Prev Next
When You're Tangled in Your Safety Net

When You’re Tangled in Your Safety Net

By Amalah

So first let me say that your blog has been absolutely wonderful and instrumental in my pregnancy so far, and I honestly don’t know what I would do without it. But I’m currently having a dilemma, and I just don’t know how to go about solving it.

I’m seventeen and pregnant, still in high school, and the father isn’t in the picture at all. I know I hurt my family deeply by getting pregnant, and I do regret the circumstances, but I love them dearly for how supportive they’ve been. But the thing is, I have a very large, close knit, tactile family. And I think I’m being fairly realistic about the whole situation, because I know I will most definitely look towards my family for help at certain points, but…I also want to raise my baby. I’m not demanding total independence, nor am I expecting my parents to do all the work. But I would like to be a mother to my child, despite my age, and my family is under the assumption that raising my baby is going to be a rather communal effort, and to be honest, the idea is not appealing in the slightest.

I’m sure I sound like a spoiled brat when I write it out, but I really don’t want my family raising my child. I love their support, and I love that they have really made conscious efforts to help me, but they’re already making plans for as soon as my baby is born, and quite literally plucking him or her out of my hands and taking care of him themselves. One of my relatives even suggested me being an ‘aunt’ to my baby so I could go off to college and still ‘enjoy life while I’m young’. And while I’m appreciative of her desire for my happiness, the idea was downright offensive, even though I did my best not to react.

Thankfully I do have one aunt, a single mom, who completely understands me, and offered to let me stay with her the first week my baby is born, without any other immediate family or relatives, and I have to say the offer is tempting. I want to be a mother, but I know I can’t do it without my family’s guidance and wisdom. I’m grateful for their support, but how do I ask them to back off without hurting their feelings, especially after I’ve put them in this position?

For the record, I don’t think you sound like a spoiled brat at all. Not even a tiny bit. I can’t tell you the number of letters I’ve gotten over the years from fully grown-up married ladies who are struggling to build up some boundaries between their parenting and some judgey/controlling/overstepping relative. And while you are very wise to understand how fortunate you are to have your family’s help and support, you are also very wise to recognize that there might be some not-so-awesome strings attached. (There’s no such thing as a free lunch OR free babysitting, etc.) And while you don’t necessarily want to cut those strings away completely and risk alienating your support system, you’re not being unreasonable at all to want to RAISE YOUR OWN CHILD.

First of all, let’s remember that “childcare,” even full-time childcare, does not equal “raising” a child. This is one of those things working (or full-time student) moms hear all the time and it’s just not true. “Oh, daycare! Why even have a baby just to let strangers raise it!” Blahhhhhh shut up. YOU will be your baby’s mother, have no fear. YOU will have a bond and a sphere of influence that will naturally go beyond anything even the nosiest, most take-over-y relative will ever experience. You will always be the mama. Trust me. Babies know.

But that vague mushy emotional stuff probably isn’t going to be enough, at least in a family where someone would cluelessly suggest that a young mother masquerade as her own baby’s “aunt.” (SO OFFENSIVE OMG.)

So here’s some things I think you should do:

1) Research any and all forms of public assistance you and your baby could qualify for.

Talk to your guidance counselor at school and look into programs and grants for food, housing, educational or childcare grants, scholarships, etc. I know you’re not looking for total independence, but it certainly won’t hurt to be able to exercise SOME autonomy and be aware of options that exist OUTSIDE your family’s sphere of control. Don’t let your family (or anyone) “shame” you over accepting government help. “You don’t need that, you have us!” “Well, now I have both, and my baby and I deserve to have every opportunity and safety net possible to get us through the next few years.”

2) Talk to your OB/GYN or midwife (alone!) about a birth plan.

Share your fears about family members grabbing the baby away from you and refusing to recognize you as the mother, rather than just a kid who is giving birth to the family’s next group project. Those fears should also be communicated to your nurses when you are in labor — don’t hesitate to insist on a private convo where you make it clear that the baby is to be given to YOU, and only you, and is not to be taken away by anyone, and that you want to spend as much time holding/nursing/bonding as possible. You can also tour the hospital or birthing center ahead of time and get your wishes in writing then as well. Do not feel guilty or pressured into turning your birthing suite into a family block party. The mother-to-be is in charge, whether she’s 17 or 37. People can sit in the waiting room and come see you when YOU are ready. Your nurses can also work as crowd control in your room after the birth.

3) Your single-mother aunt sounds like a wonderful oasis in a sea of grabby-clueless-types, and I’d encourage you to lean on her for emotional support as much as possible.

Maybe even get her to run interference for you when other family members overstep. Her offer to let you stay there is definitely a thoughtful one, and I wouldn’t blame you one bit if you took her up on it. Especially if she is okay playing guard dog for you and keeping other relatives at bay for awhile. If you DON’T stay with her, however, I’d suggest getting a lock installed on your door, wherever you end up staying. Install a lock and use it, so you can have privacy to nurse, rest, study, whatever. Get a bassinet or bedside co-sleeper and make it clear that the baby will be staying with you during the night at first, for as long as you want. (If that’s what you want, of course!) If you get crazy overtired and need a break, you know where to find another set of arms to pass the baby to. But it’s going to happen on your terms.

Number two and three are really only going to address your short-term fears, though I hope that if you exert your place as The Mother from the start and set the rules that you will ASK for help when you NEED it, people might follow those rules and drop the whole communal child-raising approach that demotes your role and wishes. I want you to do number one in case they don’t, frankly. Staying with your aunt might give you a temporary respite from your extended family, but if all your worst fears come true and your family refuses to respect your boundaries, I want you to have a path to eventual independence in place.

But really, your family’s guidance and support CAN be part of that path. That should be the common goal here: To help you juggle motherhood and school and college and work so you can one day stand on your own two feet and support yourself and your child. Motherhood IS hard. Being single and 17 obviously doesn’t make it any easier. It could be that everybody is just coming on super-strong with their own post-baby plans because they THINK it’s what you want to hear: They want to assure you that you are loved and will be taken care of and that you aren’t going to miss out on anything in life, even though “this” happened. They don’t understand yet that you aren’t some stereotypical disinterested teen-in-trouble; you’re a mature and well-spoken young woman who wants to be a good mom. And to be a good daughter/niece/cousin/etc. I really have no doubt that you are all of the above.

Your letter has a lot of “how can I ask for this [completely reasonable, understandable] thing, even though I did this [other, not-so-perfect] thing?” Try to remove your guilt from the situation. (I know, I know, easier said than done.) You got pregnant. It happens. Sure, your family doesn’t “owe” you their emotional or financial support — they are offering it because they love you, even if they can be a little ham-fisted about it. Likewise, you don’t “owe” them access to or control over your child just because you’re 17 and the circumstances are less than ideal. You can accept their support because you love your baby more than your own pride, and hopefully because you love them too and can see all the positives that can come of your family’s involvement.

Once your family sees you actually take to motherhood in a real, hands-on way and display confidence in your instincts (BECAUSE YOU DO HAVE THEM; don’t let anyone suggest otherwise)…they might back off. They might rally around you in a truly supportive way without demanding control over your baby’s name, diet, sleep schedule, religion, school, etc. It takes a village, yes. Please don’t ever be afraid to reach out for help or support if you need it. You can be accepting and grateful for all their help without ceding your place as the village Grand Kahuna Mama Bear.

The best of luck to you, and I hope you’ll send us an update on your story someday.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
laura g
Guest

Sort of off topic but, THIS: “childcare,” even full-time childcare, does not equal “raising” a child.

TIMES ONE MILLION. Thank you, Amy. A little piece of me dies every time I hear someone say this (generally with regards to working moms)

to the OP, best wishes. You sound like you’ve got a really strong family, but more importantly a really strong sense of who you are. Your son is a lucky kid.

Jenn
Guest
Jenn

It seems like OP is an excellent writer; she did a great job of presenting her wishes without seeming ungrateful here. How about trying to write the same letter to her parents? Letters are great for this kind of communication. She can say her peace and her parents can take time to process the message without interruption or snap reactions.

MR
Guest
MR

Amy, you are always so spot on, but I think this is your best response EVER. OP, definitely look into all your options. And then you need to address this whole “let you live your life while you are young” attitude. You sound incredibly mature and you have thought this out well. I think what you are dealing with is your family’s grief over the loss of the life they envisioned for you. But that is their issue to deal with. You can though bring this up. Start a conversation with your parents. Something along the lines of “Mom, Dad,… Read more »

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

Once your child is born you should go to your local courthouse and file for child support. If your baby’s father is a minor (dependent) than in most jurisdictions whoever is his legal guardian will be obligated to cover financial support until he is independent and earning money.

Most states will not allow you to receive state funds until you’ve demonstrated that you attempted to get support from the biological father.

Just FYI, bringing social services into your life will subject you to additional scrutiny as well as additional support. Good luck!

Marissa
Guest
Marissa

Excellent points, all of them.

Isabel Kallman
Admin

Thank you all for your wonderful comments.

I agree that Amy’s response is amazing.

Let me share that I was at first glance hesitant to publish a letter from a 17-year old. But then, I read her letter and realized how thoughtful it was and then Amy’s response to it was so brilliant that it needed to be published since many women could benefit from Amy’s advice and from yours, our smart and caring commenters.

Thank you all!

Suzy Q
Guest
Suzy Q

Thanks for publishing it, Isabel.  I agree that Amy’s response is spot-on.  The only thing left out was the father’s legal/financial responsibilities, which another commenter covered.

I also know that if the letter writer has been reading Amy’s columns and blog for any length of time, she will glean even more support and courage from the information Amy has shared over her years of motherhood.

Rachel
Guest
Rachel

I second the commentator who suggested writing your parents a letter explaining your thoughts. That way you can think through what to write and not get tongue tied or talked over by other relatives, and your parents/family can read and process on their time. It’s definitely important to establish the “I am the mom” boundaries NOW because it’ll just get harder after the baby’s born and as he/she grows. You sound like an incredibly mature 17 year old to tackle this on your own, without the father, and please keep us updated on how it turns out for you.

Karen
Guest
Karen

WIC has awesome benefits in my area. Also if you are committed to nursing your baby, then this will be a lovely “excuse” for you to be your child’s sole caregiver – especially in the first few months. Can’t recommend enough how helpful it will be if you are able to establish strong relationships with older women as mentors. All women benefit from this, not just moms, young moms, etc. Your aunt is a good start, but also a trusted teacher or neighbor too. Someone who is outside of your friend circle who is unlikely to be socializing with your… Read more »

Jeannie
Guest
Jeannie

My circumstances are very different from the OP, so take what I say with that in mind. I did make some parenting choices that my parents and sister thought were CRAZY (nothing weird — co-sleeping was the most “out there”) and the things that helped me most were: 1 reading about it. That way, when someone said “why are you / why don’t you …” I had a good, well reasoned answer. (Because as much as I would like otherwise, no one accepts “because I want to” from a hormonal woman.) The more I was able to say “well, actually,… Read more »

Lotus
Guest
Lotus

I totally agree about reading about it!! I think that will absolutely help when you want to assert an opinion that differs from your family’s. Also, when your family sees you reading parenting books while still pregnant, it might help them to “get it” that you, in fact, intend to be your son’s actual parent!

Sassy Apple
Guest
Sassy Apple

Maturity does not have a chronological age attached to it, and this mother-to-be proves it. Sounds like you’re going to be a great mom.

Amy, your response was thoughtful and a magnificent piece of writing. So many lives will be impacted by your words. Well done!

SarahB
Guest
SarahB

I’d like to second that your local WIC office would be a great place to start with social services.  Since their sole focus is on pregnant and new moms, they should also know about where you might get second-hand baby items, what other programs you might qualify for like SNAP (food stamps), how to use Head Start preschool down the road, etc.

Best of luck to you!

Leslie
Guest
Leslie

One suggestion I would add–find a new moms’ support group. Many hospitals sponsor them, and they can be a great way to find a network of women who are going through the process of adjusting to motherhood. I found the first months of motherhood overwhelming and a little isolating. I would have had a much MUCH harder time without the mama friends I met through an area new moms’ group. Build a circle for yourself outside if your family so that you have a safe place to talk about the ups and downs of parenthood. Some times you just want… Read more »

Christina
Guest
Christina

As a person nearly twice the OP’s age who is 33 weeks pregnant let me just say that I could not be more impressed. I mean I am struggling with these questions myself and she appears to have more poise than I do where this is concerned. My reaction to boundary setting challenges has been relatively screechy in comparison.

I hope someday our kids are friends because I suspect my kid and I could learn a lot from her!

Lauren
Guest
Lauren

I think you will find that once the baby is born you will have a whole different sense of boundaries and you will be able to tap into some magic mom strength that will help you enforce those boundaries.  I think that at any age pregnancy is filled with fear and doubt and there is a temptation to say “I don’t know what I’m doing and all these other people know that so I’ll just do what they say” but once you give birth and hold your little baby, (at least in my experience) all those cloudy thoughts disappear and… Read more »

Lerin
Guest
Lerin

I was in your shoes once. I now have an eight year old son and almost two year old daughter. I also have a wonderful husband, bachelors degree, part time RN job, own a house and 2 cars. I’m still friends with many girls I went to highschool with and had kids young and I am literally the only one with a college degree and decent job. My advice is accept help but definitly set bounderies. It seems like a far way off right now, but before you know it you’ll be ready financially and emotionally to be on your… Read more »

Lisa McP
Guest
Lisa McP

GREAT advice, and other commenters have also given great advice. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned though: The first couple weeks with a newborn, your first especially, is like living in a black hole. Time flies and you won’t know where the day went. I don’t think I could’ve done it on my own, purely logistics-wise, as in food shopping, meal preparations, all the care for the baby, laundry, dishes, emptying the dirty diaper pail, washing breast pump pieces– so although you are asserting your God given right to be your child’s mumma, I do think you’ll need someone to help the first few… Read more »

Melissa
Guest
Melissa

I just want to tell you that you are going to be an amazing mother. Absolutely wonderful and beautiful and a great mom. Perfect mom? Nope. Great mom? Definitely. This little one is already lucky.

I got pregnant at 17. That son is now 18 years old. We’ve done well. From this letter, I know you will too!

Anonymous concerned
Guest
Anonymous concerned

Oh honey. You mention the dad being out of the picture. You write a letter that I could have written when I was 21 and pregnant with my first baby. Let me tell you a little something I wish I’d known back then—- My son is the product of incest, incest that had started with child molestation so many years earlier that I had long since been blocking it out as soon as it happened. There is a clear line in my head now between those who genuinely wanted to help me, and those who just wanted to cover up… Read more »

autumn
Guest
autumn

To the OP :  You will be a great mom!  How can we tell?  The thoughtful way you posed your questions, and that you care enough to write to an (awesome) internet person to help you thorough this.  Your letter was very well thought through and well phrased; your learning and intelligence shows.  College and a great career should be in your future, just taking the long way with baby along. The only other suggestion I would add is looking into a doula for labor support.  I’m guessing you want Somebody with you in the hospital, but family is a… Read more »

Kimber
Guest
Kimber

Check and see if there is an Early Head Start program in your area. EHS is a great program for young mothers going to school, working or both. Not only would it be free childcare, but the staff should provide you support in locating other resources and overall “you’ve got this” support for those times when you need someone else on your side, whether it’s your family being overwhelmingly helpful or things are just stressful.  They also have a prenatal program that can help you now, before the baby even arrives. Lots of positive thoughts headed your way!

Meg
Guest
Meg

This is your best response ever. I REQUEST A FOLLOW UP! (After baby comes of course.)

Kris
Guest
Kris

Thank you so much for this blog!  I’m in a similar situation…though twice the age!  Unexpectedly pregnant, back staying with my mum for now (till I can work again) and when I expressed that I might want a bit of time – maybe a couple of days, maybe a week or two – after baby is born in a couple of months before I let everyone start showing up (for us to bond and in case I’m having a hard time) I was told I can’t have that and that people can come as soon as they want and that… Read more »