Everyone hates a teenage mother

Dear President Zuma.

Thanks for ruining my day, dude.

Your comments on sending teen moms to an island to complete their schooling, while ridiculous and far-fetched, have forced me into the News24 comments section, that quagmire of badly spelled racist asshattery. I went there, see, to get an idea of what others were saying. That was my first mistake. Second mistake was doing so after I’d eaten.

I get it, you’re a politician – a hopelessly inept one – granted – in way over your head I imagine, and you’re in need of a distraction; a target. That’s what politicians do. Classic bullying tactic – deflect the heat you’re facing elsewhere, somewhere you think is a safe bet and will earn you points. Cos after all, who doesn’t hate a teenage (black, poor, female) parent?

We can all weigh in and pile on the criticism. Yay us! Righteous indignation! Morals! Social Grants!  Wild Generalisations With No Basis In Reality! I Once Spoke To An African Person Who Also Hates Teenage Mothers So I Can’t Be Racist! Something-something Weaves and Manicures!

I admit, it WAS kind of fun watching the small brain explosions of these types finding themselves agreeing with something you’ve said. I would have brought popcorn, but I was feeling a little sick.

Then I got mad. Not with you, mind. That’s an exercise in futility not even I have the ovaries for. I have spoken countless times about the reasons for teen pregnancy, about how to prevent it, why some teens plan to fall pregnant, what it takes to be a good parent. It’s been pointless.

Frankly, I don’t care what you think about the topic. Whether this is even your real personal opinion or just a tactic from Monday’s strategy session – doesn’t matter to me.

Nor does it matter much to the teenage mothers you’re so intent on punishing. Or their children.

What DOES matter to those hundreds of young parents that I speak to is the opinion of the big mouthed indignants – the teachers, the parents, the friends, the doctors, nurses and random people that our young parents encounter every single day.

You are the ones who make it harder for teenage mothers to succeed.

The principal who illegally expels mothers because “I won’t have mommies in my school”. The nurses who make it humiliating and near impossible to confidentially access contraception at the clinic, and then gloat when she returns months later with a baby. The older boyfriends who trade food and shelter for condom-free sex and then refuse to take responsibility for the resulting children. The parents whose entire sex education repetoire consists of “Sex bad. Don’t do sex. Stop asking me embarrassing questions but don’t you dare come home pregnant”.

It’s those people who have the power to make or break the life of a young parent, and by extension, the life of their child.

It’s YOU, dear readers. YOU with your unkind, ignorant, apocalyptically unhelpful and shortsighted opinions who will attack a young woman at her most vulnerable. Because why? Because it makes you feel good, I guess?

Despite you, though, many teen moms DO succeed. Across the board, against odds you would not take on – they’re doing it every single day. I just want to know why you want to make it harder? (I’d also like to know, for the record, the exact age at which all of these lovely commenters lost their virginity, and the number of times in their lives they’ve engaged in sex for non-procreation reasons. That’ll be a start.)

I have in the past asked people who agree with the Robben Island type scenario if they would have taken my child and banished me, when I was a 15 year old mother.

“No, but you’re different!” I’ve been told. (True, there are those who’d have banished me anyway, but they’re straight up nuts.)

I’m different? Shall we unpack that? We can, if you like. You know where you’ll end up. Just so we’re clear on exactly what you’re mad about.

Option A: a white teenage girl from an ordinary middle class family who got pregnant by accident even though she was on the pill, and was lucky enough to have parents who supported whatever decision she made. Who had the support of her school during her pregnancy and was also lucky enough to continue her education while raising baby, to the point where it’s made zero impact on the life she leads now, 21 years later. In short, in the blue corner, we have someone who started off at every advantage. So a teen pregnancy became a blip on the radar. She’s different, see. She’s okay-ish. Still a slut, obviously, but not a drain on my tax money.

Option B: a black teenage girl from the townships who may or may not have the support of her family, a roof over her head, enough to eat, a school to attend, decent affordable childcare so she could return to school, or even much hope of an easier future whether she became pregnant or not. Every day is a struggle to survive, baby or no baby.

Option B is the the reality of too many of our young people.

And yes, President Zuma – that one IS your job. Making the starting point worth something, so that the work they do along the way is not lost in trying to catch up.

Sensible people understand that neither Option A or Option B convey every possible combination of lifestyles and factors – there is also Option C to Z and back again.

The point, for the last time before I adjourn to my corner for some foetal-position rocking:

When teen mothers are vilified and excluded, they suffer. Their children suffer. Their ability to parent successfully and become successful, happy members of society in their own right suffers.

Is. That. What. You. Want.


Just so we’re clear.

One Response

  1. Bronté Miles
    | Reply

    This is exquisitely put (and, which certainly doesn’t hurt, entertaining) and an exceptionally important matter for all South Africans to address. It’s our future; our people; our mothers; and our children; that we’re supporting as a nation when we uplift and support young moms (and, importantly, young dads too).

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