Although teen pregnancy rates are at an historic low, you wouldn't know it by watching reality TV. American audiences (or so producers think) apparently can't get enough of seeing babies having babies. The latest spin-off is TLC's "My Teen is Pregnant and So Am I."
The program, which airs Wednesday at 10pm, follows two pairs of moms and daughters who are pregnant at the same time. For Liz, 36, and daughter Ann, 17, of Oklahoma City, the experience brings them closer together. Kristen, 17, of Greenville, North Carolina, finds that her news triggers explosive anger in a family that's stretched thin. Her pregnant mom Melissa, 40, already has eight children.
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Growing up as the daughter of a teen mom--my mother had me when she was 16--I find it striking that these complicated, painful, and often tender families are viewed as such freak shows. One clip shows Melissa and Kristen getting simultaneous sonograms, their big bellies shiny with goo.
As a child, I starred in my own shadow box of chaos--not really surprising for a home being managed by a teenager. Dirty dishes piled up in the sink, parties raged in the living room on Saturday nights with me upstairs blocking my ears with a pillow, and often I was left in front of school waiting for a ride while all the other kids were cozy in their homes as the sky darkened and the air cooled.
I was so angry as a teenager for what my mother had done--or not done--that I couldn't imagine ever feeling untroubled by our relationship. But it happened. The first step was being mothers together.
While I was more than ten years older than the girls in "My Teen is Pregnant and So Am I" when I gave birth, I relate to Ann's gripe on the show that she was upset to learn that her mom was pregnant because she wanted her baby "to get all the attention." When my baby was born, my mother had a two and a half-year-old girl. My daughter would miss out on the lovely, pure devotion of a grandparent. However, I received two gifts instead: shifting into the psychological space of being a loving mother instead of a resentful daughter, and witnessing my mother take care of a child when she was a grown woman.
Not immediately, but soon, a notion began to grow in my head, or more accurately, in my heart. Simply put, I realized that my mother had done the best she could at the time. Of course we can point to extreme situations of abuse, but for the most part, all mothers--whether they are 15 or 45 years old--are doing the best they can, given their particular circumstances.
What moms (and dads) need to help them get by is our compassion, not derision. We'll see what's in store for the families of "My Teen is Pregnant and So Am I."