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Should I have his baby to make him stay?

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coffee_cakes asks:

Okay so I'm 16 and have been dating my boyfriend for two months now, but we have known each other and liked each other since like age 5. But recently I found out that he had gotten his ex pregnant while they were dating and they got an abortion, that was nearly 7 months ago. She's been contacting him and wont leave him alone. She's trying to get him back. He says he loves me and I love him, he's so important to my life happiness, health and just everything, I love him dearly. I'd been thinking about having his baby and now this makes me want to even more....

I'm so confused, should I be threatened by the ex? Should I have his baby? We both have jobs and he has a place for us to stay, I practically live with him as it is, he's already got his diploma. Please help.

Heather Corinna replies:

A baby isn't a bargaining chip.

A baby is a very small, but very whole, person. Just like me, just like you. And a child deserves to be considered as a whole, actual person, not as an object to possibly get you what you want for yourself.

What I hear you saying is that you are now feeling a very strong desire to try to become pregnant with your very new boyfriend in order to try and one-up his ex and hang unto him. Not only does that strike me as -- forgive my bluntness -- one of the worst motivations for parenting I have ever heard, it also is not likely to have the effect that you want, either.

Having a child with someone doesn't increase your chances of having that person stick around. According to the United States census, in 2006, there were 12.9 million one-parent families — and 10.4 million of those were single mother families. In the U.S, eight out of ten teenage fathers do not marry their child's mother. I think you can see, from those statistics alone, that if you have the idea that having a baby with a guy means you'll cement him to you, and your kid, it'd be wise to think twice. A whole lot of those single mothers thought the exact same thing.

I hear you saying things like that you need this guy to be your boyfriend for your health. Unless he is, say, paying for your healthcare coverage, I doubt that your health is impacted by having a sexual or romantic relationship with him or anyone else. I understand that when you're young and have very strong feelings about someone it can absolutely feel like without a romance with that person you can't survive, and the idea of losing that kind of relationship can make it feel like you can't even breathe. But you can. And you were breathing just fine just two months ago. Even if this guy doesn't stick around, after you get over a breakup, you'll be just fine again, and you have the ability to be healthy and happy without a relationship with him, or even without any romance with anyone at all. And if you can't drop the desperation, you're unlikely to have a happy or healthy life and relationship with him or anyone else.

Here's what I'd suggest. I know what it can be like to grow up fast, but I think it'd be a good idea to do a reality check and remember that you are 16 years old, and also remember that you are in a very new dating relationship of just a couple months. You may have liked this guy since you were wee, but this is still a brand-new dating relationship. So, take your time in it. Have the kind of relationship most people have at your age and the kind people have when relationships are just a handful of weeks old. Go out together and share your interests. Talk a lot, talk more and more deeply. See how you two really do or don't actually work in a love relationship, something that takes more than a childhood crush and two months of dating to suss out. Hang out with each others families: see how that goes. be sure you're not moving too fast: cut down on the nights you stay there, and be sure you're spending plenty of time with your friends and in the other parts of your life so you don't get tunnel vision. And if you have a conflict like you feel you have with an ex, try handling it with maturity and good sense by doing something like talking with her about this. Heck, in doing so, you may find her perspectives on what her relationship was like with him tell you some things you may have needed to know.

If it feels to you like his being with you is something that makes or breaks your own value of yourself, then you're also going to want to be sure you are doing things for your own life, which are about your own goals, separate from a love relationship. Love relationships can be awesome, to be sure, but a whole life they are not. So, work towards your own diploma. Make time for your own interests and dreams. See your life as bigger than this guy. All of that is important not just so you can be good with you, but healthy relationships tend to require people who are healthy all on their own. We also know that among teens who are trying to become pregnant, one common thread is that those teens often don't have great self-esteem, and see their life options as very limited. So, I'd remind you that if you have that idea, know that more than anything else, your limitations are what you make them. If you aren't limiting yourself, chances are the sky is the limit when it comes to what you do with your life.

If the guy you are seeing has a habit of not cooperating and doing his part when it comes to birth control that's pretty bad news, by the way. It doesn't say good things about him, and certainly not about his ability to be responsible, and that's a super-big deal if you're considering co-parenting with someone. A guy who can't handle a condom, or who doesn't understand how big a deal a pregnancy is, especially for the youngest women, is pretty unlikely to be able to handle a kid or even get what being a parent requires. I'd also say that a guy who is either actively or passively trying to get teen women to become pregnant is someone who clearly does not understand that for women, pregnancy and parenting is a far different thing than it is for men. He can just walk away: you can't. His health will be in no way impacted or at risk: yours will. He won't wind up socially isolated and lonely: you probably will. He won't be waking up at all hours to nurse: you will. He already has his diploma: if you become pregnant, there's a very good chance you won't get yours.

If you're going to continue having sex with this guy, I'd strongly suggest that you only do so if you are using a reliable method of birth control every single time. Safer sex is also an issue: if you've only been dating two months and you are not using condoms, you've been at a high risk of sexually transmitted infections, particularly since it seems he has had unprotected sex with at least one previous partner. Are both of you current with tests for those infections? If not, it's time to go and get those, and that means him, too. (And if you don't feel like you can ask him to do something as basic and easy as that, I think it's very obvious you two are nothing close to ready to do something far more loaded and complicated like negotiate parenting together.)

Let's talk a bit more about choosing to become pregnant.

The choice to be a parent is a huge one: about as huge as it gets in life, as any mother will tell you. Babies don't stay babies, and if you become a mother, you're a mother for the rest of your life. And when you choose to become a mother very young, you're choosing to parent at what will likely be the toughest time for you to do so, when you will have the least resources, the least cultural and community support (that's not your fault or the fault of teen moms, but that is how it is), and the least stability, which helps a whole lot when parenting: helps you, helps a kid who very much needs stability, not drama and chaos. When you choose to become a parent at a time when a relationship may be in crisis -- with the magical thinking a kid will fix things, something nearly everyone who has ever tried that has learned the hard way is false thinking -- you're choosing to do so at the worst time, not the best.

Whether the father of your child sticks around or leaves, you and that kid -- who doesn't get a choice in any of this -- are tied to that person in some way for life.

I know that might sound like what you want right now, but that kind of tie may not look like you think it will, or have anything to do with romance or love. It may wind up being about chasing someone down for child support when you can't feed yourself or your kid, about watching that person hook up with more teenage girls and get more of them pregnant, about comforting your kid when that person is an absent parent to them, about seeing that person seem to succeed and do just fine while you and your kid are struggling or about living with someone who does stick around but only out of obligation and resents you for it the whole time, treating you and/or your kid with nothing that resembles love.

So, who we choose to have kids with is a very big decision, one that we never want to make in haste. Again, this isn't just about us, it's about who we our choosing to have a kid be bound to for the whole of their lives. I think you and I can agree that making a choice like this as hastily as you're about to make it, and with the motivation you have -- which isn't about a kid at all, but just about your immediate wants -- is a story you'd probably not want to tell a kid who had to struggle growing up because of your choice. "His other girlfriend wanted him back, and I had to have something to compete with, so I made you," is a pretty lousy tale. Every kid deserves better than that.

Your boyfriend has choices. His ex can't steal him: he's a person, not a purse.

He chooses who he dates, is sexual with, has relationships with and who he does not. Sometimes women can get in a headspace where they get all caught up in this idea that the love or attention of a guy is about women competing with women and forget that something like this isn't about an epic battle between two women, it's about the choices that guy makes which neither of you can control. This other woman isn't your enemy: she's someone who probably felt or feels the exact same way you do right now, and who knows how your boyfriend really is dealing with her, anyway, or how their relationship went down. If he's made your promises lately, he may have been making the same ones to her. As I mentioned earlier, I'd say that the way to deal with this with maturity is to simply see if you can't talk to her -- not yell at her, not show up with a knife screaming about "Your man," -- calmly about how both of you are feeling.

Love shouldn't feel like something we have to prove like this: when we love and are loved, it's not something we need to win or earn, or try and get by making huge sacrifices or putting ourselves and others at risk. You becoming pregnant at 16 puts your health and life at risk, and you having a kid in this kind of context also puts that kid at risk. None of this, by the way, involves your boyfriend taking any such risks himself. I hope you can see how unbalanced that is.

You're going to feel a lot more loved by someone when they simply love you for who you are, not for what crazy, reckless thing you'll do to "prove" your love for them or show them you're more wigged out about them leaving you than someone else they like. If you get pregnant now, whether he stays or he goes, you still don't get to know if he actually has love for you, because even if he stays, it's going to be tough to know if he is staying because he wants to be with you, or staying because you've created a situation where he feels trapped or like he'd be a bad person not if he left you, but if he left a kid. You're going to know you are loved and that someone wants to stay with you when they choose to freely, not when you do something nuts to try and force them to stay.

I'm going to go back to that nonexistent kid one more time before I'm through. Kids need more than a place to stay and a parent with a high school diploma and a job. They need a lot of love and attention (which is tough to have for them if we're giving all of it to someone else in trying to keep them around). They need parents who have some real maturity, a lot of selflessness and plenty of stability and support. They need parents who have good self-esteem of their own, and feel good about themselves whether or not they're together or in a love relationship with someone. They need parents who can tell the difference between love and a soap opera.

I'm of the mind that when we have a choice in pregnancy -- and you clearly do -- that we owe it to children to make those choices in their best interest first. Our interests are not unimportant, but I'd say they are secondary since, again, that kid doesn't get a choice. We make these choices for them, and that's a big responsibility. Kids deserve parents who are really ready to be partners, which includes things like being able to never try and use a child as leverage or as a way to get something you want. Once more, children are people, and very defenseless people who depend on parents to make the best choices for them.

If becoming a mother is something that's part of what you want for your life, you could certainly start doing things that prepare you for that and help you plan for that, like finishing school, being sure that you are in stable relationships (which this does not sound like at all), doing the things in your life first you want to do which will be harder or impossible to do with a child, prepping for a good career that will support you and a child well and work with life as a mother.

While teen pregnancy happens sometimes, many teens have choices, and can choose to do all they can to prevent that until the time really is right for parenting, be that not having sex or always using reliable birth control methods, and choosing partners who do their part with those, too. This clearly sounds like a very bad time and a very bad reason to have a kid. I'd suggest you hold off on parenting until at least a bit later when you are more prepared, when you have your own diploma, a place that's also really yours, when you're a bit older, and when you're choosing to parent with someone who you know wants to stay with you, who has demonstrated that over considerable time (read: not two months, let's try two years, five years or ten years), and who you feel loved by, full-stop, without anyone bringing a big bucket of crazy.

Here are a few extra links to help round all of this out:

written 21 Jan 2009 . updated 31 Jan 2014

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