Our daughter became a teen parent at the beginning of her senior year of high school, not quite three months after turning 17. She and her son lived with us for nearly two years before she moved out on her own.
Those two years were a daily balancing act - she's still a kid, but now she's responsible for a child. She still has to finish school, but she also has to make grown-up decisions. She still thinks like a teenager, but she has to jump quickly into adulthood.
Making Education Important
From the beginning, our primary goal was to get our daughter the rest of the way through high school. One source states that over 50% (1) of girls who become teen parents do not graduate from high school.
We made completing high school the most important thing she could do to ensure she and her son had a bright future. And, because we were committed to helping, her, raising our grandson was a team effort. Our daughter would do what she could to take care of her baby, but at the same time, my husband and I - as HER parents – made sure she had the time needed to get her homework done and keep up with her classes. In our daughter's case, that also meant she needed some solid sleep at night, because she's a person who gets sick easily if she gets overly tired.
Some may disagree with this practice. They may think that if a teenager becomes a parent, then the baby is their responsibility 100%. Several people applauded me and my husband for how much we were supporting and helping our daughter, as if that was unusual. But for us, there wasn't even another option. As our daughter said, it was never a question of whether she would finish school, but how she would finish. The statistics concerning teen parenthood are scary, and they're almost completely education-based:
Educational achievement affects the lifetime income of teen mothers: two‑thirds of families started by teens are poor, and nearly one in four will depend on welfare within three years of a child’s birth. Many children will not escape this cycle of poverty. Only about two‑thirds of children born to teen mothers earn a high school diploma, compared to 81 percent of their peers with older parents.(2)
Our System at Work
I was usually the middle-of-the-night person during the week, getting up with the baby to feed him, play, and rock him back to sleep. My daughter would take the weekend night shifts. My husband would often pack up the stroller for outings to the mall or the playroom at the library or even just walking around the neighborhood. I would keep a close eye on our young mommy, watching for signs of stress or exhaustion, and when I would see those, I'd step in and take over what I could. Inevitably, she would catch her breath, deal with the things that only she could do (usually the schoolwork), then be ready to step up again as a mother.
Letting Teenagers Be Teenagers
One of the best pieces of advice that we were given concerning raising a teenage parent was to "let her be a teenager once in a while." I understand now that there's a certain amount of "teenager-ness" that a person has to get out of their system.
We had a standing agreement that if she had something social that she wanted to do on either Friday or Saturday night, we'd stay with the baby and let her have some friend-time. Frankly, there quickly became such a divide between our daughter and her friends in terms of their world views that there wasn't much of a social life for her. The things her friends wanted to do just didn't have any appeal. But the times that she did get out and "be young," she would come home emotionally rested and ready to be a parent again.
Parenting a teen parent can be a challenging, exhausting experience. If you work as a team and focus on making your teen parent as successful as possible, you can set them up for success instead of stress.