It’s hard to write a brief post on something as complicated on teens having and raising children! Your story will be different than anyone else’s, and your experience unique. However, I think the following 8 points are good ones to consider when your teen tells you they are thinking about becoming a parent.
1. Your teen needs to make this decision. Let your teen know what you think about them having and raising the child, and why. Make a pro-con list. Discuss your experience in parenting and give them a realistic view of what to expect. But even if you disagree with their decision, it’s important to respect it. This isn’t a decision you can make for them without the possibility of major repercussions down the road.
2. This is going to be a hard adjustment. Many parents of teens are looking forward to a time when the house will be theirs again, when they can retire and take trips and generally relax. Now there is the prospect of a new infant in the home. It’s completely normal to feel disappointed or angry, even while you know you’ll love your grandchild. If the feelings persist or are interfering with your ability to cope, seek help from a counselor. Likewise, if you feel like your teen is having trouble adjusting, have them see a counselor as well.
3. Your teen needs your help. Remember how lost you felt, the first time you were caring for a newborn? Hopefully, you had wise friends and family to help you with taking on the role of a new parent. Your teen needs that wise advice, and your experience is invaluable. Any teen can learn to feed, change, and clothe a baby. But they will need your ongoing support to interact with their baby, learn to play with them, differentiate normal behavior from worrisome signs, and adjust to their rhythms.
4. Make a plan. Any teen will appreciate help with babysitting, diaper changes, and driving to the doctor’s appointments, but some teens simply expect their parents to raise the baby. Even young teenagers can and should take on parenting responsibilities. Sit down with your teen before the baby is born and work through what your expectations are, including their responsibilities in getting prenatal care now and planning for the birth. Make sure they know that as they get older, more parental responsibility will shift to them. Conversely, some teens may expect to be able to take on all care immediately, with little to no parental help. Let them know that you are happy to assist, and they will usually take you up on it once the baby is born.
5. Don’t abandon educational and career goals. Your teen needs to attend school full-time after their time off to have the baby, making use of day care as needed. If your teen gets any pushback at school, this may be illegal; the ACLU has information about ways to respond effectively. If your teen was planning on college, having a child shouldn’t change that. Many campuses have family housing, day care facilities, and support for student parents. Further education or career training leads to better financial stability in the future, which will help both your teen and their child.
6. Let your teen have a life. Part of teen development is spending time with peers, and your teen is no different. They need to be able to go out with their friends, date, and have an active social life. While they should expect some nights in, it’s important that they spend time having fun outside the house. By offering to babysit and let your teen go be a typical teen for a while, you’re helping them mature into a socially healthy adult. In addition, find community programs (this one is a good example) where your teen can meet other teen parents.
7. Expect rough patches. Babies are adorable. Toddlers are adorable, too, but at around age 2 they become much less pliable. Your teen may have a lot of trouble with the “terrible twos”, when their baby is discovering its identity, being contradictory, and fighting parental authority. For a teen whose developmental tasks are discovering their identity, being contradictary, and fighting parental authority, this can be a lot to take. Know that there are times in the development of both your teen and your grandchild when a cooler head and more experienced hands may be called for.
8. You’re going to love your grandchild. Even if this wasn’t exactly when you planned on having a grandchild, you’ll still love this baby like crazy. Your family is growing, perhaps unexpectedly, but you will have a new love in your life along with all the chaos this situation brings!
What advice would you give to parents whose teens are planning to have and raise a child? What advice would you give to teens?