People can say things to teen moms that are straight-up nasty.
In honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday and to balance out the things you should never say to a teen mom, we got together with Natasha Vianna from #NoTeenShame (a movement that emphasizes the need for shame-free sex education and resources for young families) and two young moms at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center to talk about things you should say to a young mom.
Olivia Coulibaly is a peer sex educator at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center and the mother of four beautiful children. She and her husband live in New York. Anizabel Batista studies Health Education at Bronx Community College and is completing an internship at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. She’s the proud mom of a 5-year-old son.
When you talk to young moms, here’s what they want to hear.
1. “What are your goals, plans and ambitions?”
Anizabel: My mom gave me some great advice when I had my son. She told me, “Guys will come and go. Friends will come and go. But you’re responsible for your son for the rest of eternity, and you’ve got to have a plan.” So I do. I know where I’m going, I’m in school, and I have a plan to pursue a career I love and create a successful life for me and my son. People think that when teens become parents, they lose focus, and that’s really often not true.
Olivia: When I graduated from high school, people were like, “I didn’t think you were going to do it. That’s the end of school for you.” I wish they had said, “Congratulations, that’s amazing! Are you thinking about college?” As young parents, we can achieve our goals, and if you want to be supportive, you should push us to succeed.
2. “How are you doing?”
Anizabel: Ask me normal questions, like “how’s it going?” You’d be surprised at how many people avoid that once you become a mom. I heard so many times that having a kid meant that my life was over. News flash: I became a mom; I didn’t die.
Olivia: Absolutely. People didn’t know that I had kids until my sophomore year of high school. Before my classmates found out, they would ask me to hang out with them, and they acted like they wanted to be friends. Afterwards, a lot of people just stopped inviting me to do things. I’m a mom, but I was also still a teenager, and it’s tough to be rejected like that.
3. “That picture you posted of your child was so funny! He’s adorable.”
Olivia: I agree. As a parent, my kids are the most important things in my life. Sometimes my son says things that are hilarious, and I want to share funny, cute stories about my kids with the people in my life. Help me celebrate my children!
Anizabel: People get so focused on stupid stuff. Where’s your apartment, what’s your job, how much money do you make? That can be hard when your life doesn’t follow the trajectory people say it should. Help me celebrate what’s really important: my wonderful family.
4. “Your kids will be happy, successful, and pursue their dreams.”
Olivia: People say things like, “Your kids will turn out messed up like you.” First, I’m very happy with my children, education, home, and family. Secondly, I got pregnant at a young age because I didn’t have the information I needed. That’s why I will talk to my kids about sex and what they need to know. They’ll get the information I didn’t have.
5. “How’s (name of children’s father)?”
Olivia: Just because someone is a young mom doesn’t mean they’re a single parent. You have no idea what’s going on in any person’s life. My husband was shouting for joy when he found out we were going to have kids. I know that watching his children be born was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for him.
Anizabel: This is totally true. Some young guys become dads and really step up, and that’s amazing. But don’t pry. My son’s father isn’t in the picture, and because I’m a mom, people feel like they have a right to speculate on why that is and what kind of impact it has on my son. But it’s none of their business.
6. “Found a daycare center yet?”
Anizabel: Your instinct might be to make an assumption—turn that into a question instead. Rather than say “Your mom must be watching your kids,” ask me if I’ve found a daycare center yet. This gives you the opportunity to be helpful and supportive. If I say, no, then you can offer to help me look, or connect me to the center your cousin loved or whatever. More than anything else, young moms need a support network, and that’s often missing.
7. “You’re doing a great job.”
Olivia: People who say teen moms are irresponsible clearly haven’t met me. When you have kids, you get your act together and do what you’re supposed to do, because you want to be a good role model and keep your children from going down a bad road.
Anizabel: Young people are absolutely capable of being good mothers. My son relies on me, and I work hard to give him a fantastic life.
Young parents 10-24 years old are welcome at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in NYC. We provide free, comprehensive health care to the parent and child during the same appointment. Call (212) 423-3000 to make an appointment or learn more here.
A version of this post was originally published in July, 2016.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.