Eighteen and Pregnant

Shortly after hearing the news that four of our friends became great-grandparents, I came across a news item about an upcoming reality show. The producers are seeking women in their thirties who are grandmothers. Well, the daughter of one of our friends fits that description.

It seems though, that the grandmother in this case won’t meet the show’s criteria. Yes, she’s in her thirties, but she got married at eighteen and has, with her husband, built a beautiful, large family. Their daughter in turn, also got married at eighteen, and both her parents’ and the groom’s parents’ blessings accompanied the young couple down the aisle. The new baby’s arrival, about a year later, was anticipated and desired.

Not only is this new grandma’s family intact, a fact which makes it uninteresting to reality TV, but the family members’ lives are boring. Cameras placed in their home would show people working, living, loving and learning. Throw in some shooting hoops, piano practice and family meals and all in all there is little to engage the viewer. No hysterical quarrels with lots of profanity and violence; no dark secrets waiting to be revealed; not even a mid-life crisis on the horizon. There is certainly no thirty something woman appalled that her daughter is thrusting her back into infant care because the new mother is too immature to handle the baby herself. Not only is the family boring by TV standards, but they would never allow cameras into their home, understanding that the sanctity of a family deserves privacy.

Granted, very few eighteen year olds today are mature enough to marry and few couples as young as this are mature enough to begin families. Of course, more years don’t automatically add maturity and it is possible to spend those years destructively, doing things which add burdensome baggage to one’s life, making a healthy lifelong relationship less likely. Certainly, most girls who become single mothers in their teens are placing obstacles to success in their lives and the lives of their babies. Shows such as this potential new one or its predecessors, “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” may indeed show the difficulties young, unwed mothers face, but they also help to normalize those situations.  I think the overwhelming majority of girls who do get pregnant as teenagers would express disbelief that it is possible that girls close to their age could actually be mature enough to marry with reasonable expectations of having a long and happy marriage.  While they hopefully will discover that having a baby can propel one to maturity, they haven’t understood the equation that maturity should precede becoming a mother. They may have heard of women marrying young and establishing families back in the 18th or 19th centuries, but certainly not today. My friends’ families would baffle them.

I recently read the words of a highly successful woman who grew up in a home which was 180 degrees from that of my friends’ daughter, the new grandmother. Poverty, abuse, even child rape were this famous personality’s childhood companions. She wrote how watching the 1950 and 1960’s sitcoms which are derided today, like Leave it to Beaver or Father’s Knows Best showed her that her own shattered family wasn’t the only paradigm to follow. There were happy families in the world.

It may well be true that the old sitcoms didn’t depict the lives of all Americans. Certainly, many of the actors in the sitcoms were not privileged to have the wonderful homes they portrayed. But neither were these fantasy shows. There actually were and are homes where husbands and wives adore each other, where parents are respected and where children are brought up with both love and values.  There are families where a couple who has celebrated their own 50th wedding anniversary can gaze at their newborn great-granddaughter filled with optimism and faith that her young parents are committed to her and to each other. 

The books that students read in school and the movies and shows they watch may well reflect contemporary realities. How sad that they don’t provide visions of marriages and of peaceful homes where one man and one woman dedicate their lives to each other and their children. By not giving glimpses of what is, even in today’s day and age still attainable, we are depriving those who have not been blessed to have such examples in their own lives of even imagining that such a thing is possible.

5 thoughts on “Eighteen and Pregnant”

  1. Susan,
    Thank you for your insights! I also wonder if the teen mom shows on TV somewhat glorify and condone teen pregnancy. I am concerned that some girls actually are “inspired” by that show and then see pregnancy as a way to garner the attention they crave.
    Blessings and Happy New Year!

  2. Thanks, Diane. I hadn’t heard of the NY Times piece, but I just googled it. And I enjoyed your piece on babysitting as a great employment opportunity today – http://brightlightsearch.blogspot.com/2011/12/solving-unemployment-or-value-of.html.
    I agree that few 18 year olds are ready to be mothers, and few 18 year old males are ready to assume economic responsibility for themselves as used to happen, but I think that partially reflects a flaw in the way we raise children. And I think that raising the next generation is a wonderful way to fulfill potential. I don’t think we can ‘turn back the clock’ but we are erring by presenting having a family as something one does as an afterthought.

  3. Another great post, Susan. People are tiring of reality shows despite their ‘misery loves company’ appeal, and the old 50s TV shows are again receiving respect (note a recent NY Times piece on Donna Reed) for the two important reasons you cite: 1) the 50s were really more values and family-centric than currently, and 2) we crave role models of successful families.
    However, in general, even if 18 year olds are able to rise to the tasks of motherhood, it shortchanges teens to add that responsibility when they are completing educations and launching into careers and marriages. It’s great when young girls can ‘do it all,’ but having a child at such a young age is, for most, an obstacle to personal accomplishment. Both babies and teens deserve optimized opportunities to fulfil their potentials.

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