Q. I am hurt and can't stop crying. My 18-year-old son got his girlfriend pregnant and she is determined to keep the baby. My husband and I do not support teenage pregnancy and we have been very clear and open with our kids about sex. I'm still raising a younger daughter and need to stand my ground with her to show her that this is not OK.
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I miss my relationship with my son. His attitude is “get over it.” The girl disrespected my husband and me horribly, and I have told my son she is not welcome in our home.
They were dating for only three months before she became pregnant. Her mother now wants to know when my son will marry her daughter. I'm horrified that she even broached the subject. We brought up our children pushing education while this girl’s mother is pushing welfare.
I'm mad at my son for not wearing a condom, but I know I couldn't be with him 24 hours a day. I'm afraid to talk to him because I get no response and I'm afraid to say something I might regret. We used to have a great relationship. What the heck happened? I guess we must have been too warm and inviting to this girl that she thought this was her way in. I am very angry. How do I handle this situation?
A. Your feelings are partly a manifestation of dashed hopes and dreams for your son’s future. Now, it seems that this teenage couple is pregnant, with little means of supporting the child or furthering their lives. I agree, it’s a tragedy for all involved.
But what’s done is done. There is nothing to be gained by continuing to berate your son or being cool toward his girlfriend. All you will do is drive him further away.
You could be being too harsh on this girl. You assume she intended to get pregnant. That’s possible, but many girls get pregnant without wanting to. Teenagers are hormonal and impulsive. They have less ability to use measured judgment at their age. This is a matter of brain chemistry and biological fact. So, unfortunately, having sex because it feels good can override any thoughts of getting pregnant and altering the course of their lives.
Expressing your concern about the future is fine, but expressing hurt, anger and disapproval toward your son and his girlfriend will not get you anywhere. If you continue with such an adversarial position, you might end up with a son who hates you and a grandchild you never see. You might drive your son into a marriage he himself might not want. I do agree with you that it will be important to make it clear to your young daughter why this was a poor choice on her brother's part and the ways this will make life difficult. You can still impress upon her how important safe sex and abstinence at a certain age is for one's future. You do not need to ostracize her brother and girlfriend to make this message clear.
If you want a relationship with your son, I suggest you keep a much more open door and help him figure out how he will navigate this. You can be kind, supportive and forgiving to your son at the same time you make it clear that he made a bad decision and must now deal with the consequences.
He himself may know he made a bad decision, but be so embarrassed and sorry that this comes out as anger toward you. Certainly, he now has responsibilities toward his girlfriend and future baby. But, legally, it is your son’s and the pregnant girl’s right, not yours, to decide what to do. If you maintain an ongoing relationship, you may at least get to have input into the decisions they make.
As his mother, you didn’t do something wrong, so there is no point blaming yourself. Being decent and kind to this girl was the right thing to do. Welcoming her into your home didn’t make her have sex with your son, and disinviting her wouldn’t have made her refrain from having sex with him. You had the talks about sex, safety and risks, but sometimes doing your best in communicating the most important messages still doesn’t prevent children from straying. Certainly having the talks improves your chances, but it's not 100 percent.
Parents can do the very best by their children, and yet their children will sometimes disappoint them, make mistakes and choose a different path from the one their parents prefer. At some point, you must let go and let them live their own lives, because one way or another they will go. It’s your choice whether you will be welcome in those lives or not.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: You can do your best in teaching your kids to make better choices, but you can’t control every choice they make. When they make a bad one, it's best to make your disagreement clear, but also to maintain an open door rather than cutting them off.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.
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