Allowing Teen Parents the Safe Space to Share Parenting Challenges

Gina Desiderio

Several months ago, Glennon Melton’s blog post, “Don’t Carpe Diem,” was making the rounds on social media, with frequent reposts and shares on Facebook and Twitter. Many of my fellow parent friends were sharing the link, recognizing the truth in her argument. Melton notes that parents of young children are often told to cherish the moment—“carpe diem”—while their children are young because they grow up so fast…and yet it’s often hard to cherish the moment when your toddler is kicking and screaming on the floor of the grocery store, and you’re just trying to pay and get out of the store. As a parent of a two year-old and a five month-old, I can see the merit in her argument; there are a lot of good times when your children are this young, but it can also be very difficult at times. Melton encourages fellow parents to release the guilt they may feel that they aren’t always seizing the day.

And while Melton’s post speaks to parents at large, I wonder how many people would feel that this attitude should also apply to teen parents. Are we as a society at large as forgiving or sympathetic when we see a teen parent who looks exhausted, juggling one or more children? I know I get smiles and reassuring looks from other parents while I’m wrangling a baby in a 25-pound infant seat and an independent toddler wanting to run through a parking lot. When I’m grocery shopping with a baby strapped on and a toddler in the car, I frequently get comments, accompanied by a smile and friendly face, about how I have my hands full.

But would a teen parent get the same comforting looks? Do we recognize that it’s hard at times to be a parent, and all parents deserve a break? Or are we more judgmental? Do we place higher standards for teen parents because their pregnancy was unplanned and they are still a teen?

Certainly, we at Healthy Teen Network believe that in order to be prepared to fully participate in modern life, adolescents and young adults need generous opportunities to pursue education and other enrichments—opportunities which are enhanced by delaying and spacing childbearing. However, once a teen makes the choice to parent, we also believe that with caring support and resources, adolescents and young adults can be effective parents and successful adults.

The support part is important. All parents need support, and that includes the permission not to always carpe diem. It is supportive to allow teen parents the space to share the frustrations of parenthood, to hear similar stories of parenting challenges, with fellow parents, teen or otherwise. Just the comforting face shared while dealing with a toddler meltdown can help make a parent feel not quite so alone…or at least not so embarrassed. If a 20- or 30- or 40-something parent needs support and an opportunity to vent, doesn’t it follow that a teen parent also needs the same safe space, maybe even more so, given where s/he may be, developmentally?

Allowing teen parents the opportunity to vent these frustrations, without judgment or recrimination for “getting pregnant” can help the teen to grow as a person and as a parent. The teen has decided to parent, and with it comes the joys and struggles of parenthood, and sometimes, parents—including teen parents—just don’t want to “carpe diem,” and that’s okay…to be expected, even.

How do you create a safe space for teen parents to share the joys and struggles of parenthood? How do you help teen parents deal with the judgment they often face out in the world?

Gina Desiderio is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Healthy Teen Network.

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