Well, it has been nearly a month since I began mentoring J, a pregnant 17-year old living in a group home for pregnant teens/teen moms. I have spent a good deal of time with J individually and in our family, and I have spent time "hanging" and observing all the girls in the home.
Wow. Mentoring/Parenting a teen is H-A-R-D. I am a little, wimpy, parenting novice weenie compared to you Experienced Mothers of Teens out there!!! I give you gals HUGE praise, LOUD applause, and if I had all the money in the world, a full MONTH at a luxurious, 5-star spa in Fiji.
This entire experience has brought some of my most serious shortcomings to my personal attention. Shortcomings like the desire to lecture (biting one's tongue 'til it bleeds HURTS), impatience, lack of compassion towards the selfish nature of teens. Really, all stuff that one of my favorite books, Grace Based Parenting, addresses as things NOT to do. So I'm trying, really hard, but it. is. not. easy.
I'm addicted to a series of blogs focusing on large families who have adopted kids of out the foster system. Big Mama and all of her great links are usually the first ones I peruse each morning. I've learned tremendously from these brave and obedient gals who so selflessly blog honestly about the more difficult moments, both as a way to decompress and to educate those of us who feel drawn to this sort of work.
What I am finding difficult is trying to discern what attributes to specific behaviors. Is it just being a teen? Or is it that they are in foster care and had downright horrid and heartbreaking upbringings? Or is it just that they are pregnant and very hormonal? I assume most things are a mix of all 3, but I wonder, if you take out the pregnancy factor, of the foster care factor, would you find some of these behaviors in "regular" teen girls?
My guess is yes. Like the clothing thing. Honestly, I'm surprised at just HOW IMPORTANT clothing brand is to teens. And HOW MUCH it all costs. Granted there are only 5 girls in the house, but each and every one is very concerned with what their babies wear. Recently they all were taken on a shopping trip as a reward for their hard work on the house's garage sale (each was given a portion of the proceeds). Now, I guess because I naturally look at things through my own frame of reference, I would be like "Outlet mall? Rock on! How much can I get for my buck?" Nope. Not these girls. If the clothing didn't say Nike or Adidas or RocaWear or BabyPhat, they didn't want it. No one wants to listen to my reasoning that these advertisers should be paying us for doing their advertising by wearing clothing with their name on them. Didn't matter to them if they took their $115 and came back with only 2 pairs of baby booties and 3 onesies, as long as those few meager items were emblazoned with some logo.
Honestly, this is behavior I fully expect of teen girls. But for their own things. I realize that if I gave my very materialistic cousin $100 to spend, she would a) balk at the sum, and then b) come back with one $95 t-shirt and a slice of Sbarro's Pizza.
But these girls don't yet realize just HOW EXPENSIVE BABIES ARE!!! And sadly, most of them already have babies, and they still haven't yet learned that children will bleed your wallet dry in a blink of an eye (and that's for generic everything, excluding "name" brands.)
How does one teach a child who is about to become a mother, or who is a mother, that once that baby is here, the baby comes first? Every. single. time. Food, shelter, medicine: that baby is first in line. The whole teen-entitlement thing has to go. And that is a struggle.
I try very hard to be empathetic and compassionate. Single motherhood at any age is not an easy road. I found it to be a very worthwhile road, yes, but easy? Hell no! I want to be here for J as a sounding board, someone to 'gently' guide without lecturing.
But how does one be 'gentle' when you find out that your girl is on restriction because she went out for a long walk, against doctor's orders for bedrest? And the reason for the long walk was because she "felt like it"? Because truth be told, I wanted to give her a 'gentle' smack upside the head to knock some sense into her!
Honey, the baby and baby's health comes first. Period. And the moment you become pregnant is when you must relinquish yourself to that fact. I know many a mother who has been driven nearly batty with months of bed rest. I know moms and families who struggled through the hardship of longterm bed rest with small toddlers in the home. But that's because they stayed in bed! They all made it though, and survived.
I think so far I'm doing an 'okay' job. J confides in me, we laugh and enjoy each other's company. Were I at a different point in my life with different circumstances, I would foster this girl. The potential is there, and she needs a loving family to show her what a family is and what a mother does.
The problem I find is that I don't know where to draw the line between being a 'friend' mentor and a 'parental' mentor. I guess that line is meant to be wavering based on situation. When she complained to me about the restriction, I said, "Honey, you can't tell me that you didn't know that you were out of line." I'm gentle when I try to say as seriously as possible, "Once you're a mom, you have to give up a lot for the best interest of your child."
This is where the fact that they are in the foster system comes into play. These girls never had a good mother to begin with. They don't know what a good mother does. And it probably doesn't naturally occur to them that a good mother does give up things for the sake of her children, since their own mothers didn't behave that way.
Oh, what tangled webs we weave. I could go on and on and on about my thoughts and feelings about this situation. I will say this though: this whole thing is definitely placing me outside of my comfort zone.
In theory, I think that's great. In reality, it kind of stinks at times.