Ideally, people don’t become parents until they’re ready to. I became a parent when I was twenty-one, and it could be argued that I wasn’t ready yet, but I did all right. Some people have children long before I’d consider them ready (if ever), and some are what I’d consider ready long before they have children (if ever). But we’re complicated, and it’s not easy to tell, with certainty, whether someone is “ready” to have children.
In some cultures, people are expected to start having children earlier than they are in our culture. When it’s expected and accepted, it seems to work. Children grow up learning how to parent, and by the time their biological clocks start ticking, they’re ready to go. My eight year old friend from Vietnam has a grandmother who’s younger than I am. Yet if I became a grandfather now, in this culture, I’d be considered an unusually young one. Our culture tells people to wait longer.
So a teenager in our culture who has children, either accidentally or on purpose, usually has trouble. We tend to call teenagers “children” if they become parents, although we do let them vote, drive, and do other things adults normally do. And when we’re at war, teenagers, who aren’t supposed to create life, are sent to destroy it, and risk having their own lives destroyed. Something’s wrong somewhere.
I’m not saying that teenagers in our culture should have children. There’s a lot of other stuff teenagers could be doing. The message teenagers in this country usually receive is that having children early is “throwing your life away.” “There’s so much you can do in life, and if you have children when you’re too young, you won’t be able to do it.” They’re often told this by their parents or other adults who are beginning careers after raising children, and they may wonder why it makes more sense to begin a career at age forty-five than at age thirty-five.
And what if raising children is exactly what they want to do with their lives? Personally, I think it’s a pretty good way to spend a life. And most peoplein this country who have children are also doing other things. We try to simplify issues, but I don’t think this one can be simplified. As difficult as it may be, I think we have to consider teenage parenthood case by case. I was married to a teenaged parent (although she turned twenty when our daughter was three months old), and having had three younger siblings, she was a pretty good teenaged parent.
I am not quite taking sides. I hope this article isn’t used as a weapon by a teenager who is trying to convince her/his parents that teenage parenthood is okay. If parenthood seems, to the teenager, like playing with real, live dolls, no way. I wouldn’t have written hundreds of articles about playing with dolls. But I think anyone who is thinking about having children should be heard. Not just talked to.