Friday, August 2, 2013

Being Alpha

I have taken more time working on this piece than normal. I want to clarify but not minimize my understanding of the role of parents in a child’s life. Also, I may have watched one too many episodes of the British version of Being Human.

Pets should be reminders to humans that humans are little more than Alpha animals. So often it is the other way round and humans personify their pets and allow themselves to be led by them. Some pet experts say that when human qualities are attributed to an animal as part of domesticating it that it loses its innate ability to survive. I believe that managing behavior is the most important part of a healthy human/pet animal relationship. Building a healthy relationship with a pet requires consistency and boundaries, as does raising healthy children; I learned that in parenting class.  I was astonished to learn these two most basic rules of parenting, which are simple but not easy.

Aside from being young, alone and scared to death, my 15-year-old brain told me that, “I could do this” but I had no prior knowledge. I was raised in an inconsistent environment with floating boundaries. How was I supposed to know how to be consistent and set boundaries when no one had taught me how to do so by example or instruction? It was after a seriously dangerous number of misadventures with my son as an infant and toddler that it was pointed out to me that not only did I not know what I was doing but that my “parenting” would leave lifelong scars, if I continued on as I was. Thus the parenting class; I am so grateful for that class. I went grudgingly, I do a lot of things grudgingly, but I really did not want to go to that class and be called out as young, dumb, and dangerous. Fortunately, that did not happen. The instructors were positive and supportive and what they taught me saved my son’s life and my own.

I was not spiraling out of control because I wanted to shirk my duties as a parent because I “was missing out on my own childhood” as everyone around me constantly reminded me. Unfortunately, I did and still do struggle with clinical depression. I also suffered terribly through post-partum depression. My point in sharing this is to demonstrate that it may not have been a lack of desire or experience or age or a resentment regarding the loss of my own childhood that resulted in the very rough start that my son and I experienced. I needed treatment that I did not receive because no one understood or could appreciate what was happening to me.

I was mature enough to advocate for myself but, as I wrote in an earlier post, I did not have the language. No one told me about depression, post-partum or otherwise. Jane Collingwood reports:

Analysis showed that teenage mothers had higher levels of depression than other teenagers or adult mothers, but the experience of teenage childbearing did not appear to be the cause. “Rather, teenage mothers’ depression levels were already higher than their peers’ before they became pregnant, and they remained higher after childbearing and into early and middle adulthood… depression markedly increases the probability of becoming a teenage mother. (Collingwood)

It is quite possible that I suffered from depression before I became pregnant. I do not know. I do not recall it ever being addressed as an issue. However, I most certainly suffered from it after my pregnancy. There was no support for me because “back in the day” once I had become a teen mother I was considered a financial burden the American taxpayer had to bear-full stop. There was no one in my life, no program, no social worker, no family member who could offer me emotional assistance or at the very least observe my emotional well-being until things began to go very wrong.  Had that person or program been available to me I may have avoided some pitfalls. I may have attended that parenting class earlier. I may have gone to college and achieved financial stability and personal success much sooner. I might have stopped being a financial burden on society and been able to contribute to it.

Please, do not read this as a manifesto for teen pregnancy. What I am saying is that there are still some strategies to be put to use after that “horse has left the barn.” I am also not going to enter into the birth control education/sex education controversy. I am arguing for support of those teens who find themselves, however they arrived at that point, as parents. That is not the end of their road. Teen parents need to be told, in many cases and shown in others that they can be - need to be - Alpha humans in exactly the same way any other parent is.

Teen parents need not struggle in poverty or condemn generations to that fate; feel shame when using food stamps or cashing a welfare check; We do not have to educate ourselves in spite of the repeated message that we if we are too stupid to avoid a pregnancy then we are too stupid to finish high school or attend college. And, we do not need to struggle with our roles as Alpha humans because of undiagnosed depression, postpartum or otherwise. This is the program I want to see. This is where I want to see federal dollars being spent.

Preventing theoretical teen pregnancy is important; however, statistics indicate that those programs are not effective. It takes a small investment to make teens who become parents effective Alpha humans. Once we understand that there are rules that are simple but not easy the majority of us step up our game and raise truly healthy, productive and admirable children.

Collingwood, J. Depression and Teenage Pregnancy retrieved on 8/1/13,