When Will They Ever Learn?

June 17, 2013

The song that has been running through my mind the last few days was written by Pete Seeger as a protest against war – all war. On Facebook, I posted the Kingston Trio’s version of the song. Here I’ll include Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version.

Today my problem has to do with teenagers more than war. This is not to say we should ignore the evils of war. It simply says that, of late, I’ve been more concerned with the mistakes made by youngsters who are at the age where they think they know everything, but haven’t a clue.

This past Saturday I had an opportunity to talk with my sixteen-year-old granddaughter. This is what I told her.

When a child is born, the parents, grandparents, other family members, and friends are initially concerned about the health of the child. They count the toes and fingers and are relieved when the doctors and nurses reassure them that the child can see and hear. It is at this time that all concerned are informed of any potential problems – either physical or mental. It is at this time, also, that some parents must steel themselves to the challenges that lie ahead.  Fortunately, most parents are assured that everything will be just fine.

That’s when everyone begins to concentrate on the potential for that child. Many people see their child as a future athlete, musician, writer, doctor, lawyer, scientist, or even a President of the United States! While most parents are careful not to push the child in a particular direction to meet the dreams of the parents, most parents do what they can to see that the child gets a good education and is given the proper support, nurturing, and encouragement.

What parents want most for their child is for that child to grow up and become an independent adult. This can also be said for the parents of the “less than perfect” children – those whose physical or mental handicaps will always hold them back to some extent. But, if the child can get a job and live in a group home and enjoy relative independence, the parents have done their job well and they can take great pride and joy in their offspring.

The next thing that comes into the life of the child – in the ideal setting – is for that child to meet his or her soul mate. They date for a while and come to the conclusion that they want to spend the rest of their life with each other. They get married and, once again, the family and friends share in the joy.

If all goes well, the happy couple is soon blessed with a pregnancy. For all too many parents, that moment never arrives, but, like most of us, they sincerely want a child to call their own, and will go to great lengths to make it happen. Some couples will spend thousands of dollars attempting to get pregnant before joining the long line of parents hoping to adopt.

When the couple finally comes home with a baby, there is even more joy in the family.

At this point I explained to my granddaughter how all that happiness and joy can be shattered by youngsters who have no idea of what it takes to raise a child.

When I was a teenager, girls in our high school classes sometimes went missing. We had nothing to go on but the rumors, which were always the same. The girl got pregnant and was sent to a convent to have the baby. The baby would immediately be put up for adoption. The young mother usually did not return to the same school because of the shame involved. (Notice that there was nothing said about the boy who helped create the problem. In those days, the boy usually didn’t brag about his “accomplishments” in that arena.)

Nowadays it seems that girls intentionally get pregnant and take pride in their accomplishment. The ignorance on the part of these girls absolutely astounds me. They honestly believe they are emotionally and physically prepared to take care of a baby.

I think part of this problem stems from the fact that the “shame” has been removed. Schools now have day-care centers to help teenaged moms stay in school and all their friends get all excited seeing the baby.

The bigger part of the problem, as I see it, is that parents, grandparents, family, and friends, do all they can to help the young mother. That means the young mother does not have to deal with the reality of a baby.

I once had a case worker explain to me that young girls see a baby as someone who will love them unconditionally. Babies are so cute; they smile and do funny things. Going blindly into motherhood, they are shocked when they find a human being that is totally unequipped to love anyone or anything. The infant is helpless. The infant needs fed – when he or she is hungry; he or she needs diapers changed on a regular basis; he or she needs bathed, and changed into clean clothes numerous times a day. And all of this is on demand. A screaming baby needs attention – NOW! Quite often, the baby cries even though the diaper has been changed and he or she has been fed. It may be colic or some other problem, but it is a major problem. A parent can spend hours holding and rocking an infant while the baby continues to scream and cry. That’s about the time young girls wake up to the fact that they want nothing to do with the baby.

The case worker told me this when we were trying to adopt a girl. To be honest, I was shocked when I realized we were not adopting an orphan. In truth, there are very few orphans available for adoption.

Most adoptable children fall into one of two categories. Infants, born to unwed mothers, are the primary source of babies. The waiting list to adopt those children is extremely long and many people wait years for their infant child.

Older children, some with special needs, form the other group of adoptable children. These are the children of young parents who believe they are capable of rearing a child and refuse to consider adoption until the child is older. In many cases, the child has already bounced around several homes and foster families and is distrustful of any adults.

Because we already had three sons, we decided not to wait for an infant. We gladly accepted an older (almost three when we got her) child. Our daughter had been born to a young girl who was convinced she could do a better job of raising her baby than her mother had done with her. After a couple of weeks, she left the baby with a neighbor saying she was going to the store and would be right back. A week later, the neighbor called Family and Children Services and had them pick up the baby. No one knew where the baby’s mother had gone.

For more than two years our daughter’s birth mother refused to give up her parental rights and allow the baby to be adopted. Yet she did nothing to straighten out her own life so the baby could be returned to her. Finally, she signed the papers and released her daughter.

Perhaps that girl’s parents (our daughter’s grandparents) did what I think all parents should do – force the young girl to take care of her own baby. Make the child realize that taking care of a baby is not all fun and games. Make the young mother pay the bills for the baby: diapers, formula, baby food, doctor’s visits, clothing, shoes, and everything else. If the youngster has to drop out of school and get a job, so be it! As one family friend recently stated, “Don’t hand the girl her baby on a silver platter.”

Sad to say, our adopted daughter repeated the actions of her biological mother. Although she did not intentionally get pregnant, as a result of statutory rape a baby came into our lives. We were not ready to become grandparents, and failed to realize we would actually become proxy parents because we tried to make it easy for our daughter.

We wanted her to finish high school, so we did all we could to take the burden of the baby away from her. At one point, my daughter and her son came to live with me (my wife and I were divorced by then). I was unemployed at the time, so I stayed home with the baby and sent my daughter off to school.

The sad reality of that arrangement is I became the momma. When the baby would cry in the middle of the night, nothing my daughter could do would quiet the baby. Only when I held him would he settle down. He saw me as his primary care giver.

When I got a new job and went back to work, I tried to get my daughter to take more responsibility for the baby. She was too young and immature to perform the duties. Eventually she came to realize it was more than she could handle and, when the child was about 17 months old, she did what she should have done in the beginning; she gave him up for adoption. We all agree that, although it took too long to happen, it was beyond a doubt the best action for all concerned.

So, why am I bringing up such a sad story? Because one of my granddaughters (not the one I had the talk with) has proudly announced that, at fifteen, she is pregnant and has no intention of giving the baby up for adoption. She knows she can do a better job than her mother and doesn’t need to listen to any adult who is simply being negative and refusing to see the joy in her announcement.

Please pray for our family and, if you have any advice that might help us get through to the child, I will be more than glad to listen. I am not ready to become a great-grandpa, and I’m sure my daughter and her husband aren’t real thrilled about becoming grandparents.

Also, if you have a teenaged daughter and think this story might keep them from making a similar mistake, feel free to share it.