16&P: Abortion, uneven sacrifices, distance, disappointment

This week on 16 and Pregnant we met Emily, a 16 year old who was kicked out of her mom’s house when she wouldn’t agree to get an abortion. Emily was living with her dad and stepmom and also dating Daniel, an easygoing guy — well, easygoing as long as he was getting his way and not having to take care of baby Liam.

1. What the teen wants vs. what the parents want

It’s not uncommon for the teen moms of 16 and Pregnant to disagree with their parents concerning their teen pregnancy — Farrah wanted an abortion and her mom was against it; Lori wanted to keep the baby and her parents wanted her to put it up for adoption; but this episode, both of Emily’s parents wanted her to get an abortion and Emily was against it. In fact, her mom was so against the pregnancy that she kicked Emily out when Emily refused to get an abortion. Emily’s parents are divorced, so — despite his objection to her keeping the baby — her dad agreed to let her stay with him.

Emily’s dad asked her if she thought that she was qualified to make such a decision, and she simply replied that there was “no turning back now.” But who is more qualified to make the right decision — the teen or the parents? The parents obviously are more aware of the stresses and sacrifices involved in parenthood, and perhaps Emily’s mom saw Emily’s refusing to get an abortion not only as a statement of Emily’s personal beliefs, but as a direct act of defiance against her. Although I don’t have a problem with people getting abortions, there is a problem with forcing someone to get an abortion, or using threats or coercion to get that person to agree to an abortion.

2. An unbalanced sacrifice

Emily put it best when she said, “I hate the fact that I’ve given up way more than [Daniel] has.” Not only did she lose her relationship with her mom because of her pregnancy, but she was on the verge of failing her classes because she was missing school because of morning sickness. Eventually she left her high school and enrolled in home schooling, but keeping up with her homework and graduating high school proved difficult once Liam was born.

Because Emily’s mom kicked her out, she moved in with her dad, who lived about an hour from Daniel. Daniel would come and visit, but he didn’t have nearly the responsibility of taking care of Liam that Emily did, and Emily told her friends that Daniel hadn’t spent more than two hours alone with Liam because Daniel got bored and tired of taking care of him. It also didn’t help that Daniel also told Emily that taking care of Liam wasn’t that hard, hence why she shouldn’t complain about having to do it all the time.

“What you do isn’t 24/7, you have a break,” Emily told Daniel, when she was telling him that though school and work is hard, they eventually end — taking care of Liam was round-the-clock, and she didn’t have his support to make it easier on her. She sacrificed her homework and graduating on time in order to take care of Liam — Daniel worked, but he admitted that he didn’t visit Emily as much because he was trying to enjoy his “freedom” before they moved in together.

It takes two people to make a baby, yet Emily doesn’t get an opportunity to “enjoy her freedom.” Because she has a uterus, the responsibility falls on her to take care of the baby and sacrifice her education, though Daniel played an equal part in making the baby and thinks he has a right to take advantage of his free time and tell Emily that what she does isn’t that hard … despite the fact he avoids doing it.

And Emily’s dad made a good point that, when discussing their plans with Daniel’s parents, it seemed like the plans revolved around Daniel furthering his education and Emily simply taking care of the baby. Her dad said he didn’t want to see her at the Piggly-Wiggly as a cashier because she had sacrificed everything so that Daniel could go to college and graduate. Eventually, Emily confronted Daniel about she was prioritizing her own education and future — Daniel wasn’t pleased about that.

In many of these episodes, the teen moms take on far more responsibility than the teen dads — if the teen dads even stay involved — and they sacrifice so much more than the dads do. It pains me every time one of the teen dads brushes off the teen mom when she explains how exhausting it is to care of the baby, though the dad is never jumping to prove his point that taking care of the baby isn’t hard. Both parents need to take responsibility and shouldn’t be expected that the mom will make all the sacrifices.

3. Absence … doesn’t make the heart grow fonder

Emily seemed to insinuate throughout the episode that things would be easier if they lived together — they were getting on each other’s nerves, but living together and being married would change all that. The problem there is that the fights they have are not solely related to distance — Daniel doesn’t have the attention span to take care of Liam, Emily needs support in order to graduate, and Daniel thinks they should be married solely because they have a child. It’s not the distance that is preventing Daniel from being more involved — it’s his own attitude.

Emily might be falling into the trap of, “It will be better when …” and might make some decisions she later regrets if she banks on living together or marriage fixing their problems. Of course having Daniel there to help her is going to be better, but only if he takes the initiative to help her. By the end of the episode she was realizing that it was probably too soon to be married, but the idea that huge steps like cohabitation, marriage, or even having a baby will fix a problematic relationship is common but misguided — and it avoids actually addressing the problems at hand.

4. Where did I go wrong?

I don’t recall an episode yet where a parent candidly asked, “Where did I go wrong?” and expressed disappointment not only in the teen for getting pregnant, but in themselves for not communicating an abstinence or safe sex message better. I’ve heard some parents say it in a more accusatory way, e.g. reminding the teen that s/he was told about the consequences of unprotected sex — but Emily’s dad genuinely looked distraught about his own message of abstinence being ineffective.

I’m curious, though, what his message was — from what he said, I inferred that his message to her was simply, “Don’t have sex.” That’s not a very effective way to prevent pregnancy — it’s basically a command, which like any other parental command, teens are apt to shrug off. It offers no explanation of why the teen shouldn’t have sex, and no explanation of contraception should the teen go against the parent’s wishes and choose to have sex. It’s quite a gamble to just assume that a command alone, without explanation, will prevent your teen from having sex.

This also brings up how children are taught about sex when they grow up with divorced parents. I’m curious if the dad expected the mom to more closely discuss sex with their daughter, and I’m curious what exactly the mom did tell Emily about sex. If there isn’t communication between the parents about what message is being sent about sex, the teen might get mixed messages — or no messages at all.

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