Get Real! Should I Have His Baby to Make Him Stay?


This column is published as part of a partnership between RH Reality Check and Scarleteen.

Coffee_Cakes asks:

Okay so I’m 16 and have been dating my
boyfriend for two months now, but we have known each other and liked
each other since like age 5. But recently I found out that he had
gotten his ex pregnant while they were dating and they got an abortion,
that was nearly 7 months ago. She’s been contacting him and wont leave
him alone. She’s trying to get him back. He says he loves me and I love
him, he’s so important to my life happiness, health and just
everything, I love him dearly. I’d been thinking about having his baby
and now this makes me want to even more….

I’m so confused, should I be threatened by the ex? Should I have his
baby? We both have jobs and he has a place for us to stay, I
practically live with him as it is, he’s already got his diploma.
Please help.

Heather Replies:

A baby isn’t a bargaining chip.

A baby is a very small, but very whole, person. Just like me, just
like you. And a child deserves to be considered as a whole, actual
person, not as an object to possibly get you what you want for yourself.

What I hear you saying is that you are now feeling a very strong
desire to try to become pregnant with your very new boyfriend in order
to try and one-up his ex and hang unto him. Not only does that strike
me as — forgive my bluntness — one of the worst motivations for
parenting I have ever heard, it also is not likely to have the effect
that you want, either.

Having a child with someone doesn’t increase your chances of having
that person stick around. According to the United States census, in
2006, there were 12.9 million one-parent families in 2006 — and 10.4
million of those were single mother families. In the U.S, eight
out of ten teenage fathers do not marry their child’s mother. I think
you can see, from those statistics alone, that if you have the idea
that having a baby with a guy means you’ll cement him to you, and your
kid, it’d be wise to think twice. A whole lot of those single mothers
thought the exact same thing.

I hear you saying things like that you need this guy to be your
boyfriend for your health. Unless he is, say, paying for your
healthcare coverage, I doubt that your health is impacted by having a
sexual or romantic relationship with him or anyone else. I understand
that when you’re young and have very strong feelings about someone it
can absolutely feel like without a romance with that person you
can’t survive, and the idea of losing that kind of relationship can
make it feel like you can’t even breathe. But you can. And you were
breathing just fine just two months ago. Even if this guy doesn’t stick
around, after you get over a breakup, you’ll be just fine again, and
you have the ability to be healthy and happy without a relationship
with him, or even without any romance with anyone at all. And if you
can’t drop the desperation, you’re unlikely to have a happy or healthy
life and relationship with him or anyone else.

Here’s what I’d suggest. I know what it can be like to grow up fast,
but I think it’d be a good idea to do a reality check and remember that
you are 16 years old, and also remember that you are in a very new
dating relationship of just a couple months. You may have liked this
guy since you were wee, but this is still a brand-new dating
relationship. So, take your time in it. Have the kind of relationship
most people have at your age and the kind people have when
relationships are just a handful of weeks old. Go out together and
share your interests. Talk a lot, talk more and more deeply. See how
you two really do or don’t actually work in a love relationship,
something that takes more than a childhood crush and two months of
dating to suss out. Hang out with each others families: see how that
goes. be sure you’re not moving too fast: cut down on the nights you
stay there, and be sure you’re spending plenty of time with your
friends and in the other parts of your life so you don’t get tunnel
vision. And if you have a conflict like you feel you have with an ex,
try handling it with maturity and good sense by doing something like
talking with her about this. Heck, in doing so, you may find her
perspectives on what her relationship was like with him tell you some
things you may have needed to know.

If it feels to you like his being with you is something that makes
or breaks your own value of yourself, then you’re also going to want to
be sure you are doing things for your own life, which are about your
own goals, separate from a love relationship. Love relationships can be
awesome, to be sure, but a whole life they are not. So, work towards
your own diploma. Make time for your own interests and dreams. See your
life as bigger than this guy. All of that is important not just so you
can be good with you, but healthy relationships tend to require people
who are healthy all on their own. We also know that among teens who are
trying to become pregnant, one common thread is that those teens often
don’t have great self-esteem, and see their life options as very
limited. So, I’d remind you that if you have that idea, know that more
than anything else, your limitations are what you make them. If you
aren’t limiting yourself, chances are the sky is the limit when it comes to what you do with your life.

If the guy you are seeing has a habit of not cooperating and doing
his part when it comes to birth control that’s pretty bad news, by the
way. It doesn’t say good things about him, and certainly not about his
ability to be responsible, and that’s a super-big deal if you’re
considering co-parenting with someone. A guy who can’t handle a condom,
or who doesn’t understand how big a deal a pregnancy is, especially for
the youngest women, pretty unlikely to be able to handle a kid or
even get what being a parent requires. I’d also say that a guy who is
either actively or passively trying to get teen women to become
pregnant is someone who clearly does not understand that for women,
pregnancy and parenting is a far different thing than it is for men. He
can just walk away: you can’t. His health will be in no way impacted or
at risk: yours will. He won’t wind up socially isolated and lonely: you
probably will. He won’t be waking up at all hours to nurse: you will.
He already has his diploma: if you become pregnant, there’s a very good
chance you won’t get yours.

If you’re going to continue having sex with this guy, I’d strongly
suggest that you only do so if you are using a reliable method of birth
control every single time. Safer sex is also an issue: if you’ve only
been dating two months and you are not using condoms, you’ve been at a
high risk of sexually transmitted infections, particularly since it
seems he has had unprotected sex with at least one previous partner.
Are both of you current with tests for those infections? If not, it’s
time to go and get those, and that means him, too. (And if you don’t
feel like you can ask him to do something as basic and easy as that, I
think it’s very obvious you two are nothing close to ready to do
something far more loaded and complicated like negotiate parenting
together.)

Let’s talk a bit more about choosing to become pregnant.

The choice to be a parent is a huge one: about as huge as it
gets in life, as any mother will tell you. Babies don’t stay babies,
and if you become a mother, you’re a mother for the rest of your life.
And when you choose to become a mother very young, you’re choosing to
parent at what will likely be the toughest time for you to do so, when
you will have the least resources, the least cultural and community
support (that’s not your fault or the fault of teen moms, but that is
how it is), and the least stability, which helps a whole lot when
parenting: helps you, helps a kid who very much needs stability, not
drama and chaos. When you choose to become a parent at a time when a
relationship may be in crisis — with the magical thinking a kid will
fix things, something nearly everyone who has ever tried that has
learned the hard way is false thinking — you’re choosing to do so at
the worst time, not the best.

Whether the father of your child sticks around or leaves, you and
that kid — who doesn’t get a choice in any of this — are tied to that
person in some way for life.

I know that might sound like what you want right now, but that kind
of tie may not look like you think it will, or have anything to do with
romance or love. It may wind up being about chasing someone down for
child support when you can’t feed yourself or your kid, about watching
that person hook up with more teenage girls and get more of them
pregnant, about comforting your kid when that person is an absent
parent to them, about seeing that person seem to succeed and do just
fine while you and your kid are struggling or about living with someone
who does stick around but only out of obligation and resents you for it
the whole time, treating you and/or your kid with nothing that
resembles love.

So, who we choose to have kids with is a very big decision, one that
we never want to make in haste. Again, this isn’t just about us, it’s
about who we our choosing to have a kid be bound to for the
whole of their lives. I think you and I can agree that making a choice
like this as hastily as you’re about to make it, and with the
motivation you have — which isn’t about a kid at all, but just about
your immediate wants — is a story you’d probably not want to tell a
kid who had to struggle growing up because of your choice. "His other
girlfriend wanted him back, and I had to have something to compete
with, so I made you," is a pretty lousy tale. Every kid deserves better
than that.

Your boyfriend has choices. His ex can’t steal him: he’s a person, not a purse.

He chooses who he dates, is sexual with, has relationships with and
who he does not. Sometimes women can get in a headspace where they get
all caught up in this idea that the love or attention of a guy is about
women competing with women and forget that something like this isn’t
about an epic battle between two women, it’s about the choices that guy
makes which neither of you can control. This other woman isn’t your
enemy: she’s someone who probably felt or feels the exact same way you
do right now, and who knows how your boyfriend really is dealing with
her, anyway, or how their relationship went down. If he’s made your
promises lately, he may have been making the same ones to her. As I
mentioned earlier, I’d say that the way to deal with this with maturity
is to simply see if you can’t talk to her — not yell at her, not show
up with a knife screaming about "Your man," — calmly about how both of
you are feeling.

Love shouldn’t feel like something we have to prove like this: when
we love and are loved, it’s not something we need to win or earn, or
try and get by making huge sacrifices or putting ourselves and others
at risk. You becoming pregnant at 16 puts your health and life at risk,
and you having a kid in this kind of context also puts that kid at
risk. None of this, by the way, involves your boyfriend taking any such
risks himself. I hope you can see how unbalanced that is.

You’re going to feel a lot more loved by someone when they simply
love you for who you are, not for what crazy, reckless thing you’ll do
to "prove" your love for them or show them you’re more wigged out about
them leaving you than someone else they like. If you get pregnant now,
whether he stays or he goes, you still don’t get to know if he actually
has love for you, because even if he stays, it’s going to be tough to
know if he is staying because he wants to be with you, or staying
because you’ve created a situation where he feels trapped or like he’d
be a bad person not if he left you, but if he left a kid. You’re going to know you are loved and that someone wants to stay with you when they choose to freely, not when you do something nuts to try and force them to stay.

I’m going to go back to that nonexistent kid one more time before
I’m through. Kids need more than a place to stay and a parent with a
high school diploma and a job. They need a lot of love and attention
(which is tough to have for them if we’re giving all of it to someone
else in trying to keep them around). They need parents who have some
real maturity, a lot of selflessness and plenty of stability and
support. They need parents who have good self-esteem of their own, and
feel good about themselves whether or not they’re together or in a love
relationship with someone. They need parents who can tell the
difference between love and a soap opera.

I’m of the mind that when we have a choice in pregnancy — and you
clearly do — that we owe it to children to make those choices in their
best interest first. Our interests are not unimportant, but I’d say
they are secondary since, again, that kid doesn’t get a choice. We make
these choices for them, and that’s a big responsibility. Kids deserve
parents who are really ready to be partners, which includes things like
being able to never try and use a child as leverage or as a way to get
something you want. Once more, children are people, and very
defenseless people who depend on parents to make the best choices for
them.

If becoming a mother is something that’s part of what you want for
your life, you could certainly start doing things that prepare you for
that and help you plan for that, like finishing school, being sure that
you are in stable relationships (which this does not sound like at
all), doing the things in your life first you want to do which will be
harder or impossible to do with a child, prepping for a good career
that will support you and a child well and work with life as a mother.

While teen pregnancy happens sometimes, many teens have choices, and
can choose to do all they can to prevent that until the time really is
right for parenting, be that not having sex or always using reliable
birth control methods, and choosing partners who do their part with
those, too. This clearly sounds like a very bad time and a very bad
reason to have a kid. I’d suggest you hold off on parenting until at
least a bit later when you are more prepared, when you have your own
diploma, a place that’s also really yours, when you’re a bit older, and
when you’re choosing to parent with someone who you know wants
to stay with you, who has demonstrated that over considerable time
(read: not two months, let’s try two years, five years or ten years),
and who you feel loved by, full-stop, without anyone bringing a big
bucket of crazy.

Here are a few extra links to help round all of this out:

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Follow Heather Corinna on twitter: @Scarleteen

  • pilar608

    In addition to Heather’s excellent advice, I have to add this. There’s this myth out there that having a baby means that you will have someone who loves you. While this might eventually be true–which isn’t guaranteed, btw–babies themselves are actually kind of giant, sucking pools of need who can’t give much back. They need you to feed them, to diaper them, to rock them, to pay attention to them so they don’t stick their fingers into light sockets or eat pennies, to figure out what’s wrong when they’re screaming, to walk the floor for hours when they’re teething or sick. Babies are exhausting. They take a ton of time and energy, and that’s if you have a willing co-parent. I can’t imagine the burden of having this little, completely dependent person resting only on your shoulders when you’re trying to finish high school.

  • crowepps

    Judging by his past history, if she does get pregnant, he will dump her and offer to help pay for an abortion. “Past behavior is the best predictor of future performance.”

  • heather-corinna

    Pilar: thanks for adding this.

     

    I agree, it’s a very common notion, and not just amoung young people, that a baby or child is someone who will provide a parent constant, unyielding unconditional love, when in fact, how it is is the other way around.  A baby or child will not always do that at all: a parent is the one who needs to give that to a child.

  • heather-corinna

    I agree, crowepps.  My sense is he probably didn’t frame the situation that way to the young woman at hand here: chances are, he presented it as a tragedy done to HIM by the young woman before her.  We tend to see that kind of presentation in these situations with some regularity.

  • pilar608

    My mom works at a very poor, rural school, and she has to deal first-hand with the consequences of parents who cannot provide even basic affection for their children.  It’s heartbreaking.  No child deserves to be born to parents who cannot or will not love him/her.

     

    Children will never love their parents the way that (good) parents love their children, but then, parents will never need their children the way that children need their parents.  I hope that Coffee_Cakes listens to you.

  • marysia

    heather & crowepps–my response exactly! i know of all too many young men who get young women hooked on them, arousing these fantasies/impulses of togetherness and procreation–and then when the young women get pregnant, they pressure them to have abortions, if not in so many words sometimes, through their abandonment.

    the problem is not what young women dream of. there is nothing wrong with wanting male companionship or a child. what’s wrong is the fact that so many young men have not been raised to be partners to women & their dreams, & so they leave young women high and dry all too often.

    Nonviolent Choice Directory, http://www.nonviolentchoice.blogspot.com

  • heather-corinna

    Good to see you, Marysia. :)

     

    I agree, what you’ve said is totally part of this issue.  I also think there’s a bunch more at play, including the very popular cultural notion that having children makes a relationship more bonafide, more adult, more solid.  For sure, most of us know that just isn’t true, but at the same time, there’s very little cultually said to the contrary, especially said to ALL adults, not just to young people.

  • wickland

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