Every day I talk to teens (girls and boys) who come to YMS for advice because they can’t go to their parents.
They’re facing an unplanned pregnancy and they’re scared and confused. Reaching out anonymously for help is even a big step forward. But we can only do so much. Sure, sometimes they will choose to have an abortion and it’s possible to do that without their parents knowing (although it is a bit of a logistical nightmare). However, many of them have passed the cutoff for termination, or don’t want to abort.
At some point – they can’t keep it secret anymore and they will HAVE to tell their families. When asked how they think their parents will take it, 80% say they think their parents will throw them out of the house. I always say to them: there’s 2 kinds of families. All parents are going to be angry, shocked, disappointed and scared when they find out their daughters are pregnant. That’s a normal reaction and pregnant teens need to expect that and allow their parents their feelings. However – in one kind of family – their initial anger doesn’t mean they’ve stopped loving you. Doesn’t mean they’ll abandon you or chuck you out. Yes, it might take a while to get the relationship with them back on track – but in these families – that’s what happens. Initial drama gives way eventually to the love they feel for their child and everybody gets on with working things out.
In the OTHER kind of family – the teen’s fears are justified. They WILL be chucked out, punished, beaten, sent away to cope alone. In these families, love is not unconditional. Love is not forever, and judgment, anger and sometimes religious or cultural ideas are stronger than love for their children.
I have to ask the teens to think carefully about which kind of family they have. Only they know that. I can’t encourage them to speak to their families if they KNOW it’s going to result in a beating – or worse. Sometimes, after some thought, they realise that parental anger in this situation is normal, but that they CAN rely on their families to be their for them.
Too often though – they can’t answer the question. They simply don’t KNOW for sure that their parents will not abandon them.
Unconditional love and support for your child no matter what, is what you signed up for, when you chose to become a parent (I tell the pregnant teens this too – to help them figure out if THEY are ready to become a mom).
This is your job, parents. You need to let your children know that they will be safe with you, no matter what. That they can tell you anything, confess anything, and you will be THERE. Doesn’t mean you won’t be angry. Doesn’t mean it will be easy, or that there won’t be consequences to their actions. But it does mean that one day, when they are in trouble for any reason, they will be brave enough to bite the bullet and come to you.
For those parents who WOULD chuck out their children – this is not for you. Nothing I say will make you change your ideas about that. I’m talking to those of you who’s children would not necessarily know the answer to the question – “Which kind of family do you have?”
You need to make your children understand, every day, in word and deed – that you will stand with them no matter what. It’s not enough to assume they know you love them. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that EXPLICIT IS BEST.
Sit them down and talk about every possible situation they could find themselves in, and tell them how you’d react if that happened. Tell them what kind of plan you would make together to get through it. Do it before it happens.
Please. Many of the teens I speak to – maybe they COULD talk to their parents. Maybe their parents would be saddened and horrified to find that their daughter was hiding her pregnancy out of fear, that she’d go through labour and birth alone, that she’d be holding a newborn in her arms and not know what to do with him – out of fear.
The words of The Pretenders song comes to mind: “nothing you confess, could make me love you less”
Do YOUR children understand that?