parent, and your teenage daughter. Now, rights vary from state to state. Your daughter will have the right to make her own medical decisions. Your daughter will have the same privacy protections we all enjoy when treating with a physician. While you can’t, or even shouldn’t, coerce these decisions, perhaps the most reasonable thing to do under the circumstances is to advise her. Instead of forcing your will upon her, be available to her emotionally at all times. This is a moment in her life that is challenging. While you may be feeling the stresses too, take care to continue maintaining your relationship with her as your priority. If you want to be involved, be there for her.
By trying to force your hand, or what you think best, you will probably jeopardize your relationship with her. Instead, be supportive. Maintaining your relationship will go a long way in seeing that she wants you to be involved. Jeopardize that relationship, and chances are she will diminish your role out of fear or anxiety.
The (Grand)Parent’s Rights
Yes, you have rights as your daughter’s parent. Oddly, even though she is moving toward a place of responsibility for another life, your responsibilities as a parent do not end. Her living situation and education remain under your care. In many ways, the challenges of teenage pregnancy extend far beyond the actual pregnancy itself. While your daughter remains under your custody, her decisions will affect that aspect of your relationship.
For instance, your daughter will not have the freedom to stop attending school. As her parent you are obligated to see that she continues with her education. But, the fact is, that attending school and raising a child can be difficult. Remember when she was young? The challenges of maintaining a career and parenting were very difficult. For most couples this is the most challenging point in their relationship. And now, your daughter is in that same situation. Compared to your situation though, she probably has limited means of supporting herself.
What does all this mean for you? Well, you will be responsible for your daughter’s living situation, medical coverage, and everything else that goes into raising a child. Because, even in light of the circumstances, she is still a child. Your child.
Regardless of these responsibilities, you still have rights. You can decide whether or not you will allow the father of the child to visit your home (more on this later). You can lay out specific guidelines over how she will remain in your home, taking into account childcare, school, and possibly employment obligations. As was discussed previously, this will probably cause some strain over your relationship with your daughter. Many parents find themselves in the awkward situation of remaining a parent and grand-parenting to provide the best living arrangements for their daughter and grandchild.
Medical Decision Making
A consequence of teen pregnancy is coverage under health insurance. Your insurance plan will cover your daughter’s maternal care. However, your insurance plan will most likely not cover your grandchild after birth. While policies for extending coverage to grandchildren vary from state to state, it’s important to know the options available to your daughter.
Since your daughter probably has little to no income, her child should qualify for Medicaid or other similar programs. It’s important to understand the insurance landscape before birth. Why? Childbirth presents a host of potential medical complications. And they could be very costly. Exploring medical insurance options and having a policy in place before the birth will serve you, your daughter, and your grandchild best. Since complications following labor and delivery can be costly, it’s best to have an insurance policy in place. If not, your daughter could find herself saddled with enormous debt. Coupled with the other pressures of being a teenage mother, it’s an effect that could prove catastrophic.
If your daughter obtains low income based health insurance, it will also open up other doors for assistance. We know that raising a child is expensive. Diapers, formula, copays at pediatric visits―they all mount up. More importantly, since your daughter and grandchild will probably be living with you, these costs will affect your household. So take advantage of these programs, like WIC.
While you may be financially secure to a degree, not all parents can absorb these costs. Can you do it? Before baby arrives, discuss the necessity of health insurance with your daughter. Explain the day to day costs of raising a child. Give her the power to make these decisions. It can be overwhelming. But with your guidance, you can take some of the anxiety out of the decision making process.
There are plenty of what-if scenarios for all pregnancies. I’m sure your daughter will feel the pressure to consider adoption or even abortion. Let’s face it, our society is quick to judge and to impart its considerations over you and your daughter. Don’t succumb to the pressure. Instead, weigh all the options carefully.
Early in her pregnancy is when these questions will usually present themselves. Remember, if your medical plan is providing coverage for your daughter, use it. Obtain counseling, as this service is usually included under most insurance plans. Sometimes the best suggestions will come from a third party unaffected by the emotional equation of your situation.
If such coverage is not available, community outreach programs usually provide similar counseling services. School guidance offices, local government offices, and hospitals all can provide information on these programs. No matter what, counseling will help prepare you and your daughter for dealing with her pregnancy and its consequences.
If your daughter opts for adoption, be certain she knows her rights. She will be giving up all legal custody to her child. Review her situation and options. How will raising a child affect her future? Will her child be at a disadvantage? These are important considerations. Parenting means making those difficult decisions that give her child the best chance to succeed.
Likewise, if she opts for an abortion, make sure she makes that decision armed with knowledge. While the stigma of abortion is finally passing, it will affect your daughter. Make sure she knows the physical and emotional impacts it will cause. Always seek medical advice from trusted sources. My advice would not be to allow political forces to influence the decision making process. Respect social and religious beliefs. But it is the wellbeing of your daughter that should be your primary concern.
Continuing with School
How many of us are familiar with Title IX? I know that when I hear Title IX mentioned, I immediately think of college. Not just a college education, but access to college athletics for women and minorities as well. But Title IX goes far beyond that.
If your daughter is in high school, and becomes pregnant, Title IX guarantees her right to complete her education. No schools may discriminate against teen mothers or prevent them from attending school. That being said, continuing through high school will not be easy for your daughter. As we parents know, raising a child is very consuming. Your daughter will probably struggle with completing her school work, just like you struggled to balance raising her and continuing with your career.
But we know that education is important. I’m sure your daughter does too. Reinforce this to her. Let her know that without completing her education, that she and her child will face a difficult future. It may be a good time to sit down with your daughter and review the challenges you face to maintain a household. Simply stated, it’s never easy. And being a teen parent without a high school education removes the options to succeed.
Fortunately, many schools offer programs to see that teen moms can and will complete their education. Get to know the guidance counselors at her high school. Be involved. After all, this aspect of your child’s life does remain your responsibility. By taking an active role, you’ll be showing her how important this really is.
Other Legal Concerns
Lastly, let’s not forget that your daughter’s pregnancy has a wider impact than your home. Consider the father and his role. While he doesn’t have any rights or responsibilities until after the child is born (and this varies from state to state), weigh how involved he should be from the beginning.
It may also be a good option to involve the father’s family early on. Perhaps you have a good relationship with his parents. It’s likely that they are feeling the same emotions you have been feeling. Taking on some of the challenges together can make a difficult situation a little less cumbersome for your daughter and your grandchild. Like it or not, the father and his family will now be a part of your life. Make that connection the best it can be for your daughter and grandchild.
Still, not all circumstances work out for the best. Know your options and consult with a family law attorney for issues surrounding child support and custody arrangements. Even in the best circumstances a set of guidelines makes for an easier transition. Like the old saying goes, “Good fences make for good neighbors.”
Being a parent isn’t easy. If your daughter becomes pregnant, it’s even harder. But like any situation, planning and preparation can take some of the anxiety and stress out of the situation. Remember the nesting period before your daughter was born? It was exciting, and a distraction. Sure, you knew that change was coming. But the preparations kept your mind off the challenges and focused on what mattered most: your daughter.
It’s a different kind of nesting when a teenager is pregnant. But stay focused, keep busy, and plan for every circumstance you can. Most importantly, be there for your daughter. In the end, it’s your relationship with her that will matter most. Now more than ever, she needs you.