Parenting Fears

When I was ten years old, when my folks visited my aunt’s house in California, I couldn’t sleep one night (strange house, strange bedroom), and I ended up reading this _Reader’s Digest_ article about a twelve-year-old girl who got pregnant (the father of her child was a fourteen year old) and was sent in this group home until the baby was born. The story made a strong impression on me because the girl was only two years older than I was, who was still a little kid, and I had learned pretty recently that I was adopted. I don’t remember what happened to her baby, but I do remember that this girl — a kid herself — was not ready, in all senses of that world, to have a kid herself.

I saw examples in real life as I navigated my teen years, seeing friends in junior high and high school get pregnant or get somebody pregnant; as I navigate my years as a teacher, seeing my students in college get pregnant or get somebody pregnant. I am astonished how they get over the initial shock and fear and, slowly, somehow, get on with their life, but this time with grim determination with the realization, like that girl in the article, that they were unprepared physically, emotionally, and financially to bear children.

I think of all this after talking with a student of mine, a 19-year old freshman who became pregnant over the summer. She decided to carry the child to term as opposed to have an abortion — I believe because I teach in a very conservative Christian college and most students here come from very conservative Christian homes. And so, she arrives this semester, not quite an adult but now with very adult responsibilities on her mind, a little girl who one semester ago only thought of football games and parties and now has to think of doctor’s appointments, prenatal care, and wondering how in God’s name can she carry on with her homework when homework is the last thing on her mind.

As my students know, I have no children, mostly because I have always been aware of the great cost of having children — yes, financially, but also just how fundamentally different one’s life becomes when one has a child. My mother didn’t get her first *real* full-time job until all of her four kids were in school, and my father left the Navy partly so that he could be home to help raise his teenage son. So, what with my age and my education, I have a choice when it comes to having children while my students did not — but they accepted these unplanned pregnancies… because what else could they do? And somehow — with their faith in God, with the support of their families — they carry on, one semester, one month, one week, one day at a time, and they become parents. They are afraid, but they carry on…

There is much I learn from my students.

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