These words emanating from the lips of your teenage daughter might seem like your worst nightmare.
But, as a pro-life parent, you can likely imagine an even more nightmarish scenario that would make you see the first sentence as a blessing. “Mom, Dad, I got an abortion.”
Of course, you’d like to avoid both scenarios. There is no list of infallible rules for helping your child avoid teen pregnancy. Fortunately, based on our experience listening to and speaking with pregnant teenagers here at The Back Porch, we have some ideas about what you can do before they come close to either.
What not to do:
First, do not say or imply to your daughters or sons that their or someone else’s “life is over” if they become pregnant early in life. They hear from so many other sources that if people get pregnant early they have failed, that they’ll never get an education, and that they’ll never reach their dreams. Don’t make yourself one of these sources. Obviously, few would endorse becoming a parent as a teenager and outside of a loving marriage, but these pregnancies still happen. It is true to say that their lives will be different and may be more difficult; it is false to say that their lives are ruined. An article I read recently that focused on giving a voice to teen mothers advised that these women “felt they were being written off. Motherhood is hard enough at any age, but the hardest thing for these women wasn’t the baby, it was existing in a society that condemned them from the outset.” That feeling of condemnation sums up how women are feeling when they come see us at The Back Porch. There isn’t much you can do about what the media and surrounding culture says, but you can make sure your child doesn’t see you condemning other young parents, and perhaps by extension, them.
What to do:
Normalize open dialogue about difficult and awkward topics. Speak with your children about their bodies, pregnancy, sexuality, consent, and relationships, etc.,. Make sure you discuss the possibility of an unanticipated pregnancy with them. Keep these conversations going from the time they are children through their teenage years. If your children are informed about these topics, they are less likely to participate in risky behaviour or be taken advantage of (these suggestions are consistent with the US' National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy). It could be difficult, it’s likely going to be awkward, but forming that open dialogue now is one of the most important things you can do. If you can’t talk to your child about these things, why would they ever bring them up to you?
With both of these in mind, teenagers are still their own individual people who will make their own choices. This time in their life is fraught with physiological and emotional changes, peer pressure, and new-found freedom. Because of this, regardless of all of the preparatory work you might do when they’re growing up, you may still be faced with a pregnant teenager. Hopefully you’ve laid the ground work so that they will come to you with it before they make any decisions. And if they do, and you're faced with a situation like this, what should you do?
As I scoured the internet for the last couple of weeks looking for parent’s responses to their children’s teenage and out of wedlock pregnancies, I found many frightening examples of what not to do. However, I don't think we need to go into most of them in this blog, as one would assume it is unlikely that you would kick your child out or tell them to get an abortion. I did, however, come across a blog written by a former teen mother discussing her reaction when her unwed daughter told her she was pregnant that I thought might be more applicable. This is the link to the blog and I would encourage you to read it yourself. The blog is written by a Christian woman, I think it is likely that she is pro-life, and her blog is an excellent read- especially if your child turns up pregnant. She discusses the emotions she experienced when her daughter called to tell her that she was pregnant. It gives beautiful insight into how a parent might feel and how much she loves both her daughter and granddaughter. However, one of the sections bothered me.
“When first she told me she was pregnant, I expressed my disappointment in no uncertain terms. But I also made sure to express the fact that I would love both her and her baby in spite of my disappointment.”
I was bothered by her focus on expressing disappointment in that first conversation.
I would never argue that someone shouldn’t feel disappointed, resentful, frustrated, angry, sad, among other things. Those may be your feelings and they are valid. But, and this is the crux. There is more to rejecting the culture of death that surrounds us than just being fervently against abortion. We have to actively celebrate life. We have to go out of our way, out of our comfort zone, and out of our own inner turmoil to love and acknowledge life.
And that means putting away our disappointment in that very first and very vulnerable conversation with your daughter or son, and being excited about life, being excited about your grandchild. Why should you do this?
Your first reaction to their pregnancy can and will affect how they feel about their developing child and themselves.
I promise you… they know you’re disappointed,
But honestly, you have the rest of your life to be disappointed that things didn’t go as planned.
You only have the opportunity to have this first conversation once. This conversation will affect the fate of both your child and your grandchild in some way, so make it count.
In telling you about her pregnancy, your daughter has already done more than so many other frightened young women. The unfortunate reality we have to face is that in Canada –no matter how you frame abortion in your household, no matter what values your family strives to uphold—abortion is a legal option. In Alberta, Canada, and North America at large, unanticipated pregnancies are directly associated with abortion in people’s minds. Even staunchly pro-life men and women that I’ve spoken with have admitted that it was one of the first things that crossed their minds when they found themselves unexpectedly pregnant. It is not really a mystery as to why this is. Abortion is an attractive option to people who are desperately afraid and feel like they have no other choice. Teenagers have been told that an unanticipated pregnancy will ruin their lives, demolish their dreams, embarrass themselves and their families, among other things. These things have been said to them by adults (possibly, but hopefully not by you) in their lives that they like and admire, in the media, in books, and in sexual education classes. Single parenthood, especially single motherhood is constantly maligned. They’ve been told if they get an abortion, nothing in their lives has to change and no one has to know. Your child has had to fight through all of this just to come to you. It’s the right thing to do. However, you should acknowledge their courage, and how much you value them and your developing grandchild, before you tell them about how they have negatively affected you. That is how we encourage people to make the choice to love and care for their child.
I would not discourage you from talking to your child about your feelings. A large and often forgotten part of love is holding people to a high standard, trying to help them to do better, and not enabling them. But I would emphasize the importance of prioritizing the soft, gentle, and understanding parts of love and compassion in your first conversation.
This would be more difficult if you already had a contentious relationship. Sometimes we cast the people in our lives in different roles, like rebel child or overly protective parents, and it’s hard to see them in a new way. You might feel like behaving compassionately will allow you to be taken advantage of by your child (if this is the case, I would suggest seeing a family therapist). All I would say to people who have a difficult relationship is that there is always hope to improve your connection. Coming to your child with kindness and love first when they are vulnerable (because they are vulnerable), cannot hurt the relationship. Think of how Jesus would respond to you. Think of how Elizabeth responded to Mary.
But wait, this blog isn't over yet, we can't leave the boys out!
If you have a son, this is also a situation you might be facing. While your influence and the significance of your response will not be the same in regard to his pregnant partner as it would be to your own daughter, it is still vital. Embrace them both with the same excitement for life spoken of above.
Again, they know you’re disappointed already, they need your love and acceptance emphasized.
Make sure you are a welcoming and supportive family to them. Your grandchild’s other grandparents might not be thrilled, they may pressure her to abort, or they might, in apathy or a misguided notion of compassion, say “it’s your choice and I support whatever you choose.” She has to know that you are excited to have a grandchild and that you’re committed to welcoming both of them into the family.
Help him to embrace his partner and their child with love and acceptance. You might be concerned about their relationship, you might not like her, but any suggestion of that or ‘entrapping’ your son has no place in this or any conversation. If your son consensually conceives a child with someone, he hasn’t been bamboozled, and he’s not just your son anymore, he’s a father. Make sure your son has the moral character to stand up, be accountable, and fight for their child. She needs to know that he will stand by them.
From our experience here at The Back Porch, when women know the father of their child isn’t going anywhere and that he cares about both her and the baby they made together, it helps them make the choice for life.
From the perspective of a scared or angry parent, it may seem like it’s easy to write this and tell people how to act, but nearly impossible to actually carry out. It may also be something you don’t even want to think about and assume will never happen to you. In reality, we are all flawed human beings and sometimes we act poorly, or at least differently than we’d like. However, we have a better chance of acting well if we’ve thought about a possible situation beforehand. We are less likely to be totally blindsided and more capable of making sure our values and not raw emotion rule our response.
I would like to remind you of two sayings:
"Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now." – Fred Rogers
Loving someone only when it’s easy is not love at all.
If your child does have or participates in an abortion, this is a reminder that the two quotes above still apply. They will need your love now more than ever.
This topic has a special place in my heart because of real situations that arise here at The Back Porch. A couple of weeks ago, a sixteen-year-old woman named *Marissa went for an abortion because she said her parents would be disgusted, disappointed, and might kick her out of the house if they found out. That is what she had been told when she was younger and she’d had to watch her older sister treated terribly when she became pregnant as a teenager. She didn’t tell her parents that she was pregnant. I don’t even think her parents even knew she was having sex. She was a teenager, pushed into killing her child because she’d been made too afraid to speak to her parents. She was also unwilling to trust others because of this. Not being able to connect with and trust her parents deeply affected Marissa and directly impacted her ability to connect with her child. As parents, even if you and your teenager don’t get along, you need to know how much power and influence you wield in their lives. The way you speak and act towards them has real repercussions, even in how they respond to others- including their own children. Remember Marissa’s story when you speak to your children.