Let me clarify, I’m not actually a teen-mom. However, my full-time babysitting job sure feels like it. Everyday from 3:15 to 7:15, I feed, change diapers, and look after two girls. The sisters are one and four years old. When I first started the job, I thought it would be a piece of cake due to my camp counselor experience. I had handled 12 six-year-old girls for a week, taking care of two girls for four hours couldn’t be that difficult.And it wasn’t. The girls were incredibly well-behaved, sweet, and we would often color in pages of Elsa and Anna together. Life was simplistic with the only difficulties of changing the younger one’s diaper. It made me realize that children aren’t as gross, sticky, or loud as people convey them to be. While they may be quite obnoxious at times, the are still the “bundles of joy” you planned to have.
Except when you don’t plan it. According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016 rates of teen pregnancy calculated to be at 17.3%, with 89% of those pregnancy conceived outside of marriage. And while the rates have dramatically dropped since the early 2000’s, it hasn’t gone away, and neither has the stigma.
One day during the summer, the girl’s mother asked me to take them to the beach. I happily obliged, hustled them in their swimsuits, and rolled their stroller to Hole in the Wall beach. As I pushed them down Main Street, I couldn’t help but feel all the eyes focused on me and the girls. People on the street, in restaurants, and in their cars all gazed towards this baby-faced teen pushing two toddlers in a double-stroller. Each dirty glance diminished my confidence, and I became self-conscious. Once I got to the beach, the judgements became worse.
I settled the girls on their beach blankets, gave them their lunches, and tried to steer them away from the seagulls. Since these girls are so well-behaved, we sat and enjoyed the sunny coast on an incredibly crowded day. After the meal, they made sand castles while I just kept a watchful eye on them. Suddenly, an elderly woman tapped my shoulder.
“Excuse me, but are those your kids?” As she motioned to the girls.
“Yes, I’m their babysitter” I replied. Her expression changed from one of worry and concern to relief.
“Oh thank God, I would hate for you to be a mother so young,” she laughed. I chuckled with her, but inside I was incredibly uncomfortable. What would she say if I said I was their mother? Would the conversation been friendly or scolding? To make matters worse, she wasn’t the only who approached me. Three other, grandmother type figures asked if I was a teen-mom. Then, the biggest question hit me: Why did they automatically assume the girls were my children? I could have been their older sister, their cousin, or their babysitter, but their minds automatically went to “teen-mom”.
Now, why did they even approach me? What if I was married, and choose to conceive a child? How would the conversation go then?
These “what-ifs” filled my mind, and ruined my beautiful beach day. With feelings of self-doubt, I wished we just stayed home and colored. Then, the daily-life of a teen-mom, and all her actions began racing through my thoughts.
How did her peers treat her? Her parents? I already knew she faced the struggles I encountered on the beach, however, she had to deal with that everyday. No matter where she went, a teen-mom would feel that constant judgement. My small anecdote does not even compare to the life of a real teen-mom, and I wished I fully understood.
We, as a society, strongly disapprove of teen pregnancy, rather it’s willing or unwillingly. And I’m not saying we should encourage it, but rather be more supporting of those teens that do become pregnant. Their lives are already difficult juggling adult problems, their child, school, and the last thing they need is strangers giving them dirty looks. So, if you see a teen-mom, ask yourself, why should I treat this young lady any different from other moms? Because at the end of the day, they’re all moms, and moms make the world go round.