Why wait to become a mother? The answers seemed pretty obvious to me growing up. Of course, I was a product of my particular family, my community and church, and the larger culture that included the sexual revolution, Roe v. Wade, Title IX, consciousness raising groups, and efforts to pass an Equal Rights Amendment.
Waiting to become a mother made sense. A woman needed time to explore and discover her unique gifts in the worlds of education and work, and in social and sexual relationships, before prioritizing another human being’s life and needs over her own. A woman needed time to complete her desired training so that she could compete with men for good paying jobs and positions of power. Children needed financial security, and that took time to accrue. Children needed emotional security, and it took time to find the right partner for this task of parenting. (We were not considering sperm and egg donation or other fertility options in those days.) Even my friends who married soon after college waited before considering bringing children into the picture so that they could enjoy and cement their relationship as a couple first.
Yes, times have changed. I know that. And I knew that when my 18-year-old daughter became pregnant. But I foresaw the future that she has yet to imagine. I worried/worry because she has – thus far – failed to check off the boxes in this list of mine regarding “what needs to come first before parenting.”
But here’s the thing: Skye has always challenged me and my ideas about what “ought” to happen. Sometimes her defiance disadvantages her. But other times Skye actually, intuitively, knows what is best for her and teaches me something instead. In this case, once it became clear that Skye’s goal was to become a mother, I decided to lessen my grip on the list and go with the flow. Of course, I still go back to John’s idea that we are keeping our kids afloat “between the buoys.” We are not going to let ourselves be enticed into doing this job of parenting for her, nor are we going to allow her to simply parent without making steps toward independence – steps like getting her GED and securing paid work.
It’s been a little more than two weeks since Kinsley entered the world, and this is what I’ve learned so far. There is a lot to be said in favor of nineteen-year-olds having babies. Nineteen-year-old bodies recover quickly from pregnancy and childbirth (barring complications). They have loads of energy. They tolerate sleep deprivation well. They can be solely focused on the well being of their babies in a way that older women simply cannot because of so many other competing demands on their time and energy. Having a baby at a young age – when one wants to be a parent – can reduce or counterbalance the self-absorption many young people display.
Selfishly, I am also enjoying the effect of Skye’s parenting on her relationship with me. We communicate better. She shares her thoughts and ideas. She listens and responds appropriately. She puts effort into relationships with her siblings and her parents… I know that I (and many others) have said, “I didn’t really appreciate my mother until I became one.” In my house, this “appreciation” or shift in our relationship is coming sooner rather than later. How can I not love that?!
Is Skye’s desire to be a parent at nineteen an adoption issue? Maybe. Even in open adoption, there is the experience of loss for the adoptee. There are questions about “belonging” and the parent-child relationship that are answered differently for adoptees than for those of us who were raised by the people who brought us into the world. Perhaps Skye needed to experience the mother-baby bond for herself. She has always been an experiential learner.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not endorsing teenage parenting. Without the support of her parents during pregnancy and now, Skye and her baby would likely be in desperate circumstances. I simply want to point out the “positives” that I had not allowed myself to contemplate.
Moreover, some of my refusal to expect a good outcome may reflect my experience as an adoptive parent. After all, John and I became parents because their biological mothers wanted to finish school and/or did not have the financial or emotional resources to be parents to their new babies. Their choices made sense to me then and now.
As this story of teenage parenting unfolds in my family, I will try to remain a student of my daughter. I will try to remain “in the moment” with hope and awareness of God’s grace. I will also try to do the same for my husband and other children. I will even try to expand my hope and awareness to the larger world. Being a lifelong student is like being a child of God. It seems to work out better for everyone if I remember my role and that we are all in this together.