Teen Mom

I started a different blog post this morning during nap time.  But then we went to the playground today and my soapbox direction has turned.

We just discovered swinging last weekend.  Err.  Let me clarify.  Liam went on a baby swing for the first time last weekend.  He loved it even more than I thought he would.   I expected him to squawk his usual cry letting us know that the precedent five minutes of being in any contraption was over, but he was not the one to call “uncle” first.  We had to take him out.

Today at the crime scene, er, playground

So, today was a beautiful spring day after almost a full week of rain.  Liam needed an activity after his second nap so I drove to a playground that had small enough structures for him to climb about.  And bonus, two perfect, plastic baby swings.  The boy was in awe and stumbled around the woodchips assessing his surroundings with a serious appreciation.

Attached to the same structure as the baby swings is a small wooden shack-type building.  The inside has benches on either side and the walls from the bench up are open, with a roof on top.  When Liam first toddled over to the swingset I surveyed the scene as a mom.  I saw three teenagers, two girls and a boy, crowded into the wooden shack and immediately jumped to the conclusion that they were hooligans and wondered if they were smoking pot and harassing parents and small children.  That was Judgmental Mommy coming out, my evil alter-personality.

I dropped Liam into the blue, plastic swing just arm’s reach from the hooligans.  My guard was up and my teacher-instinct for naughtiness was heightened.  The girl closest to me also appeared to be responsible for the 4ish year old boy running around the shack.  The first thought that ran through my mind was that she was his babysitter; then as she yelled at him with the whiney siren of a teenager I changed my guess to older sister.

The boy was playing with two nerf balls, sometimes throwing them to a further spot on the grass to run and retrieve them with the energy only a 4 year old on red dye #40 could muster.  Once in a while he propelled a ball into the wooden shack squealing with joy at the cursing and laughter that burst out like ruffled feathers floating out of a henhouse.

“Uuuggghhhh!! You’re such a BRAT!!” the girl “in charge” whined, pelting the boy in the forehead with the ball that had fallen at her feet. “Heh heh,” breathed the teenage boy with the shyness of a male surrounded by loud, teenage girls.  The girl sitting on his lap next to him on the child-sized bench giggled.

The young boy was naturally encouraged by the laughter and bombed the ball back toward his victims.

“Uuuuuggghhhh!! He totally hit Justin in the SACK!!” Teenage giggling ensued. 

At this point a few realizations struck my thoughts.  This girl was not the babysitter or the older sister. This was the child’s mother.  Secondly, both mother and son were encouraged by the attention received by the teenage couple accompanying them.  The mother strung together a shining list of adjectives describing her son, punctuated by the f-bomb.  The boy zig-zagged through the woodchips, timing his next attack for when he would get the most attention.  The ball whizzed past Liam’s head.

“Sshhhheeeaaaaa!! You can’t throw the ball over there! There’s a small kid there. If you throw it again we’re going hoooommmee.”

I don’t care if you’re a teen mom, a 60 year old parent or one in-between; please do not threaten consequences that you will not follow through with. That is parenting 101, first course, first day, first question on the test. If you’ve nannied or if you are a teacher you have undoubtedly learned this as well.

I realized that I was so focused on analyzing and judging the train-wreck parenting going on next to me that I was missing out on interacting with my own son.  I was mindlessly and wordlessly pushing the swing while Liam was grinning and blowing drool into the wind.  I shifted my attention for a moment until I heard,

“I’m going to go smoke a f***ing butt.” (spoken by Teen Mom’s girlfriend.)

“Just smoke it right in here!” replied Teen Mom.

“Nooo. There’s, like, a sign out there,” Teen Friend waves hand vaguely toward the colorful, metal fence that surrounds the playground. “And there’s, like, kids right there.”

Hallelujah, I thought. One of them has a responsible bone in their body.  Too bad it’s not the one with the off-spring.

“Who f***ing cares? Fine. Just go over to the picnic table,” commands Teen Mom.  She is referring to, and pointing to, the picnic table within the confines of the SMALL playground area, which is feet from the “big kid” swings where a boy and girl happen to be partaking of such activity.

I am confident in Teen Friend’s conscious and assume this is the end of discussion surrounding smoking cigarettes around children.  I also realize that I need to move to another location in order to properly enjoy my time with my own child and keep my nose out of other people’s business.  I pry Liam’s fingers from the chain links and set him down to toddle over to the small stairs and slide structure.  I focus my attention on Liam’s careful and serious climbing and chuckle as he squawks and babbles to the other children limberly scaling the equipment around him.

Then, I catch a whiff of tobacco wafting through the air and my neck whips up to view Teen Mom and Friends really and truly lighting up at the picnic table, her child now running around their new location.  Infuriated, I feel my Irish/Italian temper flare to a level where I usually find myself reacting impulsively and can’t stop my tongue from sprouting razors and lashing out until my victim is left severely wounded.  I feel my feet start to move in the direction of the picnic table but Liam’s persistent crawling near dangerous platform drop-offs allows me the opportunity to think my actions through prior to movement.

How worth it will it be?  Yes, I feel extremely strong about smoking in general, let alone around children.  Yes, I feel I could actually be justified since there is a sign posted stating in large letters that the playground is SMOKE FREE and I know for a fact was seen by the offenders.

But. Do I pick up Liam from where he is contentedly playing and walk over to where he would actually be directly in front of the smoke?  Do I then pick an argument in front of Liam with a girl whom I’m pretty sure would revel in the drama that could quickly mount to an uncontrollable level?  In fact, for all I know she’s chosen to smoke within the SMOKE FREE playground to see what kind of attention she can grab.

I chose to not say anything.  I know that if they had lit up right next to Liam I would have definitely been unable to bite my tongue.  Being farther away gave me time to think it through and make a different choice that didn’t involve creating a scene in front of Liam, since I’m sure the result of me pointing out that they couldn’t smoke there would not result in embarrassed, downcast eyes as the cigarette is stubbed out.  However, part of me regrets the fact that I didn’t stick up for myself and Liam.  We deserve to go to a public park that has been mandated Smoke Free and not have our health put in jeopardy.  Liam deserves to have a childhood where cigarettes are not modeled for him, as I believe that is the greatest reason for choosing to smoke.  And that irresponsible, young mother obviously needed someone in her life to hold her to some boundaries.  Generation The-Rules-Don’t-Apply-To-Me deserved getting the Teacher Look while showing off her less-than-stellar parenting skills.

Do not misunderstand this post.  It is not a declaration that all Teen Moms are bad parents.  In fact, I know a few moms who had their babies young and they’ve done an amazing job, making the best of a situation that is difficult in even the most perfect scenarios.  Girls and women alike, though, need to come to grip with the fact that once you are a mom you must-must-must act in a manner that is responsible for another life.  That’s what being a parent is, plain and simple.  That doesn’t mean that you give up yourself and your life for your child, it means that you now have another facet to your life.  Your one job is to give this small human the best chance they have at living the best life they can.  Most parents mess this up in two dozen small ways a day.  We let swears slip out by mistake, we let the TV entertain the kid for half an hour so that we can accomplish one thing, we turn a blind eye to the child pushing their vegetables around on their plate and silently promise to grate zucchini into their pancakes in the morning-which never happens.  It’s not those things that mess a kid up.  It’s insulting them, hitting them, manipulation and constant lying that eff a kid up.  It’s modeling this behavior on a day-to-day basis that creates the monster children we see on Nanny 911.

Now, at the end of the day part of me kinda-sorta wishes I had said something.  No other parent on the playground commented either and I’m afraid the wrong message was conveyed to that group of teens.  But, whatever regrets I can think of now were not with me at the playground since I instead turned my back and pulled Liam onto my lap, whooping as he got his first trip down a slide.

(Besides, it’s like Glamour Don’ts for Moms…busted!)

My personal win-picture of the offense


6 thoughts on “Teen Mom

  1. While I share your heart break for the 4 year-old boy who has to live in these conditions on a daily basis, it’s not as simple as demanding this girl act like a ‘real mom’ and respect her role as a parent. She doesn’t know her role, and she probably doesn’t read parenting blogs online. You talk about modeling smoking as the biggest threat to a new generation — parenting is no different.

    The biggest single risk to becoming a teen parent is to have been the child of a teen parent yourself. Education level quickly follows – every additional year of school completed lowers a girl’s risk of becoming pregnant. Those that do become pregnant are typically starting another cycle of a program they’ve already lived. They fall into a self fulfilling prophecy of poverty and poor health choices. (Sorry, you’ve posted a blog on a topic I’ve spent two graduate semesters researching and 500 hours interning with at the Teen Parent Program in Waterville. You will suffer my ‘knowledge’.)

    The girls we deal with at the school may not display perfect parenting with their children. But I’ve learned that most of them have been sexually and/or physically abused; some abandoned by their own parents; exposed to routine substance abuse; and nearly all of them live in poverty and struggle with staying in school. Smoking in front of their kids is the least of the crimes they’ve been victim to themselves. They think they’re better parents than their own parents, and usually, they’re right.

    They have ZERO trusted adults modeling behavior for them, and are reluctant to trust any new adults – why would they? So any judging, lecturing, or yelling you do with them merely enforces a fact they already know to be true: Adults don’t value me, they don’t like me. So up goes a wall of chipped shoulders and curse words, because they don’t know what else to do and their psyches cannot handle any more rejection.

    The best thing you can do in that situation is show some kindness to the 4 year-old – he is probably not getting enough of it, and he may still be open to it from someone else. You need to swallow your distaste and model a different behavior – loving kindness towards children. Young parents in that demographic are often unfamiliar with it.

    • Yes, Penny! Your response, with all of the amazing knowledge you’ve been eating and breathing lately, is exactly 100% the truth. My studying has not been nearly as intense as yours but I have been receiving credit hours for directing my professional development these days toward middle school health. My dream/hope was to help build a program that targets all girls but attempts to change the direction of those headed down the road that was modeled for them, as you pointed out. I was involved in a group developing this program but they lost funding a couple years ago.
      Anyway, a few things in response:
      I love how you say that most of these girls feel they are better parents than their own parents, and that they probably are.
      Secondly, do you feel like programs and non-profits (similar to where you’ve been interning) should focus more on the baby/child or educating the teen parent? Because my thought was to educate the parent, but I hear you say to focus on showing the child a different model. Should it be both? And obviously the person to educate the mom is not the judging 30 year old mom at the playground. But I still think of a 16 year old as a child, so in my eyes she’s got time, she’s not a lost cause.
      Lastly, I don’t know I’d this is exactly in defense of my post, per se, but my post was really about me sharing the judgment rolling through my mind as a mom and definitely not to pick on the generalization of “teen moms.” (Only the one teen mom.) It was me sharing my disgust with smoking around children, as trivial as it seems to some. And yes, it was me holding a 16 year old mom to the same standards in my mind that I initially, and unfairly, hold other moms to.
      I am cordially inviting you to guest post on my blog because I think your response is a really important reaction and point of view to what I wrote!

  2. Honestly? Had you said something and tried to handle the situation yourself, you likely would have been met with contempt. They might have changed the target of their negative behavior toward you and Liam. For Liam’s sake, it was probably best not to say anything unless you were ready to leave anyhow and just wanted to give a parting word (which may have helped you feel better but probably would not have affected the mom).

    I like the suggestion to be a good role model.

    I feel sad for the little boy. 😦

  3. I think it’s wonderful that you took the time to think this through and write it all down. Ever since I became a mother, I encounter a lot of situations that get me really riled up, and I think I would deal better with the emotions if I could get them all down on the page. I’m inspired.

    …and those little toes in your header give me major baby fever every time I visit your blog!! 🙂

  4. Moms really need mentors. I was not a teen mom but I certainly needed help. At 29 I had no idea what I was getting into as a mom. I can’t imagine that at 16 these teens moms have any idea of what one night of pleasure will bring them. Kids are wonderful but I agree, it’s sad to see some of them the victims of careless decisions.
    ps-As a mom you might like this link: It’s called a Mom’s Guide to Caring for Little Teeth (http://www.1dental.com/moms-guide/) and has helpful tips for all different ages on how to navigate through different milestones and develop healthy habits. I’ve gotten info for my 2 boys.

  5. Pingback: Fix What You Can | The Bebe Diaries

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