published Sunday, May 13th, 2012

First Things First: Being a mom never easybut especially for teens

Julie Baumgardner

An informal survey of moms inquired: What is the best thing about being a mom? The toughest part of being a mom? The biggest surprise about being a mom?

Responses for the best thing ranged from being overwhelmed by the wholehearted and unconditional love of a child to seeing a 19-year-old son turn his life around.

In response to the toughest part, one mom shared that she never realized how selfish she was until she became a mom. Another shared the pain of watching her grown children make poor choices, while another lamented about never having two seconds to be by herself ... even in the bathroom.

Being a mom has been touted as the best and the toughest job on the planet. You are responsible for the well-being of these little people who are depending on you to do everything. As one mom stated, this can be a very overwhelming job even when you are completely prepared and planned for being a mother. Diaper changes, midnight feedings, crying spells, unexpected trips to the hospital and teething can create stress and fatigue for the most mature mom.

Imagine being a teen and becoming a mother unexpectedly. At a time in life when your focus should be on getting an education and thinking about the future, you are focused on caring for your baby.

Consider these statistics

• Children of teen moms are more likely to be born premature with low birth weights and two times more likely to suffer abuse and neglect.

• Among teen girls, parenthood is a leading cause for dropping out of school. Only 38 percent of mothers who have children before age 18 obtain a high school diploma.

• About one-quarter of teen mothers go on welfare within three years of the child's birth.

According to the Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, there also are substantial public costs associated with adolescent childbearing. (Teen childbearing costs taxpayers $9 billion annually).

Consequently, teen pregnancy should be more than a reproductive health issue. Simply put, if more children in this country were born to parents who are ready and able to care for them, we would see a significant reduction in a host of social problems afflicting children in the United States, from school failure and crime to child abuse and neglect.

May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and today is Mother's Day. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts a mother could give her child is the knowledge and strong encouragement to help prevent teen pregnancy. Babies need adult parents. Research shows that children do best when they are raised by parents who are committed to each other and to years of devoted parenting.

Helping young people, especially girls, reach adulthood before they have children would help more children grow up in stable, married families.

Email Julie Baumgardner, president and executive director of First Things First, at julieb@firstthings.org.

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