16&P: Marriage, cheating, sacrifices, death, home-schooling — whew!

This week on 16 and Pregnant we met Lizzie, a 17-year-old who was having a baby with her boyfriend Skylar. This is a long post, but the episode had a lot of food for thought. I’ve added some pictures to break up the text.

Specifically: getting married because you’re pregnant, blaming yourself for a partner’s cheating, giving up dreams because of financial necessity, maternal death during childbirth, and the benefit of family support — especially when your family can afford it.

1. Getting married because you’re pregnant. Lizzie and Skylar were dating for about a year when baby Summer was born, and before she was born Skylar proposed to Lizzie. He asked Lizzie’s father for permission beforehand, and her dad was visibly opposed to the entire situation. He told them that he preferred they live together and not get married right away, and that they didn’t need to get married solely because of the baby.

According to Campaign For Our Children, less than 8 percent of teen moms are married to the baby’s father within a year of giving birth, although most teen moms initially expect to get married to the baby’s father.  But her dad had the right idea — not just because a child’s well-being isn’t enhanced if it lives with parents who are unhappy together, but because teen marriage in general doesn’t have much success.

If the bride is younger than 18 when the marriage starts, one-third of those marriages will end in divorce within five years, and half will be divorced within 10 years. Getting married in your teenage years is risky — you’re young, immature, and probably still searching for an identity. People change a lot during their teenage years and during their 20s.

Maci and Ryan almost got married because of pressure from their families — Ryan’s dad especially kept trying to remind the two and push the two toward marriage as fast as possible. Luckily they decided to postpone the wedding, because now the two aren’t together and Ryan has said he wouldn’t speak to Maci ever again if Bentley didn’t exist. Despite Dr. Drew’s advice, I don’t think people should force themselves into marriage for the sake of a child who will not benefit from their parent’s fighting, animosity and resentment.  

Society pressures people who have kids outside of marriage to somehow validate the pregnancy by getting married — but even though people want to keep the romanticized notion of sex only accompanied with love, sometimes people have sex just to have sex. Or they were in love and then they fall out of love. Or maybe they stay in love forever — what’s the rush? Kids eventually will do the math and figure out your wedding anniversary is less than nine months before their birthday.

2. Self-blaming for your partner’s cheating. In this episode, for the first time (I think) we saw a couple deal with cheating. Not Nikkole and Josh’s I’m-Josh-And-I’m-Going-To-Break-Up-With-You-So-I-Can-Do-Other-Girls, but actually infidelity that Skylar hid from Lizzie for about eight months, before his bragging to his friends finally got back to Lizzie.

What struck me the most about the cheating was Lizzie’s honest response — that she felt self-conscious about it. She immediately blamed herself for the cheating and started thinking about what she had done to provoke him to cheat. I don’t know if it’s a woman thing or a person thing, but it’s an unhealthy tendency to blame ourselves for the actions of someone else.

Skylar is a person with free will, and it was his choice to cheat. If Lizzie did anything to make Skylar feel unattracted to her, he either needed to A) talk to her about it or B) break up with her. The fact that he told his friends means he either had a guilty conscience or wanted to brag about it. Either way, it’s an unfortunate human tendency to blame anyone but the perpetrator.

Whether this is because we look for reasons to excuse such behavior so we can stay with those people is beyond me — it reminds me of situations where person A cheats with person X, and person A’s partner focuses all his/her rage at person X instead of the partner who cheated. Two people made a choice together, and they are equally responsible. Of course, there was a baby involved in this situation, which complicates things further.

3. Giving up dreams because of financial necessity. Lizzie was a flutist who had dreams of studying music in college and eventually playing in the Virginia Symphony. With someone with such big dreams, it was surprising how suddenly she dropped her musical ambitions. Of course, with a baby to pay for, it’s easy to see why music dropped on the list of priorities.

I felt bad for Lizzie — although she adores Summer, there is this passion that you have if you are dedicated to something enough to base your life’s ambitions on it. Most people have this kind of love for a certain subject — for me, its writing; for others, it’s art, teaching, dancing, community activism, science, etc. To have to give up your dreams because they won’t financially support a baby must be emotionally taxing.

Lizzie gave up dreams of the symphony to be an ultrasound technician, but quickly dropped that idea in favor of medical billing — it was lucrative and quick to learn, and Lizzie prioritized Summer over spending time in class. She probably figured that ultrasound teching wasn’t her dream in the first place, so why spend so much time and money on school when she could learn an equally not-her-dream job quickly.

I give her props for focusing on her daughter, but it highlights one of the major sacrifices that teen parents have to make because babies are expensive.  

4. Maternal death during childbirth. “I hope you don’t die,” is what Skylar said to Lizzie when she asked why he was so nervous about the childbirth. Although a short quote, it’s a telling one because maternal deaths are on the rise. Death during childbirth isn’t something we associate with Western medicine, especially because so many births are done in hospitals, but it isn’t something that only happens in distant developing countries.

The U.S. is behind more than 40 other countries when it comes to maternal deaths. What’s more concerning is that deaths after childbirth are also on the rise. Although these cases are the exception rather than the rule, Skylar’s comment was very valid and reminded viewers that childbirth is not without complications and risks for the mother.

5. The advantage of having well-off parents. OK! My final point in this long-winded blog post. Lizzie’s parents seemed upper middle-class — her house was gigantic, her mom didn’t appear to work outside the home (as she could watch Summer during the day), and there was enough extra space in the house for parents and baby to have separate rooms.

What’s even better than the benefit of having shelter is having the option of home-schooling. Because Lizzie was home-schooled for her senior year, she graduated five months ahead of her classmates and before the baby was born. She was able to get her high school diploma, which as we saw with Chelsea and also Amber’s episodes of Teen Mom can be a very difficult process if you are trying to accomplish it post-baby.

Home-schooling, however, is not an option if you can’t afford it. It costs more than public school, and you have to pay for supplies such as books or curriculum packages, which could range from $200 to more than $1,000 — and the cost is always higher for teenagers. Plus, if you as a parent aren’t free to teach your child, then you need to hire someone to conduct the lessons.

I don’t fault Lizzie for being home-schooled — I think it’s great, actually. It’s just too bad that all struggling teen moms can’t afford that option because it requires the finances and possibly a nonworking parent to teach the material. She should be grateful to have parents who can afford home-schooling and who are supportive of her pregnancy.

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