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Heather Corinna replies:
I'm 14 years old, a very responsible one, at that. I've gotten in trouble with having sex in the past and now I'm thinking about having a baby. I understand that I'm too young but I know how to take care of one. I've been taking care of kids just about my whole life. But I'm just wondering, is it weird or slutty to know that I want a baby? I need help really bad. Btw, I don't want to hear all of the negative things.
Many people feel they'd like to reproduce, parent, or both in their lives. I wouldn't say either of those things -- that it's "slutty" or "weird" -- are true about these feelings and desires, whatever your age. I'd say the feelings you're having are some of the most common human wants there are, and that many people have them.
Thoughts are just that: thoughts. They're not actions: just thinking or feeling a thing can't make anything happen. I think there's little value in talking about if thoughts or feelings are "good" or "bad" or other kinds of judgments we or others may put on them. We should all feel free to have our thoughts and feelings without worrying too much about what they mean or if they are okay. We have to do that with our actions, but we really don't with thoughts and feelings.
Have you heard people talking about things they want in life, but can't do yet or know now isn't yet the time for? Like talking about moving to a certain country or city, getting their own apartment, about careers, kinds of relationships or commitments, mountains they want to climb, literally or symbolically, but in the future? Just like it's perfectly okay to talk about, think about and want those kinds of future-wants, it's okay to think about and want to parent. Just like thinking and planning in advance around those other kinds of things can also be helpful for people wanting to pursue them, and do them well, the same can also be true with this. In other words, not only are these thoughts and feelings okay, they might also help you figure out when the time really would be right to parent, and when it is, how to do it well.
I think I can offer you some helpful things with all of this, but I want to get the elephant -- or in this case, the slut -- in the room out of the way.
"Slut" or "slutty" are words people most often use to say they think someone's sexual choices are not acceptable or virtuous in their opinion. They're typically put-downs used to suggest someone's value -- and almost always a woman, rarely a man -- as a person is lower because of something sexual, or even just something presumed or represented as sexual. For example, victims and survivors of sexual abuse or assault often are called slutty or sluts, even though they didn't choose to engage in sex at all, but were sexually attacked or exploited by others. Relatedly, when the youngest teens become pregnant, the majority of the time it's not through wanted, informed, and fully consensual sex, but because of sexual coercion, abuse or assault. So, calling those young women slutty for those experiences, or for being unmarried to the guys involved, or for pregnancies or parenting in general due to them is extra awful. (I don't know, by the way, if any of this is what you mean when you talk about getting into trouble with sex, but if it is, know this is something else we can talk about if you like through one of our direct services here.)
"Slut" and "slutty" also are rarely just about sex: often, they're words used to disguise or express sexism, racism or bigotry based on someone being poor or otherwise marginalized. If you want a great read about all this sluttybusiness, Leora Tanenbaum's Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation is a fantastic book on the subject.
Calling someone a slut or slutty is not about concern or care. Concern and value judgments -- or ways of trying to control a person or their sexuality, which these words often have a lot to do with -- are totally different things. No one concerned about someone else, in a real way, calls someone or their choices things that put them down, demean or socially ostracize them: instead they bring kindness to the table, voice their concerns respectfully, and invite that other person to talk with them or ask for support or help if they want it. We don't try and make people feel bad when we care about them, we try and help them to feel better.
Hopefully you can see that the idea that people -- of any age, of any marital status -- having babies is "slutty" is a hot mess, one that stems from bias, bigotry and oppression; one tells us things about the character of people who think that way, but nothing about the character of who they are saying that about. Hopefully that also gives you some tools for good responses if anyone pulls "slutty" on you, either around this issue or any other.
I'd like to say a bit about things I don't think of as negatives, but important realities for anyone, of any age, thinking about parenting as something they intend to actually do. But even though I don't see them as negatives, I want to respect your stated limits in case you do. So, I've blocked off the start and the end of them clearly with those big blue lines so you can skip them if they are the kinds of things you were saying you do not want to hear.
You've had a lot of practice taking care of babies or kids when you're not their parent. With that practice you've learned many things. But taking care of kids who have parents that aren't us is a different thing than being a parent. Parenting involves taking care of kids, but just taking care of kids isn't parenting. Parenting is a much, much bigger job and responsibility than just taking care of kids.
It's different in a lot of ways. For example, it asks things of you that you probably haven't had much, if any, practice doing yet even just for yourself, let alone had time to get good at. Those include things like keeping a roof over your own head, successfully negotiating big deals like emergency healthcare, work conflicts or legal issues; paying for feeding yourself or having to let go of things in life you really, really want, and could even have, but have to nix because they just won't work with other parts of your life you need to put first.
Parenting involves things like managing and dealing with your own feelings and emotional needs very well, even on a terrible day, so that a kid can be a kid instead of someone who feels like the parent of you. It's different because having full responsibility, full-time, and this never stopping -- or even being something you can get a real break from -- is a very different thing than not having that kind of responsibility, or only having it in very limited ways.
I always find the idea of "having a baby" a little off. When someone becomes pregnant and then delivers, they don't have a baby for long. They have a person, a person who's only a baby for a very brief part of their lives. I think the idea many people have that having a baby is something for them, and is someone who will give them things, fill their need, is also backwards. A parent is for a child way more than a child is for a parent. The person who needs to supply unconditional love isn't a child, it's their parent. People who come to parenting understanding it's something they are primarily offering a child, rather than the other way around, and have enough of their own esteem and fill enough their own emotional needs already, who get that parenting is about way more give than get on their part? Those parents seem to handle the challenges of parenting best and also be better parents for their children.
No one can know how to do all of this, or even most of it, before they actually do it. There's a learning curve, and a lot of learn-as-you-go. One thing I've heard a lot from parents in the almost 25 years years I've worked as a teacher and advocate now is that the ones who thought they knew the most before they had kids or became pregnant -- which often poses its own giant set of challenges -- were the ones who felt the most foolish when they realized how much they did not know.
You say you know you're too young. That tells me you know age makes a big difference when it comes to how things tend to go with pregnancy and parenting. The world can be rough on parents and kids, and in a lot of ways, unsupportive around both their needs, and it's far rougher on the youngest parents. Younger parents almost always have fewer resources and life skills than older parents, but the world most of us live in and many of the people around us don't usually do more to help, but less. Young parents can be good parents, but in so many ways when they are, they've usually had to work at least twice as hard to be so as older people, and are often held to higher standards, despite having less to work with.
I'm putting all this out there for you to consider whenever you're making active choices -- not just having thoughts or feelings -- about readiness for parenting, be it now or twenty years from now. Being surprised by how much we are not at all prepared for something huge and super-demanding that once we start, we can't walk away from without usually doing someone serious long-term harm, is not a kind of surprise anyone wants.
When pregnancy and parenting are a choice you have, I'd make 500% sure that whatever your thoughts are, all of these realities and practicalities inform your actions. If you find yourself only able to see them as negatives, or inclined to blow them off or figure they're no big deal, I'd take that as a big clue that clearly, this isn't something you're ready for yet. When it is time, you'll find yourself much more open to hearing the less warm-and-fuzzy stuff and the hard questions. When it really is time, you'll also have clear answers and tangible plans for how you're going to manage those things, so even if someone else is being negative, you'll have positive responses, based more in realities than in dreams, at the ready.
As with many future goals and dreams, it isn't like you can't do some preparing now. Planning and skill-building so we can reach the things we aspire to is usually really satisfying, and also makes it way more likely that when we do do that thing, it goes well and really works for us.
For example, you can consider, now, some of the practical things a person would need to parent in the most basic ways, like having what's needed to stably provide food, housing, healthcare, clothing and supervision for a child. How are you going to get and assure you always can provide those things? What does that actually cost, both in terms of money, but also when it comes to time and energy? What can you start doing now to build a road to that possibility? What kind of work, for example, can you look into pursuing that would support you and a kid financially, while also giving you the time and flexibility parents need to spend real time with their kids and also spend time taking care of themselves, especially when a kid has run you ragged? Who do you know, from talking to them, and knowing them over time to know you can rely on them, will be willing and able to help you with parenting? What can you take the time now to learn not about kids, but about yourself, to get a better sense of your own strengths and weaknesses, and to learn to fill your own emotional needs so a kid doesn't feel like they have to?
In your profile you said you had an interest in entering the military and then becoming a beautician. How do those plans and goals square with pregnancy and parenting? If you're thinking about becoming pregnant before then, will you actually still be able to pursue those things while parenting or not? How would already having a kid go with those plans: would a kid before or a kid after work best?
What are you passionate about in your life besides kids? What are the things you enjoy most in life, or feel most excited when you dream about doing them? The things that make you feel happy, satisfied and fulfilled? Finding and pursuing those things is important because parenting asks so, so much from people. Parents who tend to do best, both for themselves and their kids, tend to be parents who don't look to kids or parenting to fill a void, but who already feel like complete, whole and satisfied people on their own. Parenting is also hella stressful, so building a toolbox now of things you know chill you out and can do to take care of yourself, for yourself, is another great way to prepare.
What about the people in your life? Do you have friends and family who support you and help you when you need help? People who'd want to take part in being part of a kid's life; people you'd want involved with a family you made? If not, that's something else you can start building. By the way, if some of these folks are harshing your buzz with these dreams, you can ask them to be more supportive or to interact with you differently than they are around this. You can offer them time and space to voice those (chances are, a lot of them are sound and aren't so much negatives as they are someone trying to drop you some valuable knowledge and support you) while also asking they give you space to talk about your happy dreams about parenting without stepping in with concerns every time.
Those some of the kinds of thinking, research and planning you can start doing right now, if you want, all connected to your goal of parenting: that process doesn't have to wait, you can start it right this very second. Doing a life plan also covers a lot of this, and can be a really useful exercise: useful for you all by yourself, but also useful when you're trying to work out how and when parenting you know you want to do would best fit into your life. This worksheet for a life plan by the Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania, Center for Schools and Communities, and the Department of Education is a good one: http://www.safeteens.org/docs/TeenGamePlan.pdf
Taking real time to learn how to take care of yourself, by yourself, and to finish your own growth process from a child into an adult are also parts of being at all ready for this jelly.
Practice being truly independent -- on your own, for real -- and learning to take care of your own basic needs is something anyone needs to be able to do be able to take good care of anyone else's needs. For those of us who may have grown up too fast in any respect, giving ourselves the time to let ourselves really be young people is also super-important. It's very hard to be good at letting someone else be a child and have a childhood if we (or others) have rushed ourselves out of that experience so never learned how to be children ourselves.
In the event you either don't agree with the suggestions I'm giving you here, or the things I'm saying, or ever lose track of your own knowledge that 14 is extraordinarily young to become pregnant and parent; or you do heed those things but you become pregnant on accident in your teens, and then decide to remain pregnant and parent? I want to make sure something important is clear:
You have a right to make that choice, and that choice also does not mean you or a kid are doomed to fail. Your body? It's yours to make choices with. And you get to be the author and director of your own life, not anyone else. You just want to be sure that when that life also involves making big life choices for someone else -- a kid -- who doesn't get a choice, you stay aware that then it's more than just your life and your choices really impact them.
Like I said earlier, young parents have the capacity to be good parents. It's just usually way harder then even holding off a few more years. But harder just means harder: it doesn't mean a young parent is incapable, or that good parenting as a young parent, and a good life of one's own, separate from parenting, is impossible. There are some incredible young parents in the world.
I hope for you, as I do for anyone, that if and when you do choose to parent, it's something you do because it is freely chosen, gladly chosen, and chosen with your own best interests and the best interests of a child at heart and in mind. I hope it's something you get to choose to do only at a time that feels like the right time. If you're dreaming of being a great parent someday, and that's a thing you aspire to, I hope you can do your best to enjoy those dreams and goals, and not let your internal judgments, or the judgments of others -- like thinking this is "slutty" or weird -- get in the way of those positive feelings. I hope other people support the idea that's a dream of value -- not the only one, but it is one -- and a great goal.
Being a parent is as valid a thing to "be" as anything else: being a doctor, a clergyperson, a teacher, an accountant, a factory worker, an artist, a beautician, a lawyer, a soldier, a musician, any of the things someone can "be." Being a great parent, just like being a great artist or a great doctor, is something that's truly an accomplishment, and a gift a person gives not just their kid, but the world.
It's a big deal, and not just in the "because it could mess your life up" way: providing a truly good childhood and life for a kid is a pretty big challenge, so it's a serious achievement, something for anyone to be very proud of doing when they manage to do that. It's just not the only big deal out there, or the only big deal open to someone, including you, in their lives. When you do what you can to construct a life where you have the best chance of having more than one big deal, and more than one thing you do that makes you feel good about yourself, it tends to go a lot better for everyone.
I think doing what we can, before there even is a kid -- even if there never is a kid -- to make this choice very carefully and thoughtfully, and in a lot of ways, selflessly, is something that's one of the biggest parts of being a good parent. That's something you are by no means too young to do. I feel confident you've got both the smarts and the heart to make these choices wisely.