Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Teen mom waxes her 3 year old’s unibrow, commences unhealthy body image obsession early

January 7, 2013

“I feel like a good mom,” Farrah Abraham told US Weekly after waxing her 3 year old’s unibrow. And then we all tilted our heads to the side quizzically…

Though it’s not entirely surprising that Farrah — who herself has gotten breast implants, a chin implant, and nose job in the span of two years — is obsessed with body image, it’s extremely troubling that she is instilling that obsession in her child at such an early age. 

“I felt bad for her,” Farrah said, calling the decision to wax her kid’s unibrow monumental and implying that it’s somehow life-changing. Well, (1) you should probably feel bad for her because (2) maybe it is life-changing — studies show that moms can influence children’s body image, and going so far out of her way to physically remove a unibrow she obviously felt was unsightly definitely sends a message to Sophia.

Keep in mind Sophia was totally freaked out by the waxing attempt, which was described as “botched,” and Farrah had to tweeze the rest of it while she was sleeping. Call it wrong of me to judge how a parent raises her daughter… buuuuut it’s probably worse for Farrah to traumatize her child, literally making her live the “beauty is pain” mantra so Farrah herself isn’t embarrassed by how Sophia looks.

I feel terrible for lil’ Sophia, as children often mimic behavior that gets them attention from parents — and if what makes Farrah really happy is when Sophia looks a certain way, then Sophia could become obsessed with achieving a body image that’ll make her mother proud. Though maybe Farrah wants to drive that point home early — in which case I’ll be in the kitchen slamming my head in the refrigerator door. 

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16&P: Pregnancy, anorexia, and lacking support from mom

May 27, 2011

I haven’t blogged about 16 and Pregnant in a while because the themes have tended to overlap, but this week’s episode proved much different than any previous episode in this or any other season. This week we met Kayla, who not only has an unsupportive mom to deal with, but also an eating disorder that makes her pregnancy very tumultuous.

“Don’t get fat, don’t get fat, you’re gross”

These are the words that Kayla said run through her mind whenever she thinks about eating. Kayla was hospitalized and then diagnosed with anorexia when she was 13 years old, and her pregnancy proved challenging because of the weight she gained. Although doctors were continuously telling her throughout her pregnancy that she was not gaining the appropriate amount of weight, Kayla skipped meals constantly and at one point was hospitalized for pre-term labor relating to dehydration.

Kayla explained to her friends that even though they saw a baby bump when they looked at her, she saw flab and would stand in front of the mirror crying. “Only fat people get stretch marks,” she said, concerned that the stretch marks she was getting were a sign that she was overeating or overweight (stretch marks are a very common side effect of pregnancy and are often even hereditary). She knew that she had to feed the baby, but her eating disorder was always in the back of her mind.

Not only was Kayla struggling with the judgment many teens receive for being pregnant, but she was also concerned about the judgment people would give her because of her weight. She went to the beach with her friends but didn’t want to wear a bikini because she was afraid people would assume she was overweight — and if they did think she was pregnant, then she might receive dirty looks for being a pregnant teen.

Being pregnant changes a woman’s body substantially — hips widen, breasts get larger, and there’s significant weight gain. Average size women should gain about 25 to 35 pounds, underweight women should gain about 28 to 40 pounds, and overweight women should gain about 15 to 25 pounds. For someone who has an eating disorder and has body image issues already, it’s difficult to deal with a rapid, dramatic, and most importantly uncontrollable physical transformation like that. There’s a constant fight between knowing the growing baby needs nourishment and the desire to control the weight gain, and that’s something that is rarely seen on TV but something many women struggle with during pregnancy.

A mom who’s MIA 

And though her friends were supportive and reminded her she obviously had a baby bump and not flab, that she didn’t look fat, and that she needed to feed her baby, she lacked the support system that she yearned for and that would’ve helped her the most: from her mom.

After being hospitalized for dehydration, Kayla saw a nutritionist about her eating habits (this is just one important recommendation for pregnant women who have been diagnosed with eating disorders). The doctor told her not to eat alone because it creates an air of secrecy around eating and because having people eat with you makes it more difficult to avoid meals, and also that they should have family dinners. Kayla reiterated this to her mom, who made one home-cooked meal — and that was it.

Kayla’s mom was constantly spending time with her boyfriend instead of Kayla, and she was constantly avoiding having to play the mother role when it came to helping Kayla through her pregnancy. With an eating disorder alone Kayla needs a solid support system, and adding her pregnancy makes a support system essential.

But Kayla’s mom resists being that support system; she makes lots of promises and then breaks them. Or, like when Kayla asks her mom for advice about her pregnancy, what she should expect, what she needs to buy for the baby, and says she is really overwhelmed, her mom suggests that she visit a support group. Kayla practically begs her mom throughout the episode to help her and offer guidance, but her mom doesn’t want to get involved. “I think it’s all going to fall into place,” her mom replied.

I suspect this is because her mom was a teen mom, and she doesn’t want to be sucked into raising another child. I think she stays with her boyfriend so she can avoid dealing with reality (I’d say she was relieving the glory days she missed out on, but Kayla says her evasive behavior only started after Kayla got pregnant), and I think she wants Kayla to deal with everything without any help because she doesn’t want Kayla to rely on her too much.

This is evident when she says she will take a week off work to help Kayla with newborn Preston — keep in mind Kayla’s boyfriend Mike works and Kayla had a c-section so is initially going to be limited in what she can do — and then decides not to take any time off work and tells Kayla and Mike they’ll figure it out. But part of me also wonders if Kayla’s mom didn’t have it so easy as a teen mom, and she for some morbid reason wants Kayla to suffer, too. Her mom even forces Mike to pay $300 rent even though they pay for everything themselves; are literally left with no money after they buy diapers, wipes, and formula; and Mike living there and working there is the only reason Kayla can take care of the baby all day.

Kayla’s mom isn’t required to do anything, but most of the parents on the show who were also teen parents are sympathetic to their kids’ struggles because they’ve been there before. Kayla expected her mom to be supportive, and her mom even said her “biggest fear is that [Kayla] wouldn’t keep it.” Kayla’s mom plays into a common anti-choice theme here: She doesn’t want Kayla to have an abortion, but she doesn’t offer Kayla much support once she decides to keep the baby. Kayla does live in her mom’s house, but she lacks any other financial, physical, or emotional support from her.

Stepping up as parents

I was wildly impressed with both Kayla’s and Mike’s attitude toward this pregnancy. Unlike some teen moms we’ve seen in past episodes who felt their pregnancies and babies shouldn’t impede on their ability to have a normal teenage life (Farrah and Jenelle come to mind), Kayla was more realistic. “I don’t think I should be able to be a regular teenager. I’m not a regular teenager,” she told her mom. On the aftershow, Kayla said that it’s weird to go out with friends now, saying, “I feel guilty about it, like I shouldn’t even get to have that fun.”

Being a parent doesn’t mean your social life is over or that you don’t deserve to have fun, but Kayla realized early on what some teen parents don’t: Parenting involves some sacrifice. And usually it’s the teen mom always making the sacrifices (dropping out of school, falling behind in school, not going to college), but Mike made a lot of sacrifices and to his credit was one of the most involved and dedicated teen dads I’ve seen on the show. He moved an hour away from home to be with Kayla, skipped college, and was the support system she needed throughout her pregnancy. They aren’t together anymore, but Kayla says he remains very involved with Preston.

The importance of support

Kayla’s episode really highlighted how important a solid support system is. She had a close-knit group of friends who were concerned about her health, and she had a boyfriend who was committed and dedicated to her and their baby. It’s unfortunate that her mom — an important piece to the puzzle — chose to let Kayla fend for herself while she struggled with both pregnancy and anorexia.

And how Kayla’s mom doesn’t see this is beyond me. In fact, at one point, her mom suggests they go on a diet together. Even Kayla looked at her with confusion — her mother, knowing she’s been diagnosed with anorexia, a disease that leaves you starving yourself and not eating enough food, wants to encourage Kayla to focus on losing weight and “portion control”?

Part of combatting an eating disorder is learning to eat in a healthy way, but her mom suggesting that she (1) needs to lose weight and that (2) Kayla could teach her something because she knows how to avoid food leaves me speechless. This doesn’t support Kayla at all, but merely asks Kayla to focus on losing weight and eating less.

I wish her mom would be more of an all-around support system for her, because her friends are leaving for college soon and she isn’t with Mike anymore. That is, if she can figure out how to properly support her daughter.

For more information on eating disorders, including treatment and support groups, visit the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders or the National Eating Disorders Association.

MTV makes it tough for abortion special to reach viewers

December 30, 2010

If you haven’t seen the MTV half-hour documentary “No Easy Decision,” which follows 16 and Pregnant teen mom Markai through her decision to get an abortion, you’ll have to watch it online here — that’s because not only did MTV post the special at an 11:30 p.m. time slot on a Tuesday — well past the usual 16 and Pregnant 10 p.m. slot — but MTV won’t be airing the special again for at least another week, according to its own online TV schedule.

Initially I was going to write solely about the content of the special (read the live blog commentary here from Jessica Valenti, Shelby Knox, Jamia Wilson, Lynn Harris, and Steph Harold), but the lack of airtime caught my attention, and I think it sends a message about the extent of MTV’s progressiveness. This special is good. It’s important. It’s honest. It’s thought-provoking. And unfortunately, it’s only a half-hour long and runs not even one time again within the week of its premiere — because God knows we need to see a three-day marathon of Jersey Shore instead.

This documentary is not getting the airtime it deserves, and even though its being in existence is remarkable and a great step forward in furthering the abortion discussion, it can’t be ignored that MTV didn’t treat it equally in comparison with 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, which have never shown a teen mom getting an abortion and only have shown two of the three options when it comes to pregnancy — raising the baby or putting it up for adoption.

I think the lateness of its airing, the fact that it aired once on a channel where every new episode of any show is repeatedly played over and over again (16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom always aired again right after ending at 11 p.m. and always again the next day, usually around 8 or 9 p.m.), and the shortness of the episode itself only added to a stereotype that the special was trying to combat — that women who get abortions must think it’s just an in-and-out procedure and don’t even really think about all their options.

Obviously, getting an abortion is a time-sensitive decision, as 37 states have a restriction on abortions after a certain point in the pregnancy. But the special itself was only 20 minutes long, with about 10 minutes reserved for Dr. Drew interviewing Markai and her boyfriend, and then Dr. Drew interviewing Katie and Natalia, two women who also had abortions and who shared their experiences.

“There are just no easy decisions,” Dr. Drew concluded at the end of the special, which is a very true statement, but one that wasn’t conveyed as well as it could have been with a special that was an hour long and didn’t rush through the thought process, steps, and emotions that Markai (or Katie or Natalia) experienced in deciding to get an abortion.

I wish that the discussion that Dr. Drew was having with the three women after the special could have lasted longer, as those women had so many important things to say in respect to the discussion on abortion, and so many things that only a woman who has gotten an abortion can truly express.

“People assume that if you are having an abortion you are denying the fact that you’re a parent, but it’s not, it’s not at all,” Katie said. “Nobody wants to have an abortion,” Markai said. “In retrospect I’m not ashamed at all, I’m proud of what I did,” Natalia said. These are the statements that get drowned out — these are the honest, real accounts and thoughts that enrich a discourse on abortion, and that change the stereotypes people have about the “kind of person” who gets an abortion, or what goes through someone’s head when she decides to have an abortion.

So despite MTV choosing to air reruns of Jersey Shore for three days straight instead of showing even one more time this special, the half-hour documentary still crams in a lot of important dialogue and information. Markai weighed all her options, called a clinic to get information on all the types of abortions and how they would affect her physically and emotionally (the live bloggers pointed out how (1) the counselor was extremely helpful and nice and (2) the clinic was legit), and looked to her boyfriend James and her mom for support and advice.

I also found it important that Markai’s story be highlighted for two reasons. One, someone obviously was not providing her with complete information about birth control, a sentiment repeated by Katie in the after-interview. Markai had no idea that the birth control immediately left her system if she was not up-to-date on her shots. Katie also said she wasn’t aware the side effects from her birth control — she would get physically ill and throw up the pill — would make it ineffective.

“I should’ve looked my birth control up on the Internet or something, you know, it’s my job to keep up with it,” Markai said. I completely disagree — you shouldn’t have to search the Internet for information on your birth control. You should ask your doctor, and your doctor should be providing information about side effects without you having to ask, just like any other medication.

Two, Markai got an abortion for the sake of her daughter. “If I didn’t have Za’karia I couldn’t do it, but I gotta think about my baby,” Markai said. I think this is especially necessary to highlight because Markai described her abortion as something she was sacrificing for her daughter — so that her and James could provide for their daughter without having to put her through the poverty, hunger, and sometimes neglect that both Markai and James experienced growing up. Anti-abortion activists want to call abortion selfish, though Markai proves it is quite the opposite, while also proving how complicated of a decision it is.

This topic gets me heated because these are important pieces of information that aren’t prevalent in the mainstream media. You don’t see resources for information on abortion (like here, here, or here); you don’t hear women who have had abortions as prominent voices in the discussion; and you don’t get a glimpse into the life of someone deciding to get an abortion as the decision is being made. Statistics and facts and figures aside, women struggle with the choice. There a multitude of reasons for making such a choice. And it’s important to listen to these stories and see that it’s not as easy as black and white, yes or no, right or wrong.

And because abortion is so complex, so sensitive a subject, so full of emotion, I think MTV did a real disservice to Markai, as well as Katie and Natalia, and the subject of abortion itself, because though it is one of the three main choices a pregnant woman can make, MTV seemingly makes its own judgment call on abortion by limiting how long the special is, when it is aired, and how little it is aired.

Again, it’s great the special aired, but people actually have to watch it in order to gain something from it, and that would mean MTV would actually have to air it more than once. Luckily it’s online, so again, go watch it.

Survey sheds light on attitudes toward teen pregnancy

December 29, 2010

A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the teen birth rate declined by 6 percent, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy also recently released a survey (not to be confused with the NCHS study) regarding attitudes toward teen pregnancy. Instead of discussing the study, I’d like to address the teen responses to the survey.

The survey found that 82 percent of teens “think [16 and Pregnant] helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it,” which isn’t a surprise. It’s like the slides of sexually transmitted infections they show you in health class — that lesson about herpes has much more of an impact when you see it rather than just hearing about it.

I agree that 16 and Pregnant can definitely have a positive effect on teens, but some of the other survey results show that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to education about sex and pregnancy. Of those surveyed, 78 percent said they had all the information they needed to know to avoid an unplanned pregnancy — though 49 percent knew little or nothing about condoms and 34 percent agreed that birth control didn’t matter — pregnancy would just happen if “it is your time to get pregnant.”

These results indicate a serious lack of comprehensive sex education — if someone thinks that they know the only way to prevent pregnancy, and thinks the only way is abstinence, then yeah, they aren’t going to search for condoms or consider birth control. This is the danger of abstinence-only sex education — abstinence is undoubtedly the best way to prevent pregnancy, but it isn’t the only way. Teens need to know that it’s not divine will or fate that gets people pregnant — unprotected sex is what leads to pregnancy, and teens have the choice to use protection to prevent pregnancy.

Interestingly enough, 80 percent said it would be easier to delay having sex if they had a more open, honest relationship with their parents — with about two-thirds of both teens and adults agreeing that teens don’t use contraception primarily out of fear of parents finding out about it. And about the same number of parents said they’d be happy to find out their kids were using protection if they were having sex.

I find this statistic particularly interesting because this season on 16 and Pregnant, so many more of the teens had an open relationship with their parents regarding sex. The moms were constantly questioning their teenage kids, asking them why they had unprotected sex when they’d been taught about condoms and safe sex. One mom even put condoms under the bathroom sink for her daughter to use if necessary. I agree that open communication is definitely a good thing, but I don’t think it’s extremely far ahead of other reasons teens might not use protection, such as lack of sex education or pressure from a significant other.

The survey also addressed sexting, with 71 percent of teens and 81 percent of adults agreeing that “sharing nude or semi-nude images of themselves or other teens electronically (through cell phones, websites, and/or social media networks) leads to more sex in real life.” That is extremely concerning, considering how the “typical” age for people to get cell phones is getting younger and younger, and the expectation of sex adds pressure and danger to people who send pictures of themselves perhaps not with sex in mind (both teens and adults).

The survey results are very interesting, but they don’t lead to a definitive answer on what could be responsible for the drop in teen pregnancy. For adults the drop could definitely be related to the economy, but teens aren’t worrying about the economy when they are having sex. Both abstinence and comprehensive sex ed groups could try to claim victory. Regardless of MTV’s influence, the survey highlights that teens are still very under-educated about sex, and nearly three-quarters of adults said they’d want their kids to learn both about abstinence and contraception.

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

November 10, 2010

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.

Parents’ ridicule of Halloween costume teaches intolerance

November 5, 2010

A friend of mine posted this blog on Facebook, which is a mom describing how her five-year-old son wanted to be Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween and was ridiculed not by his peers, but by those peers’ parents:

[A mom] continued on and on about how mean children could be and how he would be ridiculed.

My response to that: The only people that seem to have a problem with it is their mothers.

This was the best lesson of the entire narrative, which detailed how her son was excited about his costume, but grew nervous about wearing it to school because his peers might tease him — which wasn’t even a problem considering that the moms were the ones so outraged and shocked by the costume. It’s a classic example of how intolerance is not inherent or natural, but it’s something that is learned from parents, family, and society in general.

The older the kids get, the more ingrained the ideas of intolerance are — the mom who said it’s a good thing he didn’t wear that to kindergarten had a point (not the one she was probably trying to make), which was that kids become less tolerant as they get older. Though encouraging your own children to be more tolerant of difference is an efficient way to combat that intolerance, while expecting your own children to be intolerant is … ridiculous.

It is obviously the parents who are painting a picture of gender roles and how subverting them is extremely problematic, while the kids are simply a blank canvas with no inclination that whatever the boy is wearing is somehow wrong or inappropriate. And it also shows that the parents are promoting a fear-driven lifestyle — don’t let your kids be different, because their developing their own sense of individuality isn’t worth people pointing out their being different, and they need to learn that fitting in to avoid criticism are valuable qualities. Plus, the lesson of sameness as good and difference as bad is a great one for kids to keep with them.

That her son was five years old and already afraid of ridicule for being different speaks to the fact that his classmates probably were already showing signs of intolerance, which is also disheartening because people at that young age are likely having their creativity and personality stifled because veering away from typical gender roles or the status quo is seen as wrong — and these parents are acting like they are trying to protect children from these “facts of life” while simultaneously promoting them.

If only those moms had seen this boy’s costume and greeted it with bright smiles and compliments — even if the kids were going to ridicule him, they’d take their parents’ accepting of the costume to heart and likely follow suit because they mimick behavior at this early age. Parents need to take opportunities like this and turn them into learning opportunities and lessons for their children — and I hope those shocked and outraged parents read this mom’s blog reaction and take it as a lesson for themselves.

16&P: Sibling pregnancy patterns, modesty, passivity

November 3, 2010

This week on 16 and Pregnant we met Felicia, a 16 year old with — you guessed it — a douchey boyfriend who is too busy getting tattoos, working (how is he “taking off work” from the barber shop at night? What barber shop is open at 11 p.m?), and hanging out with his friends to emotionally or financially support Felicia and their newborn baby Genesis. Though douchey boyfriend is the most common theme on 16 and Pregnant, this episode had others, too.

1. It runs in the family

Felicia is the youngest of five children, and although she aspires to be the first of her siblings to graduate, she isn’t the first to get pregnant at a young age. “Both my sisters had their kids young, and I remember I was like, ‘That’s not going to be me,'” Felicia said. Teen pregnancy prevalence is not uncommon among siblings, though — younger siblings of teen parents are two to six times more likely to also become pregnant teens.

This makes a lot of sense — if you’re raised in the same environment, it means you’re likely getting the same sex education at school, the same sex education at home, and living in the same family environment. For instance, Felicia’s mom worked nights, which allows for less adult supervision and could have possibly played a role in her kids having a place to have sex.

The problem is that, despite her ambition to not become pregnant, she admits that she only used a condom twice in all the times she had sex with her boyfriend, Alex. It’s difficult to know whether pressure from Alex, the “heat of the moment” syndrome, the “it won’t happen to me” thought process, or simply a lack of sex education contributed to her getting pregnant. It’s hard to believe that her mom wouldn’t make the effort to educate her — especially after two of her daughters were young mothers — but the episode didn’t shed light on that.

2. Modesty ≠ celibacy

Both last week and this week, someone commented that they were shocked these teens were even having sex because they were so modest. “I saw myself as a goody good too,” Felicia said, seemingly insinuating that “goody goods” or modest people don’t have sex. This is a problem because these modest people might not be getting the information they need about sex, both because people assume that someone who is sexually active carries specific personality traits and because Mom and Dad think their little girl is perfectly wholesome, so why put ideas about sex and condoms and birth control in her head?

Last week was different because Brooke’s mom still educated her about sex despite thinking Brooke was very modest, but Felicia’s perceived modesty could be some of the reason that her mom didn’t think to educate her about sex. She might have assumed between watching her sisters get pregnant at a young age and her own reserved personality, Felicia wouldn’t be having sex — but assuming rather than communicating leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation.

Parents likely want to believe that the modest clothes, the nerdy personality, the quiet demeanor, the pile of extra-curriculars, etc. are signs of virginity, but really they are simply personality traits that have nothing to do with determining sex drive. Parents likely use these to convince themselves that they don’t need to have the sex talk, but they are nothing but stereotypes. Virgins can wear short skirts and sexually active teens can wear baggy clothes — hence, profiling is not an effective way to determine which teens are having sex, sexually active teens shouldn’t be the only ones getting educated, and a teen shouldn’t already be having sex before getting sex ed, anyway.

3. A little too passive

One thing that bothered me about Felicia — which bothers me about several of the teen moms I’ve seen on this show — is that they are not open and assertive enough about their boyfriends’ being involved with child care. In Felicia’s case, I initially thought this was because of financial dependence — she told her friends she didn’t know where she’d be without Alex to pay for everything — but after Genesis was born, Felicia complained that Alex wasn’t contributing financially to things for the baby.

Would Alex have been responsive to more assertiveness? I’m not sure — Felicia tried at the end of the episode to get through to him, and nothing was really resolved. But it pained me to see her struggling to finish homework while Alex couldn’t even take 10 minutes to feed Genesis a bottle, and I’m curious if more insistence from Felicia would have made a difference or if the prospect of Alex contributing more financially kept Felicia unhealthily dependent on him.

Teen Mom: A hodgepodge of highlights from the finale special

October 20, 2010

The second season of Teen Mom wrapped this week with the “Check-in with Dr. Drew” finale episode, when Dr. Drew makes the teen moms feel uncomfortable and typically tries to get them to admit they regret having their children — though last night, Dr. Drew did a lot more counseling and offered a lot more sound advice than usual. Of course, he still made all the teen moms cry.

Most of the topics that the finale show covered are topics that I’ve discussed before, so I think instead I’ll highlight in snippets the good advice that Dr. Drew had and the telling statements that the teen moms made.

Idealizing a relationship

People often romanticize relationships that are or were not exactly great — the memories are skewed or selective, and this romanticizing keeps people connected to or in unhealthy relationships — but Farrah’s relationship with her ex, Derrick, is a lot more complicated than the typical scenario because Derrick passed away. Those memories are all she has left of Derrick, and it seems both her and her mom have different memories of their relationship.

Dr. Drew point blank asked if she was romanticizing the relationship, and she denied that, saying, “I’m not painting a picture that’s rosy, I know what the realistic picture was.” Obviously losing him, especially with his being the father of Sophia, has left her devastated and she only wants to remember him in a positive light — but perhaps being more open and willing to deal with all the aspects of their relationship might help her grieving process.

The art of mind reading

Dr. Drew asked Maci and Kyle to talk about why they liked each other, and he said they could either tell him directly or they could tell each other. Both agreed to tell Dr. Drew instead of each other, which prompted the obvious question of why they couldn’t just look at each other and say those things. “We like show each other how we feel, but we don’t talk about it,” Maci told Dr. Drew.

Having mushy discussions all the time about why you like each other is understandably something many couples avoid — but you can’t avoid it all the time. A lot of people in relationships expect that their partner will know they appreciate, care about, enjoy the company of the other person — but actually verbalizing those things can make a world of difference. Showing rather than telling is important, but if you assume the other person always knows how you feel, it can transcend to topics beyond just lovey-dovey things — you start to assume the other person knew you wanted them to clean the bathroom; you assume the other person knew you didn’t want to go to that restaurant, etc. Being able to verbalize feelings to the other person is essential in any relationship.

Abuse doesn’t have to be physical

Something Dr. Drew highlighted that I really liked was when Catelynn’s mom, April, was reacting to Catelynn saying she would treat Carly different than her mom treats her. Upon hearing Catelynn say this stuff, April started clapping for her and mimed a halo being over Catelynn’s head. “When you call somebody a bitch and it’s your daughter, or you demean them with the halo stuff, that’s called abuse — it’s emotional abuse,” Dr Drew told April.

I’m glad he pointed this out, because abuse so often is only taken seriously if it’s physical or extremely offensive verbally. People pay attention when April is calling her own daughter a bitch — they might not even flinch at April putting a halo over Catelynn’s head, though it’s still April trying to break down her daughter. This kind of bullying, the little comments and jabs that are often overlooked because they aren’t overt and obvious, might seem harmless, but enough of it can really take a toll on someone.

Like mother, like daughter

A few times, Dr. Drew brought up that the way parents act directly influences how their children act. “[April’s] aggression is damaging, and if Catelynn had become a mom, she wouldn’t have really known any other way of dealing with those feelings,” Dr. Drew said. Catelynn might’ve taken out her frustration on Carly just like April makes a habit of using Catelynn as her own personal verbal punching bag.

He said the same thing to Amber, when he discussed how Leah will be affected by her domestic violence. He reminded both Gary and Amber that they came from violent homes and that Amber likely learned this behavior growing up, and then discussed how Amber had to take care of herself growing up (was “paternalized”) because of the fighting. “Her seeing you guys fighting, feeling the chaos — is that what you were exposed to as a kid?” Dr. Drew asked Amber. “It’s like the cycle repeating itself, right?”

He reminded them that kids are perceptive, and they know what is going on. Leah even tries to separate Gary and Amber if she sees them hugging, because she has learned that as parents, they are not meant to be affectionate — they are meant to fight with each other. If the violence continues, she could easily be conditioned to think that Moms just hit Dads — that it’s normal and it’s perfectly acceptable to do.

Calling the cops on a companion

Dr. Drew brought up a very good point — why didn’t Gary ever call the police after Amber would hit him? “I don’t call the police because I don’t want to — I don’t want to get [Amber] in trouble,” Gary replied. Dr. Drew made one of the best points of the night when he explained that, even though you don’t want to get them in trouble, you need to change the behavior somehow — the person won’t change unless there are serious consequences to certain behaviors.

He likened it to drug addiction and when family and friends enable behavior by giving the addict a place to stay, giving the addict money, etc., and never going through with threats, e.g. to cut the person off financially if they don’t get clean. In much the same way, Amber will not be motivated to change her behavior unless there are serious consequences otherwise — Gary tries to use taking the baby or calling social services as a threat, but if Amber knows he won’t ever do those things, she is less likely to actually change her abusive behavior. Some might argue that you don’t do those things to someone you love, but doing those things will ideally help that person improve their quality of life — how is letting that person spiral out of control a better way to show your love?

Struggling with self-worth

Amber brought up an interesting point when it comes to her love life — which is that dating other people makes her feel less guilty about the way she treats Gary as long as those other people match her own view of herself — she thinks she is a bad person, therefore she dates not-so-great people. This self-image is something a lot of people struggle with, and it leaves people in unhealthy relationships because they convince themselves they don’t deserve any better. Perhaps this is why Amber is so degrading to Gary — she doesn’t want him to feel like he deserves any better, either.

“You’re a good guy so she feels bad, they are bad guys so she feels better,” Dr. Drew told Gary. But this mentality also keeps Amber from making any real efforts at changing — if she surrounds herself with people who aren’t great people, who is there to inspire or motivate or support her growth from an abusive and angry person into a nonabusive and calmer person? Who you surround yourself with really does have an effect on the choices you make.

Thank you for being a friend — NOT

There’s a time and a place for parents and their kids to be friends, and during their high school years is not the time for that. Catelynn and Tyler somehow got to be extremely mature growing up with April and Butch (Tyler’s dad and April’s husband) — likely forced to by the circumstances of their upbringing (Catelynn’s mom is an alcoholic, Tyler’s dad is a cocaine addict who has been in jail most of Tyler’s life). Last night Catelynn and Tyler both expressed concern over how April didn’t have many friends and how sad it made them.

“They’re kids, they need a mom — they can’t be your friends,” Dr. Drew told April. Going along with the previous entry about how you are motivated by the people you surround yourself with, Dr. Drew suggested she go to treatment or a 12-step program where she could meet friends who understand the struggles April is facing in fighting alcoholism and who will support her, not enable her. Kids can’t offer adults that kind of support, especially when they are equally in need of support and guidance from their parents.

Teen Mom: Season 2 recaps, wrap-ups, and lessons learned

October 13, 2010

This week marked the final episode of this season of Teen Mom — let’s see what everyone’s actions in this episode say about what they’ve learned/how they’ve grown since the beginning of the season, shall we?

1. Farrah

The season began with Farrah calling the cops on her mother, who had hit Farrah in the face after a verbal altercation. Farrah moved into the guest house, then into an apartment, and she was struggling to pay bills, got scammed out of $3,000, and was finally dealing with and grieving the death of Sophia’s father with the help of a therapist. She also had therapy sessions with her mom, which was helping them communicate better.

And then, this week, old Farrah was back! Snotty, demanding, and completely hypocritical, Farrah was back to argue with her mom — who also is now her landlord. Farrah lamented that she wanted to sign a contract with her mom so her mom would respect her privacy and treat her like any other tenant — except she also wants special treatment in the form of moving in early, not paying prorated rent, and getting discounted rent because she wanted to move in early and the place wasn’t move-in ready yet.

Her mom tries going over the procedure with Farrah and tries to treat her like a normal tenant, but Farrah only wants to be a tenant on her own terms — she wants the huge house (for which she pays only $500 rent) and privacy, but she also wants her mom to discount her rent even further because Farrah is struggling and, as a mom, she wants her empathy and she wants to be taken care of. Suddenly, when her mom agrees to knock $100 off that month’s rent, Farrah is super happy with her mom again!

Farrah has definitely progressed, as she isn’t as outlandishly ridiculous toward her mom, but I think she could very easily devolve into her immature self if enabled by her parents. This week’s episode was one example of how far Farrah still has to go — you can’t ask to be treated like an adult while simultaneously demanding the perks you’d get as a kid.

2. Catelynn and Tyler

Catelynn and Tyler went through a lot this season — Tyler was still very distraught about the adoption, they nearly broke up because of Catelynn’s lying about her past with an ex, Tyler’s dad went back to jail, and Catelynn’s relationship with her mom continued to be rocky because of the adoption. Neither had enough credits to graduate with their high school class, but both remained positive about their futures and their decision to put Carly up for adoption.

This episode, they got to see Carly for the first time in a year. They were actually very calm and mature about the entire thing — no tears, no resentment, only happiness to see Carly and the realization that they were not and still are not ready to raise a child. It was great that the meeting didn’t bring any negative feelings back to the surface, and the positive experience is a sign that the open adoption can work for both Catelynn and Tyler and Brandon and Teresa.

Catelynn discussed her mom issues with Teresa, saying, “I think she wanted [the adoption] to rip me apart.” As Catelynn has said many times before, she wanted Catelynn to agree with her, and when Catelynn decided to do the adoption against her mom’s advice, she felt slighted and wanted Catelynn to see that not listening to her was a mistake. Rather, she sees that Catelynn is happy with her decision, and it only makes her mom more frustrated and angry.

Catelynn and Tyler are more mature than both their parents, and it’s shocking to see how clearly they think considering how irrational their parents are. It really comes down to wanting Carly to have better than they had, as Tyler summarized best when he talked about how happy he was that Carly had a father like Brandon. “I wish I could have a dad that would take me to the park when I was a little kid,” he said in regard to seeing Brandon push Carly on the swings. Their unstable parents are a constant reminder that they made the right decision.

3. Amber and Gary

Amber and Gary have had quite the roller coaster of a relationship this season — they exemplified the “on again, off again” relationship, with Gary moving in and out of the apartment and the two of them getting back together, breaking up, getting engaged, and breaking up again. Plus, Amber took her aggression to the new level by punching Gary in the face. Gary moved out, Amber met someone new, and they were trying to take care of Leah while dealing with their own problems with each other.

This week though, I actually felt a little bad for Amber.  Generally I think she is abusive and needs help beyond antidepressants, but Gary is being overly possessive of Leah and using her way too much to threaten Amber and get what he wants. Whereas Amber uses verbal and physical abuse, Gary is mastering psychological abuse.

When trying to discuss the schedule for taking care of Leah, first Gary and Amber were fighting on the phone, then Amber drove to his mom’s house to find him and talk in person, and then Gary sped off in his car when he saw Amber pulling up. This is interesting because at this time, he didn’t have any leverage — he already had Leah, so how could he further threaten to take her away? Even he laughed about it when he recalled the story to a friend — it made no sense, and it illustrated either 1) how afraid he is of Amber or 2) how he can’t communicate with Amber unless he has something to threaten her with, e.g. “If you don’t let me talk, I’m leaving and taking Leah with me.”

Then he found out that Amber’s new boyfriend changed Leah’s diaper, and he was enraged. “No guy is going to change my daughter. That’s your responsibility,” Gary said. “If you let him change her one more time, I’m going to take her away.” This is a ridiculous request. If you, as parents, are separated, you have to accept the fact that someone else might change that baby’s diaper. Is Gary feeling resentful about being replaced as a boyfriend? Yep. Does he need to learn to separate those feelings from parenting? Yep. These two could really benefit from counseling — I’m not sure they learned anything this season.

4. Maci

Maci’s had an interesting season, too — she started dating Kyle, she had to learn to co-parent with Ryan, she moved to Nashville to be closer to Kyle, and then her and Kyle broke up after dating for a few months. She resolved to stay in Nashville because she enjoyed the independence and not relying on her family so much for support.

I’ve talked at length about Maci and she wasn’t featured much in the finale episode, but custody was again a hot topic this week. It seems that Ryan only saw Bentley four days every two weeks, and he wanted one more day with him, which would bump the total to five days every two weeks. They met with a mediator, and Maci had a breakdown when Ryan asked for the extra day.

This is a normal setup. For parents who don’t live near each other, the nonprimary parent seeing the child on weekends is the rule, not the exception. So it’s not unusual for the nonprimary parent to see the child four, five, or even six days every two weeks. Regardless of his intentions (Maci thinks his parents, rather than Ryan, want to see Bentley more), the fact is that Ryan is not asking for an extraordinary amount of visitation.

Ryan asked Maci at the end of the episode if he thought they should be together for Bentley, and they both agreed they shouldn’t because they wouldn’t be happy. This is a very mature response, and one that I have wholeheartedly agreed with in the past — the convenience you gain by living in the same house and not needing to develop a visitation schedule is not worth the happiness and quality of life you and the child lose by choosing a living situation in which the parents can’t stand each other.

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Don’t forget, next week is my favorite episode of all — the reunion special with Dr. Drew! Will he finally get the teen moms to admit their children are mistakes and they wish they’d never been born?! We shall see!

Teen Mom: Self-blaming, the honeymoon stage, selflessness

October 7, 2010

This week on Teen Mom, Maci and Kyle had an awkward break-up (which looked like a board meeting); Farrah continued to reconnect with Derrick’s family and her grief about Derrick’s death; Amber started dating other people (what an awkward first date); and Catelynn and Tyler planned a visit with Carly (which of course pissed off Catelynn’s mom).

1. The self-blaming game

I have to address the pattern of self-blaming that Gary showed this week. True, Amber did say she was sorry for hitting Gary, but then Gary sends her flowers and balloons as a peace offering? It seems bizarre, but Gary’s thoughts and actions are quite typical in an abusive relationship — instead of blaming Amber for abusing him, he blames himself and thinks his behavior gave her reason to abuse him.

“You must’ve done something really bad,” the florist said to Gary as he explained that he wanted a big vase of flowers to send. Precisely the opposite, though — he sent Amber a huge vase of flowers and balloons in hopes they could remain civil. It is not Gary’s responsibility to do this, as he is not the one who has an issue being civil and nonviolent. “She doesn’t care about you … I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to do that just because of what she’s done to you,” his brother’s girlfriend told him.

What Amber and Gary also show is that as hard as it is to get out of an abusive relationship, it’s exponentially more difficult when there are children involved. Gary still has feelings for Amber despite her abusive nature — likely because she has demeaned him to the point where he thinks he cannot do or does not deserve better — and it’s tough to move on when he sees her every time he picks up Leah. This is a problem regardless of a relationship being abusive — when you are separated but have a child, you’ll always have to deal with each other.

2. Hasta luego, honeymoon stage

Maci and Kyle were enamored with each other and in love, and so Maci decided to up and leave Chattanooga, Tenn. so she could move two hours away to Nashville to be closer to Kyle. I’ve discussed earlier that the move was premature because they had not been dating that long and were still under the honeymoon stage spell, and this week the honeymoon ended.

Maci left her family and friends behind to be with Kyle — though she figured out after moving there that Kyle was usually “unavailable” and always working. “Since I moved up here I went down on his priority list,” Maci told her friends. This is a typical problem that not only happens when long-distance relationships cease being long distance, but also when couples start living together.

That time you used to set aside for each other gets lost because you see each other constantly and the need to make time for each other seems irrelevant. In fact, you might see each other so much that one or both people want that time apart, which leaves a couple spending no quality time together, just time spent coexisting in the same square footage of space.

Though they didn’t live together, Kyle definitely felt the strain of suddenly spending so much time together. “It’s a big weight on my shoulders,” Kyle said. “It went from two hours a way to you being in my pocket 24/7.” Maci, however, felt differently — she moved to Nashville to spend more time with him, and instead she spent all day taking care of Bentley and being by herself. “I was hoping I’d be able to do something because I’m sick of sitting at home all the time, but you don’t want to do anything … all my friends are in Chattanooga; you’re all I have,” Maci said.

Maci told her friends that it was weird because, although she spends all day with Bentley, it really does feel like she is alone all day because Bentley can’t talk to her like an adult can. You can read more about being a stay-at-home mom at my friend Erin’s personal blog. This really causes a problem in any relationship in which one person doesn’t have a lot of adult or even human contact all day long and seeks that personal contact from their partner. If the partner doesn’t understand the need for that interaction, then the person just feels more alone.

The important thing to take away from Maci’s and Kyle’s relationship is that making time for each other is critical to a healthy relationship. Sleeping in the same bed or just being in the same house does not count as quality time together — e.g. when Kyle came over and slept in Maci’s bed while she was potty-training Bentley. Quality time together involves interaction, conversation, etc.

3. Moms gotta be selfless, not selfish

Both Catelynn and Farrah had to deal with their moms thinking more about themselves than the feelings of their children. Catelynn’s mom is still upset about Catelynn putting up Carly for adoption, and Farrah’s mom is stuck on her ill feelings toward Farrah’s deceased ex-boyfriend, who is also Sophia’s dad.

Catelynn’s mom is very back and forth about Carly — this week, she came in and gave Catelynn a dress to give to Carly for when her and Tyler see Carly for the first time since she was born. Then Catelynn and her mom started discussing Carly, and her mom told her how she felt out of the loop about the decision, saying, “Well, it hurts my feelings that you gave up my granddaughter without discussing it with me.”

Catelynn told her mom that she herself was unsure of what she was going to do, though Catelynn’s mom seemed most concerned with venting to Catelynn about why she felt so hurt about the adoption and how she felt like a fool for being stringed along during the pregnancy. Then when Catelynn tried to interject about how she was acting, her mom replied, “Don’t tell me how to be a mom when you couldn’t be one.”

Though her mom is upset about the adoption, she rarely ever shows Catelynn any support or understanding that, in fact, it’s exponentially more difficult for Catelynn to deal with. “It’s hard for you? Have some compassion, it’s hard for us, too,” Tyler said when discussing the matter with Catelynn. “I think she’s probably just mad because we’re making better decisions than she ever did,” Catelynn replied. Regardless, her mom doesn’t put Catelynn’s need for understanding and support over her own need to drill into Catelynn how disappointed she is by her decision.

Farrah’s mom has a similar problem when it comes to putting her daughter’s feelings before her own. The rocky relationship between Farrah and her ex-boyfriend Derrick (who died in a car accident while Farrah was pregnant with Sophia) is discussed in vague, general terms as him “being mean” to her, but no one ever gives specifics.

Whatever the “meanness” was, it turned Farrah’s mom off to him and his entire family, with her constantly reminding Farrah that keeping contact with them isn’t a good idea. Most recently, when Farrah eagerly told her mom that Derrick’s sister, Kassy, wanted to see Sophia at least once a month, her mom simply responded, “There’s just not a lot of time right now.” Farrah wants to build a connection between Sophia and her dad’s family, but Farrah’s mom is resistant.

In fact, at dinner with Kassy, Farrah explained how hard it was to even think about dating anyone but Derrick, saying she couldn’t imagine calling someone else her boyfriend. “I don’t ever want to feel like I’m replacing him,” Farrah said, which is an understandable and common feeling when it comes to grieving the loss of a partner. To help her mom better understand her grief, Farrah plans another therapy session.

Let me just say that I love Farrah’s therapist. She is blunt and tells it like it is, and she called Farrah’s mom out on ignoring her daughter and, rather than listening to Farrah explain her deep grief, she was trying to “talk her out of it” instead. Eventually her mom admitted she didn’t realize the connection was so strong and apologized, but she wouldn’t have come to that conclusion with an objective third party there to say, “Hey, you aren’t listening to what she is saying. You are tuning her out so you can only hear yourself talk.”