My best friend just became a grandma at the age of 38. I was a mom at eighteen and also became a granny at 38. The other night my oldest daughter and my mom and I were at my ten-year-old grandson’s roller derby bout and while waiting in line to get in we were talking about young grannies. I was saying how it’s actually pretty awesome to be a young granny and my mom agreed that being a young great grandma also had its benefits. In the course of the conversation I mentioned that Hailey, my daughter, was sixteen when she had Felix and that I was eighteen when I had my son. There was a man standing behind us and I noticed him watching us, but thought nothing of it.
Later after the bout my daughter and mom were standing by her car at the far end of the parking lot while I waited for my grandson to gear down. My daughter was having a cigarette while chatting with my mom. She was on the far end of the parking lot far from any doors and far from any children or other people. Apparently this dude, a dad of one of my grandson’s teammates, walked up to my daughter and said, “Smoking is bad, you know.” And then proceeded to tell her that she would never be a strong mother if she smoked and she should try running a marathon or jumping out of an airplane. Like that makes any real sense at all. He didn’t smile.
Several of the parents of the kids on the team smoke. I have never seen this guy shame them for smoking. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he overheard this conversation and then went out of his way to shame my kid. The first thing that my mom, my daughter, and I thought was, he did this because he heard that she and I were teen moms. Later when I told my teen mom friends about this exchange they said, of course it was because she was a teen mom.
My kid is 26 now. I’m 49. We still get teen mom shamed all the time. Not as often as when we were teenagers, but it still happens a lot. It happens in real life. It happens online. It happens intentionally and it happens unintentionally. Sometimes people do it just to be misogynist, teen mom shaming jerks and sometimes it’s well-meaning, woke, liberals. The well-meaning self -identified liberals and feminist are the worst and the most hurtful because you expect these people to have your backs, but really when you’re a teen parent the only people who truly have your back are other teen parents.
But that’s another blog post. Today I just want to give you all an idea of the things that people say to teen moms. Here is just a sample of the things that have been said to me and to my daughter by perfect strangers and by people we know and thought had our backs. These are actual quotes that have been said to us.
Here’s just a partial list:
Do you know how that happened?
Must have been a teen pregnancy?
How old are you?
Is that your little brother?
Have you figured out how birth control works yet?
Do they all have the same dad?
What were you twelve when you had him? You look way too young to have a kid that age.
Are you the nanny?
You’re pro-choice and you kept the baby?
I know a family who would adopt him. Their Guatemalan adoption got delayed.
You don’t believe in abortion?
Did you ever consider adoption?
Do you even know who the dad is?
Oh God, my daughter getting pregnant is my worst nightmare.
If my kid got pregnant she’d be on her own. I’m not raising another kid.
Is your mom raising him?
It never ends. Or maybe it does at some point, but I’m about to turn fifty and people still shame me. My kid is twenty-six and people still go out of their way—literally go out of their way—to make shaming remarks. Maybe when I’m sixty or seventy people will finally decide that it’s none of their business and that my teen pregnancy did not bring down civilization as we know it and they’ll stop waiting for my kid to become the next Ted Bundy.
And trust me, there are no safe spaces for us teen moms. Not feminist spaces, not liberal progressive spaces, not queers spaces.
About five years ago I was in a queer book club with a bunch of self-identified feminists. Most of the women were mothers. We had read Michelle Tea’s Rent Girl and were discussing it. Somehow teen pregnancy came up. One of the women said, “If my daughter got pregnant I’d throw her down the stairs and then drive her to get an abortion.” Most of the women laughed. I was horrified.
I said, “You do know that I was a teen mom and so was my kid, right?”
Instead of apologizing she said, “Well you have to admit it ruined your life, don’t you?”
I said it did not, in fact, ruin my life. She didn’t apologize. She only kept at me and stood firm that she would throw her kid down the stairs and force her to have an abortion if she were to become pregnant. Only two people in the club stood up for me. You would think that a feminist queer space full of moms would be a safe space, but it wasn’t.
There aren’t many safe spaces for teen parents.
We need to create those safe spaces for ourselves. We need to come together and have each other’s backs. We need to stand up for each other and we need to demand with loud strong voices that supporting teenage parents is a feminist issue. Those of us that are older teen moms need to reach out to the current teen moms and let them know that they are not alone and that we celebrate them.
In the meantime, come over. I’ll make you some soup. The beer is cold. Bring your kid. Or just email me. Let’s chat…about all the misogynist jerks and well-meaning liberals who treat us like dirt and about how awesome our kids are.