Seeking Validation: A Former Teen Parent’s Journey

Todaé Charles

Growing up as a teen parent, I was fearful. I had my four children when I was 13, 15, 17, and 19 years old. Because I was so young, I thought people would try to take my children away from me. As I grew up and raised my family, people would often ask, “How did you make it?”

My relationship with my mom was really strained. We were not close at all. Having gone through so many challenges alone, when I was 20 years old, I placed a call to my grandma and told her I was tired. At that moment I believed I wanted to commit suicide. My grandma said, “Todaé, if you wanted to commit suicide, you would not have called me.” I just held the phone as I sat on the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

Grandma asked, “Baby what prayer you are praying?” I answered, “The Serenity Prayer.” She said, “Wrong prayer my love, you need to ask God to help you to accept that your mother may not change, and she is doing the best she knows how to do.” With that piece of wisdom, I drove away from the bridge with all of my children in the back seat of my 1977 Impala Chevy Station wagon. I cried for hours and then realized she was right. In that instant, I decided enough was enough—I have a future. I knew my faith was weak, and I needed that reality check.

I am now 34 years young. My children are 20, 18, 16, and 14 years old with no children of their own. They are all career- and goal-oriented. I now understand that as a teen parent I was a child having children, and I had no direction. I, however, had ambition and motivation to survive. I was determined to make it because so many people had made up in their minds that I was not going to be anybody.

As I matured into a young adult, I often wanted acceptance from my mother. Unfortunately she would not say the words I wanted and so desperately believed I needed to hear. “I am proud of you.” Finally, on my 30th birthday she called and whispered, “I am proud of you.” I expected to feel a wealth of positive emotions, but I didn’t. I realized at that moment that I was proud of myself, and I did not need her validation anymore.

On February 14, 2011, my mother passed away at the age of 53 from Multiple Sclerosis. That morning, I spoke to my mom. I asked her, “Why were you so hard on me?” She replied, “You are my only girl, and I needed you to be strong. If I was soft on you, the world would have eaten you alive.” She then said again, “Baby, I love you, and I am truly proud of you.” That was when the emotions of joy, humbleness, and acceptance into adulthood welled up inside of me. I was thankful that my mom believed she could leave me here on earth and know that everything is going to be PHENOMENAL.

Later that evening she took her final rest, and I began a new phase of my journey.

Todaé Charles is the Teen Parenting Program Coordinator & Assistant Grant Writer at the Family & Leadership Empowerment Network and the recipient of Healthy Teen Network’s 2011 Outstanding Teen Parent Award.

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