Monday, August 26, 2013

Adult Children of Teen Parents



I have been thinking about why a child of a teen parent might want to contribute to this blog. Many people I meet tell me that they realized –as children- that their parents were noticeably younger than the parents of their friends. They may have had experiences with Parent-Teacher nights when the teacher sat in front of the young parent unaware that he or she was, indeed, the parent. I can remember one such Parent-Teacher night in particular when the teacher actually said to me, “when do you think your mother will get here” I replied, “I am the Mother.” We were both uncomfortable and as she stood, in front of her desk, leaning back on hands firmly pressed against her desktop, looking at me, sitting in a 3rd or 4th grade sized chair, looking up at her. I don’t know who was more uncomfortable, she or I, but I know we were uncomfortable for different reasons. My son sat watching as I was literally spoken-down-to. Not knowing any other way to respond, I fell into student mode and looked like I was listening. Not one of my finer moments as a parent. Once we were on our way home my son said, “why didn’t she know you are my mom”? I don’t remember how I answered that one or if I did. I wonder if he remembers it and how he remembers it?

As adults, our children, the children of teen parents, can understand that they were raised by a fringe element. Many of them were aware as children; but as adults, I think, they understand their childhoods in a larger social context. They understand that their parents, who married “so young”, should, statistically, be divorced by now. They can understand that their unmarried parents should not own homes, buy new cars, plan for retirement, or go on cruises. Teen parents, statistically, should be financially struggling at low wage jobs that have no retirement plans and Obama-care health insurance, or they should collect welfare, unemployment, disability, or some other kind of state assistance. As adults, some children of teen parents seem to understand the difficulties their parents faced bringing them into the world and raising them. Those are the stories I want to hear.

I am aware of reality shows that reinforce the stereotype of an ill-equipped young mother and her dysfunctional family. I cannot bring myself to watch one. It pains me to think that anyone would exploit the vulnerability of the situation. It pains me to think that anyone would allow themselves to be exploited in that way, although I do understand the paycheck mentality that might motivate them to do so. It makes me wonder if a teen parent with a $10,000 paycheck is more likely to be considered a better more capable parent, or just a another teenager with too much money. Instead of a paycheck I hope they were paid with a scholarship to a good college or university. Moreover, I wonder what the children of those young parents will think, as adults, about those very public “home movies.”

My own mother was technically a teen parent; she was a married 19 year old when I was born. By the time I was eight months old she was a 20 year-old parent. Did something fundamental shift in those eight months. Is there a magic cutoff point when turning 20 marks the moment at which one is statistically more likely to be a successful parent with successful children?

The same year that I got pregnant another girl in my class got pregnant and she and her boyfriend got married and continued to attend and graduate from high school. The high school that I had to leave. Is it the marriage that communicates social acceptability that allows society to cheer for "struggling" married teen parents? I often wonder if they and their son were predisposed to the same sociological outcomes that my son and I were. Did they, as a family, suffer the statistical inevitability of poverty and dysfunction?  I wonder how their son feels about his younger than average parents. Did he notice as a child? Does it affect him as an adult? Were they working against statistical predispositions that were similar to mine as an unmarried teen parent?

Do the feelings that adult children of teen parents have for their parents, as children, change when they become adolescents? When they become parents themselves? Do they structure their lives in ways that allow them to avoid the statistical stereotypes? Are they aware of the stereotypes? At what age do they become aware? Under what kinds of circumstances? Is the rebellion of an adult child of teen parents found in their living a life more in keeping with convention: high school, college, dating, marriage, home and then children? It may be none of my business but I would really like to know.