I was thinking about all of these issues when news hit that a dear girl that I know, in her late teens, is now pregnant. It sounds a little bit like it was not quite planned, but not quite an accident, either. She's on top of the world about it.
I have known many girls in their late teens or early twenties who have suddenly "found" themselves pregnant, and their glee is evident to all. They want this baby. Frequently they grew up in horrible families, and they so want someone to love who will love them back. They want to be the centre of someone's world. They want a chance to start over, to truly have their own life, and what better way than to start a family?
I don't know who the father is in this case, and I don't know what will happen with my particular friend. But I do know statistics. And the vast majority of these relationships do not last. That doesn't mean, however, that you are finished with the man who fathered your baby. On the contrary, like these couples I spoke to at the conference, this 'other parent' can be a constant presence in your life for the next 18 years--and beyond. You'll need to get child support (since most of these girls have no way of supporting themselves or their children). They may want visitation. And, as does occasionally happen, these men may grow up over the next five or six years, meet a stable woman, get married, and then decide that they should try for joint custody. You may suddenly find yourself having to give up your child frequently so that they can go see their dad. And you have no say over it.
Starting a family when there is no stability is one of the worst things you can do for your emotional future and your child's emotional future. It makes any education to better yourself so much harder. It makes finding a mate so much harder. It makes work harder. And you put your schedule, your bank account, your access to the child in the hands of the courts, for in all likelihood, you will be fighting over this for the foreseeable future. It seems so easy when it's just a pink line on a pregnancy test, but it doesn't stay that way.
Perhaps my friend won't have these problems, because the guy will bail and walk out and never make any demands. That may make her life easier, but it's not necessarily the best for the baby. A child needs his or her father. Dads are important to our development of sexual identity, self-esteem, and our ability to make good decisions (or even to make decisions at all). To decide to have a child who in all likelihood will never be close to his or her father is not fair to the child. Girls at that age have this magical thinking that they will be able to love the child enough that it will never want its father. They picture themselves in a world of two, where it's just them and the baby and everything's perfect. Then, as the years go by and the child wants to spread his or her wings, or wants to know his or her father, the girl can experience this as rejection. Whenever we have a child to fill a hole in our own lives, we bring a child into the world for the wrong reasons. We put too much on the shoulders of that child, and ask them to play a role God never intended for them to play.
Please understand me: I am glad that she is keeping the baby and not aborting it. As part of her Christian family, I will try to support her in whatever way I can. But that doesn't stop me from being sad that she has made the choice to have a baby in the first place, before she is emotionally, psychologically, relationally, or financially ready. It takes more than love and devotion to raise a child.
Perhaps she will mature, and be a marvelous mother. I will pray for that. But it will not make up for the lack of a stable father in this child's life. Through God's grace the child can still grow, and succeed, and come to know Him, but it is hard to start life with so many strikes against you. It is as if the mom is almost recreating the unstable situation that she was born into and that she so very much wanted to escape. Instead of waiting to mature and marry and find a healthy way to leave her biological family, she has taken the more common, and what appears the easier, way out.
Yet ultimately it is not easier. Motherhood is so hard. I remember carrying Katie, my youngest, around the living room as she screamed, red and rigid, with colic for about two months. I remember not sleeping for around a year because Katie never needed sleep. I remember having a fever of 103 and puking all over the place, and having to pull myself out of bed anyway to look after two children. I know I could not have done this had I been 18 and alone when I had the kids. I just couldn't.
And so I will pray that God will show me ways to help this girl. And I will pray that no other lonely girls in our community will do the same thing. Subscribe to To Love, Honor and Vacuum