Posts Tagged ‘teen mom’

Let’s not hit each other, ok?

March 5, 2013

What’s far more troubling than admitting I watched the Vanderpump Rules reunion special yesterday? That the show so quickly glazed over domestic violence. Though in this case, it was female-on-male.

Now, now, now — I’m well aware that 85 percent of domestic violence is perpetrated against women, and oftentimes those violent acts happen in the midst of a relationship. One-third of homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner — that shit isn’t to be taken lightly, and it isn’t to be overshadowed by what I’m about to say.

But, lately I’ve seen a lot of double-standard acceptance of female-on-male violence. In Vanderpump‘s case, Stassi admitted to physically hitting ex-boyfriend Jax during an argument — to the point where she bloodied his nose. If you’ve seen the muscle-bound Jax and the small Stassi, you probably shrugged off her admission as harmless — along with his agreement that he deserved it, a statement far too many women confess sans Jax’s confident, self-assured demeanor.

But I kind of hate that. Self defense aside, I don’t like the public acceptance of this kind of violence. Or maybe I don’t get the public acceptance that a woman isn’t dangerous and can’t inflict actual emotional and physical harm on a man. Or maybe I hate how these interactions trivialize assault and violence — after all, many victims don’t have Jax’s confidence and strength when faced with abuse.

I’ve blogged many a time about male-focused abuse regarding Amber Portwood from Teen Mom and her violent behavior — and yes, once regarding Tool Academy but it’s important to remember. We should label domestic violence as a seriously offensive act, but we can’t be selectively outraged about who the recipient is.

It’s counter productive, even to those who recognize that women are far more disproportionately the victim.

P.S. I still think men should be able to march in Take Back the Night, too.

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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. 

RHOBH: I’d often say, ‘Just hit me so we can get this over with.’

January 31, 2012

Reality TV shows are often nothing but a cesspool of one or all of the following: cat-fighting, bickering, hooking up, and has-been celebrities (or celebrities who have never made it above the C-list). The reputation that these shows have — that it’s just mindless entertainment — is something I’ve often disputed, especially when it comes to shows like 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and the Real Housewives series. I think this is especially true in tonight’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion special (part one), during which Taylor Armstrong’s abusive relationship with her late husband Russell was discussed in pretty candid detail.

Yes, these vivid descriptions of emotional and physical abuse — coupled with the psychological trauma they cause — were sandwiched between arguments about Lisa calling Adrienne’s dog “Crackpot” instead of “Jackpot,” and debates about who sells stories to tabloids. But what Taylor shared with the world provides an honest look at domestic violence that people need to know about — it’s not as simple as Russell yelling at her or hitting her, and then her leaving. It’s a continuous cycle that is complicated; that pushes people away; that leaves people feeling empty and lost.

“I would often say, ‘Just hit me so we can get this over with,'” Taylor told host Andy Cohen, concerning Russell’s abuse. She explained that it gets to be routine, that it becomes easier not to fight the inevitable rather than make things worse. That she was at such a loss for how to stop the domestic violence, she invited cameras from BravoTV into her home in hopes that their watchful gaze would reduce Russell’s violent behavior. Adrienne commented that she thinks the cameras saved Taylor’s life — I agree.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one-third of female homicide victims were killed by their partner. In 70 to 80 percent of intimate partner homicide cases, the man had a history of abusing the woman. There are 16,800 domestic partner homicides each year — a number higher than the death rate of HIV, emphysema, or gun-related assaults that ended in death. Russell’s rage was so uncontrollable that, according to Taylor’s new memoir, he once told her that he was afraid he was going to kill her.

In the end, the cameras did put pressure on Russell to shape up, as he lamented Bravo’s painting him as a villain during the show’s first season. He blamed the show for slanderously ruining his life, career, and marriage, but more than anything I think he really blamed the show for putting a spotlight on his abusive ways and for publicizing his abusive actions — something he most certainly wanted to keep private.

Her plan was an interesting twist that showcased both her privilege and vulnerability — few women could end abuse by inviting cameras from a reality show inside their homes, yet her struggle was similar to any woman of any class who is dealing with domestic violence — she was trapped in a state of financial insecurity, destroyed self-confidence, and constant fear.

“Some days I still wake up and think, ‘Am I supposed to be doing this, am I supposed to be doing that?’ because I’m used to someone being there and telling me what I can and can’t do … I’m able to make my own decisions now and it’s hard,” Taylor told Andy. Camille chimed in, citing ex-husband Kelsey Grammar’s emotional abuse and controlling nature, and the complexity of this violence really reared its ugly head. You try to please that person, but nothing is good enough, and eventually your own self-image is tarnished by this abuser ingraining his own ideas in your head — that you’re dumb, worthless, and constantly disappointing.

And even more confusing to the ladies was Taylor’s insistence that, after sharing with them details of Russell’s abuse, they come to be friends with him. “I was very confused by it because one moment she’s telling this story that’s horrific to hear … but on the other end she wants us to like him,” Camille said. Lisa described one of the texts she saw from Russell to Taylor, in which Lisa said that “[Russell] called her an f-ing whore to start off with, he called her a piece of shit.”

It’s a tough road to walk — in trying to piece together her marriage, Taylor really couldn’t undo the months and maybe years of confiding she had done, telling her friends about Russell’s violence. She might’ve thought things would be better if Russell felt more welcome around her friends, that maybe even being around her friends more and at more social events could help reduce the violence — no one knows but Taylor. Some of the women took this as evidence of Taylor’s dishonesty, but really it speaks to her really hoping that starting from scratch would provide a different outcome — that her friends and Russell getting along would ease tension and change the abuse. But it was merely trying to put a band-aid in the wrong place, not an attempt to deceive her friends. Perhaps in convincing her friends it wasn’t that bad, she was hoping to suppress the abuse in her own mind, too.

Something Taylor said at the beginning of the episode was very telling: Russell was extremely narcissistic, often telling Taylor how much everyone loved him. This self-importance and ego perhaps drove him to react violently when questioned, to demand control over every aspect of Taylor’s life, to think that Bravo was the reason that his life was tumbling down — not able to see the wrong in his own actions or take any responsibility for them. When it comes to dating, this extreme narcissism is a definite red flag.

And so I’ve been writing about domestic violence for paragraphs and paragraphs, and I know it might not be as scintillating as the gossip about Adrienne’s chef, Bernie, dissing Lisa. But it’s important that this show, the epitome of glitz and glamour, not shy away from these real life problems that people of all classes face. What am amazing, public platform for raising awareness about domestic violence — its complexity, its heartache, its tragedy.

I don’t care if people are attracted by the drama of it all — I just hope they leave the reunion special with more education on the topic. Yes, it’s ridiculous that one of the housewives’ friends owns a pair of $25,000 sunglasses — but it’s also ridiculous that so many women are assaulted and murdered each year by their partners. And I’m glad this realty show is at least introducing this conversation into the world.

Teen Mom 2: Coal mining, child support, and self-doubt

January 20, 2012

Where to begin this week with Teen Mom — coal mining? Child support? Jenelle’s ability to somehow convince everyone in her life that her often delusional perspective makes total sense? Let’s take these topics on, inverted pyramid-style.

Teen pregnancy, class, and coal mining 

I never thought I’d see the day when two of the topics that really interest me — teen pregnancy and coal mining — would intersect, but this episode made subtle mention of them. Leah briefly mentions that her husband, Corey, is taking a coal mining certification test. Later, Corey makes a quick remark about spending his days working in a coal mine.

Leah and Corey live in Elkview, West Virginia, a city surrounded by coal mines that sit just an hour and a half from Raleigh, West Virginia, where the Upper Big Branch mine disaster killed 29 coal miners in 2010. When mining companies are lax about following — or in some cases blatantly ignore — safety regulations because they want to maximize profit, coal miners are put in extreme danger.

The job already puts coal miners at increased risk for health problems such as black lung, not to mention the higher rates of heart, lung, and kidney disease found in those who live in mining communities.

I wonder how much of Corey’s decision was based on his own socioeconomic standing. The Charleston area’s unemployment rate has steadily been decreasing, dropping from 7.6 percent in June 2011 to 6.4 percent in November 2011, but Corey is also limited in his job search because he has a high school education and needs a full-time, decent-paying job because he has a family to support — and coal mining jobs have an average starting salary of $60,000 per year. That’s quite a luring paycheck for someone with a family and no college education.

With 17.8 percent of West Virginians living below the poverty level — higher than the national average of 14.3 percent — residents are already at a disadvantage class-wise. The percentage of people with a high school diploma is 3 percent below the national average, with the percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree 10.4 percent lower than the national average. Born into this socioeconomic scenario, teens like Corey and Leah would have to work harder than many to move above these statistics. Add two children into the mix, and Corey likely sees coal mining as one of his only options — which is an unfortunate predicament considering how dangerous it is.

It’s this cycle that keeps low-income people in coal mines, putting their health and safety at higher risk than higher income people who can afford a college education that won’t leave them in the coal mines (they’ll have equally or more lucrative career options with less danger to their health and safety). I know Leah gets some type of compensation for the show, so I’d be interested to know how that all works and to hear his motivation for choosing this job.

Jo and child support

This argument is a he-said, she-said battle. Kailyn says that Jo isn’t around when Isaac visits him, and that Jo wants to split Isaac’s expenses right down the middle — something she thinks is unfair given their unequal incomes and the fact that Jo still lives at home with his parents. Jo thinks that Kailyn is trying to get Jo to support her — claiming that she wants to live off him and the government, refusing to get a better job because she wants to work with her boyfriend.

I’m not sure what the arrangement was, but Kailyn isn’t in the wrong to formally ask for child support. They’ve had trouble in the past coming to verbal agreements when it comes to custody and had to go to court for that, and Kailyn seems to be struggling even with nonprofit assistance with her housing. Jo isn’t supporting Kailyn, but providing her with money to feed, clothe, shelter, and provide for Isaac — costs they should be splitting down the middle anyway.

And does anyone else take issue with Jo just devolving to call Kailyn a bitch whenever he isn’t getting his way? She’s a bitch, a piece of shit, etc., always being called these things in front of their son — it just makes me cringe.

Jenelle’s running mouth

As an aside, does anyone else notice that Jenelle speaks so assuredly that everyone around her just nods their head, agreeing that her logic makes sense, when really she is just spouting bullshit? I think I’ve heard her say that she needs to “get established” and “establish herself” about 974 times ever since her episode of 16 and Pregnant, and I still have no idea what it means.

It’s very peculiar, literally watching someone deceive themselves on camera — watching a teenager talk pretty maturely as if she knows everything about the world but then lives as that immature, still-learning young person who only seems like she actually knows what she’s talking about. Having the knowledge — yes, I need to go to school and get a job and stay away from my deadbeat boyfriend — to create a formula for success, but completely not listening to her own advice.

I think I find it fascinating because I have a tendency to try and find assurance in my own decisions by talking to other people, explaining my thought process and the reasons why I did something in an effort to really convince myself — rather than them  — that my decisions were the right ones. I think people especially do this when they know deep down they’re making poor decisions, but they want to display a confident exterior so people won’t question or challenge these poor decisions.

Teen Mom: Only women wear engagement rings

August 22, 2011

On this week’s episode of Teen Mom,  Catelynn and Tyler discussed how things would be different for them now that Tyler has officially graduated high school and will start college classes while Catelynn continues to finish her high school classes. One of Catelynn’s concerns was the ladies who Tyler might meet at college, and she half-joked but half-seriously suggested that he wear an engagement ring to let them know he was taken. His response? He doesn’t have to wear an engagement ring, but Catelynn does because she’s a woman.

Engagements and weddings are littered with patriarchal undertones, and Catelynn was right to question why Tyler didn’t wear an engagement ring. Catelynn wears a ring around her finger 24/7 that lets any passerby know that someone else has staked his claim, yet Tyler isn’t expected to — and doesn’t see a purpose — in doing the same for Catelynn. She is merely asking for equality, but Tyler shuts her down with the old standby of “that’s just tradition.”

Just because something is tradition, though, doesn’t mean it’s logical or the best way to do something. Is the best way to show a mutual commitment to each other that only the woman wears an engagement ring? Not really, especially when the woman is vocal about not wanting to be the only one in the relationship doing so. But Tyler completely disregarded her arguments anyway, unwilling to entertain them because it’s easier to keep with tradition than break the mold.

And it might be easier to keep with tradition than field questions about why he’s wearing an engagement ring even though he’s a dude, but they plan on getting married — shouldn’t he be most concerned with his partner’s feelings as opposed to society’s feelings? It’s times like these when we really need to think critically about our actions. When your response to a question is, “Because that’s just how it’s done,” then you need to step back and ponder, “But why is it always done this way? Is that motivation something I believe in?”

Though Catelynn’s motivation — so that girls will know you’re engaged and won’t talk to you — doesn’t exactly exemplify trustworthiness, the bigger problem in this argument was that Tyler so quickly aimed to end it with, “You’re a woman, so deal with the inequality.” It’s times like these that couples could and should think critically about a solution or compromise that satisfies them both, rather than rely on a tradition that will leave someone — likely the woman if we’re talking heterosexual relationships — feeling unheard and unfulfilled.

Teen Mom: Don’t expect your ex to wait around for you

January 27, 2011

An interesting tidbit from Teen Mom 2 this week was Leah’s friend’s reaction to Leah and Corey getting back together. Even though Corey broke up with Leah because she cheated on him, the friend claimed it was sketchy that he had gotten with other girls since the breakup. “If he did care, he wouldn’t have been with other girls,” her friend told her. Uh … what??

First of all, here’s some background: Leah dated Robby for two years, they broke up, she hooked up with Corey as a rebound, and a month later, Leah was pregnant with Corey’s babies (twins). After the twins were born, she hung out with Robby again and cheated on Corey. Corey broke up with her. Leah wants Corey back now, but Corey doesn’t trust her.

Now, to address the friend’s comment: That comment would make perfect sense if Corey really did just break up with her to date other people. Or if he had just wanted a break for some other reason, and he was taking advantage of not officially having a girlfriend and hooking up with other girls. But Leah cheated on him, and Corey rightfully ended things.

Maybe it’s the movies that make us think that if someone truly loves us, they’ll put up with as much bullshit as we throw their way, stay alone and miserable, and just wait for us to return. Though even in The Notebook, Noah eventually starts hooking up with someone else when it’s apparent that Allie isn’t going to return his letters. Either way, the argument her friend introduces is ridiculous — you can’t treat someone like garbage and expect them to sit and take it forever. That’s not exactly what I would call “romantic.”

Teen Mom: Is it wrong to date while still living with an ex?

January 21, 2011

Living with an ex isn’t easy, as Kailyn discovered this week on Teen Mom 2. She lives with her ex Jo and his family, shares a car with her ex, and relies so much on his family that she is constantly walking on eggshells when in comes to her personal life. When Jo found out she had a new boyfriend, he was furious, and his family followed suit — and from the looks of the previews for next week, they are kicking Kailyn out. But is this fair?

You can read Kailyn and Jo’s back story here. Obviously they are in a predicament, because Kailyn has nowhere else to live, Jo is the father of their baby, and Jo’s family has established that they think of Kailyn as family. His parents seem to be mad because they considered the break-up something temporary — Jo seems to be mad for other reasons, particularly that he thinks Kailyn is disrespecting him by dating someone else while living under his (parents’) roof.

But Jo broke up with Kailyn, which makes a big difference when it comes to the question of whether it is disrespectful or inappropriate for her to be dating while living with him in his parents’ house. Kailyn shouldn’t feel so reliant on his family that she remains in an unhealthy relationship for fear of retribution, but it would be presumptuous for her to break things off with Jo and then expect his family to babysit every night of the week while she hangs with her new beau.

Because Jo ended things, his parents really shouldn’t have so much animosity toward Kailyn — they are mad at her for moving on, but shouldn’t they focus more of that disappointment toward Jo? Also, when you end a relationship, you can’t be mad when your ex starts dating other people. Should Kailyn be forced to stay in relationship limbo, with Jo basically controlling every aspect of her love life because (1) he doesn’t want to date her but (2) doesn’t want her dating other people? Definitely not. Jo’s parents are the ones who truly have the last say because they own the house, but their son broke up with Kailyn — why punish her for it?

Things get messy when you are living with an ex, but when you are the dumper, you need to have some sympathy for the dumpee and even make some sacrifices (e.g. give up the bed and sleep on the couch for a while …) — as long as the dumpee wasn’t cheating or abusive, in which case, go ahead and have no sympathy. You also need to communicate and create ground rules — e.g. no bringing significant others back to the house — that allow for civility and respect, and you can’t assume one of those rules is going to be “no dating other people.” If you both agree on that rule, then great, but you can’t expect to break up with someone and then also prevent them from dating other people.

And, even though Jo’s parents think them being together is best for the child, they can’t force the relationship to work (definitely not by kicking Kailyn out for dating other people, at least). I’m sure they think they know best, but a child having two parents together is great in theory — not so great in practice when those parents do nothing but fight and yell at each other all the time, teaching the child that that is how a healthy relationship functions.

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: Partner violence, grief, & high school graduation

September 29, 2010

Teen Mom was an intense roller coaster this week — Amber assaulted Gary (multiple times), Farrah reconnected with her deceased boyfriend’s sister, Tyler and Catelynn couldn’t graduate on time, and Maci and Ryan worked together on a custody plan for Bentley.

1. The signs of an abuser

Last night, Amber verbally assaulted Gary to no end. She yelled things such as “Guess what bitch, this is my house — I’ve bought everything in this motherf-cker — get out!” and “Don’t get cocky with me,” and ” You need to shut your f-cking mouth … You want to f-ck with me? Huh? … You are so f-cking lucky, you better watch your goddamn back.” As if that abuse weren’t enough, she then threw his stuff down the stairs, punched him in the face, and then slapped him again before he left.

Amber is an abuser. And she was an abuser before she punched Gary in the face, as the things she would scream at him were meant to maintain control over and demean him. She constantly called him a fatass, meant to degrade him and lower his self-worth, and she constantly reminded him that it was her house, so he’d better do what she says or he’s out on the street.

At the reunion episode after season one, Dr. Drew called her out on the domestic violence and she said she didn’t regret it. Only after she remembered that Gary had been abused when he was younger did she retract that statement, which was concerning because it was like she admitted that, had he not been abused as a child, her hitting him would’ve been perfectly justified. It seems that sympathy for Gary didn’t last very long.

Abusers often were victims of abuse themselves, and so have learned to use violence as a way to solve problems, relieve stress, or control a situation. Of the four main types of abuse found in intimate partner violence (via the Centers for Disease Control), Amber utilizes three (the fourth being sexual abuse, which isn’t discussed on the show) — physical abuse, threats, and emotional abuse (including “harming a partner’s sense of self-worth”).

There is a major disconnect for Amber between how she treats Gary directly and how she interprets her own treatment of Gary — directly, she is obviously abusive in a number of ways. As she puts it, however, she is sympathetic toward Gary and lets him live with her because he is Leah’s father and she doesn’t want him living on the street. She confides in her friends that Gary threatened to call Child Protective Services, and the aggressive attitude she has toward Gary was nonexistent when she described the incident to her friends.

“It scares me as a mom to hear him say, you know, ‘You’re never going to see your daughter again, I’m going to take her away,'” Amber said, though this possibility never seems to stop Amber from abusing Gary — it’s unclear whether Amber’s rage is enhanced for the same reason Maci got angry at Ryan, which was that he was implying she was making poor parenting choices, though he himself had only recently become more involved with raising their child. Regardless of what fueled the rage, nothing makes it OK.

And, again, I keep wondering how people’s reaction would be different if the roles were reversed — if Gary were abusing Amber on film, calling her a fatass, hitting her, telling her that he better respect her because he puts a roof over her head. I’m sure the public outcry would be loud and strong, and my hope is that viewers don’t cut Amber slack for her behavior — she needs anger management classes, not martial arts classes.

2. Dealing with — not avoiding — grief

Sophia’s dad hasn’t really been mentioned much before this season — in Farrah’s episode of 16 and Pregnant, it wasn’t even mentioned that he had died in a car accident, but it simply seemed like Farrah’s mom and her had decided he wouldn’t be involved with raising her. This week, she reconnected with her ex’s (Derrick’s) sister Kassy, who shared with her how much Farrah meant to Derrick and gave Sophia a picture book with pictures of him.

“I see her everyday, I see Derrick’s face everyday,” Farrah told Kassy, and the pictures of Derrick really do show a strong resemblance between Sophia and her dad. Farrah’s mom told her that the best way to deal with those sad feelings is to stay away from the family, but that is not a way to deal with those feelings — it’s merely a way to avoid them. She admits she doesn’t think she’ll find anyone who compares to Derrick, and all these feelings need to be sorted out — not swept under the rug — for her to gain some closure and move on.

I’m glad that Derrick is being mentioned in the show, because Farrah has to be feeling so many emotions that viewers who have lost a loved one or partner can identify with, especially considering Farrah was pregnant when the car accident happened. It always seemed weird that Sophia’s dad was the elephant in the room, and I think there are a lot of viewers (and obviously Farrah) who will benefit from openly addressing Derrick’s death and its effect on Farrah and Sophia, rather than avoiding discussing it.

3. The importance of education

For many people, a high school diploma is the default — a piece of paper that is just routine on the way to college. For Tyler and Catelynn, a high school diploma is the exception rather than the rule, and a symbol of why they gave their daughter up for adoption. “Me and you will be the first ones to go to college or even graduate from high school,” Catelynn told Tyler, regarding their families.

But Catelynn made a good point that they needed to graduate to really make the adoption worth it, because the entire reason they gave her up was because they couldn’t support her financially and needed to get an education first. Though being pregnant with Carly set Catelynn and Tyler back when it came to having enough credits to graduate, Catelynn says, “If I had kept carly, I might not be graduating at all.”

Catelynn and Tyler also struggled with choosing college career paths, something every teenager can relate to. It’s daunting to be 18 and charged with figuring out your life goals, and I know so many people who didn’t truly figure out what they wanted to study or pursue until two or three years after high school, and sometimes longer. “I thought I knew what I was doing, and now I don’t know what I’m doing,” Tyler said, frustrated with all the options and feeling like he should have his life figured out by now. Trust me Tyler, you’ve got a lot of company there.

Something else Catelynn mentioned was that she had to miss school because of her mom’s alcoholism — I think this is an interesting problem that isn’t really discussed in the mainstream. For a lot of people, school is just a given — you always have a way to get to school, you always have money to buy lunch, you always have the resources to complete homework.

But for some people, that’s not the case — merely getting to school is a challenge, and family problems can get in the way of attendance and homework (e.g. what if you need to focus more on an after-school job to help pay the bills than doing homework? Or what if, like Catelynn, one or both of your parents has a substance abuse problem that means 1) you can’t find a way to school or 2) you have to take care of them?). Catelynn’s admission revealed an obstacle to education that many people don’t experience or realize happens.