First. The fact that you’re reading this is a good thing. You may be confused and scared – looking for answers is a sign that you’re taking this seriously. For that, thank you. You will be okay – you have a lot of thinking, soul-searching and learning to do now, but you’re on the right track. The time that’s coming is going to change your life forever. It’s a chance to find out the kind of person you really are. It’s okay to be scared. It’s what you do next that counts.
A lot will depend on your current circumstances and relationship – but you need to make sure she understands that you’re there for her. She needs medical attention urgently (no matter what she decides to do), she needs to tell her family and begin making plans for the future. Denial helps nobody – help her take the steps she needs to.
Many boys ask me the following:
How do I tell my parents?
Do it soon. You WILL need your parents help – there’s no way around it. Many boys assume the worst of their parents – convinced they will be kicked out the house. This is not necessarily true. Before you tell them, make sure that you and your girlfriend have spoken, and have at least the beginning of a plan. You don’t have to have all the answers yet. But you need to show your parents that you are taking charge. They will be angry, disappointed, upset – all of these. You have to accept their initial feelings – knowing that usually, parents do come around and accept the situation. If this is not the case, you’re going to need outside help. Speak to a relative, teacher, counsellor for help if your parents are not supportive.
What if it’s not my child?
You can request a paternity test after the baby’s born. The important question to ask yourself here is: do I have a valid reason to think it’s possibly not my child, or am I just looking for a way out? Be honest with yourself. Until you know for sure, if you have had sex with her, you have to assume that it’s your child.
How can I make her have an abortion / keep the baby?
You do not have the right to make a decision on whether abortion, adoption or parenting is chosen. This is very hard for many young men to understand – but it’s a case of basic biology. The person who is pregnant is the only one who can make this decision, because it is her body and life that is going to be most affected by the pregnancy itself. You have to accept this. Of course, you are entitled to tell her what you’d like – but understand that this does not mean pressuring her. She is going to face enough pressure from other people – you need to be the one she can count on. The outcome may not be what you want. Your job right now is to accept her decision and move forward from there. If she decides on abortion, it could help if you are with her. Ask her what she needs. If she does decide to keep the baby, you might have the following concerns:
I’m not interested in being a father
This is, of course, your choice. In South Africa, you have the legal responsibility to support your child financially, even if you don’t have a relationship with them. Even if you choose not to be involved, you’re still legally required to pay maintenance. I’d ask you to consider this very carefully. There will be a child out there – your child – who has a right to have his parents care for him. Besides your financial responsibility – even more importantly – you have an emotional responsibility. Many young dads are not initially interested, only to find themselves regretting this choice years later. It’s not only your life that will be affected. Please think about this and be sure. A parent is either 100% in or 100% out. Consistency is very important – your child will need to know they can rely on you, not just turning up whenever you feel like it. Your decision now will affect you and your child for the rest of your lives. It’s not a decision to be made out of selfishness or fear.
We’re no longer together or I don’t want to be with her
That’s okay. You don’t have to be involved to take responsibility and to be a good father, if that’s what happens. Many parents manage to raise their children well, without being together any longer. It takes a lot of effort from everyone involved – but it CAN be done. Do not stay with a person you don’t love “for the sake of the baby” – this will only hurt your child more in the long run. You STILL have the responsibility to be an involved and PRESENT father, even if you’re not with his / her mother.
What must I do while she’s pregnant?
This will depend on your relationship status with her, and how much time you’re physically together. What she needs now is somebody that she can count on, who will not let her down when she’s vulnerable and scared. She needs to see that you are committed to being a father. Doesn’t matter if you’re together or not – you can still visit / speak to her and find out how she’s feeling, how the pregnancy is progressing. Even better if you can attend her doctor’s visits with her. Spend this time building your your relationship with her – whether it’s a romantic one or just a friendship. You are going to be connected forever, through your child, and baby needs parents who put their own dramas aside to be mom and dad. Learn about pregnancy, birth and parenting. Prepare yourself for what is coming.
How can I afford a baby?
Honestly, if you’re a teenager, the answer is that you probably can’t. Both parents have the responsibility to provide for their child financially. Reality is, if both of you are still at school, you’re going to need help. Many young dads are tempted to drop out and find work to support their child. I fully understand this – but everybody needs to be aware that for both you and baby’s mom, your education has to be a priority in the long run. You WILL need your family’s help at first. Working part time may be an option, but you cannot let your education go. You need to find a way, as does she.
How do I know she’s using the money for the baby?
The baby is entitled to maintenance payments from the parent he / she does not live with – that’s probably you. Your baby’s mother may approach the maintenance court for them to set an amount you need to pay. My advice is don’t force her to do that. Understand that from now on, the money you DO have needs to go to your child. It’s not for the mother. If you are worried that the money is not going towards caring for baby, then go shopping yourself instead of giving money. The only way you’re going to know, is if you spend time with your child.
But I don’t know how to be a dad
Bad news: nobody does! Good news: everybody learns. Many young dads make the mistake of thinking that fatherhood is only about providing financially. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Even if you cannot currently provide material things – you can and should be spending time with your child. The only way anybody learns to be a parent is by DOING IT. Everything mom does, dad can do too. This means changing nappies, feeding, bathing. Ask to be shown how. Show your interest, show your commitment, keep trying even when you make a mess of it. Don’t be scared of baby. Everybody is clueless at first, and everybody learns. Physical contact and the “chores” of parenting is the best way to build a bond with your child. Ask yourself what kind of father you want to be. Do you want your child to know you will always be there for them? This starts from birth. You CAN do it.
She doesn’t want me to be around
This is probably the hardest situation. First, ask yourself why. ARE you doing everything you can to be a good father? Does she have a valid reason for being concerned? Be honest with yourself. If you find reasons why she could feel that way, then fix it. If you’re doing all you can and she still does not want you around – you could approach a family counsellor and the family court for them to intervene and provide access to your child. This will be a long process and you need to be committed to it. The first step for both of you, as always, is talking to each other. Start while she’s still pregnant. Discuss how you want things to work once baby is born, lay out your responsibilities, and hers, and have a plan before baby is born.
This is not about you, and it’s not about her. Both of you need to put your personal feelings aside for the sake of your child. Whether or not the mother is doing the right thing, you need to make sure that you are. You need to be able to look your child in the eye one day and say you did all you could.
As a father, your life is going to change. You will need to juggle school, parenting, maybe work. It’s going to be difficult. Learn, ask what you can do, be there, love your child and take responsibility for your life and choices. Being a teen father is nothing to be ashamed about. It’s the kind of father you are that counts. And no matter how young you are – the kind of dad you are is totally up to you.