Whether you have a suspicion that your teen daughter is pregnant or she just broke the news to you, your head is probably spinning with a million different thoughts and emotions. How could this happen? What do we do now? Who is the father? What will other people think? This is to be expected, precisely because you were NOT expecting this. You might be angry, disappointed, and/or scared. Scratch that – you are definitely angry! If you’re her father, you are probably one second away from speeding down the street to have a “chat” with your daughter’s boyfriend. If you’re her mother, you may be thinking, how in the world is my daughter going to handle a pregnancy?! Or, you are wishing you had just one more of those “birds and the bees” chats.
Remember, your daughter likely did not want this to happen either. Think how frightened she must be! Pregnancy is foreign to her. She made the adult decision to have sex, and now she is faced with the adult consequence of pregnancy. The best thing you can do right now is to keep your emotions steady and encourage your daughter to take responsibility for her actions and accept the consequences. If you’re a pregnant teen and you’re on this page, try to use it to get some insight into how your parents may be feeling and how you can react to keep the tension down.
How to Respond When She Breaks the News (Or How Not to)
Take a deep breath. Try not to let your emotions take over and dictate what you say to your daughter – this is a delicate moment, after all. This might mean sitting in silence for a few minutes to gather your thoughts before responding. Here are a few things you may be feeling:
- in denial
It is okay to feel these ways; actually, it is rather natural. What is not okay is lashing out in anger, saying things that you know you’ll regret later, or kicking her out of the house immediately. This is still your daughter, no matter what she has gotten herself into. You’re probably fuming. Yes, she has disappointed you. Yes, she probably broke quite a few of your rules. And yes, she may not even be sorry about it. But, she is now responsible for a tiny life growing inside her. And since she is still under your roof, you are partially responsible as well. That means that if you kick her out, you are 1) endangering your own daughter and 2) you are endangering your growing grand-baby. Here are some suggestions from mothers and fathers of teenagers:
- “The first thing you’re going to have to do is accept the situation. You’re not going to want to believe what you’re hearing, but before you can move forward and be constructive and support your daughter, you’ve got to come to terms with the situation. It is what it is.”
- “You’re going to be angry – that’s just how it’s going to be. But try not to take that out on your daughter. Believe me – nine months of pregnancy is going to be punishment enough, and if she decides to parent, 18 years of dependency. Of course, you can add punishments on top of that, like no phone, no car…etc. In the end, let her know you’re mad, disappointed, whatever you’re feeling…but try to do so calmly.”
- “Hear her out. Maybe her excuses, reasons, or plans sound plain idiotic to you, but listen and see how it can help you understand where she’s coming from. And that’s what is important, right? Making sure you understand each other, especially in a stressful situation?”
- “Guide her towards taking responsibility for her actions. If you let her off the hook here, that sets a bad example for dealing with big issues in the future. Help her become a responsible soon-to-be mom (or birth parent, should she choose adoption). Let her take responsibility for the doctors visits, prenatal vitamins, and getting a job to be able to provide. Let her decide how to coordinate childcare and school and a job at the same time. Let her fail; it might be hard to watch, but that’s how we learn.”
How to Talk to the Baby’s Father
You might be tempted to think it is mostly the boyfriend’s fault, and in some cases, you’d be correct. But in many cases, the intercourse that led to the pregnancy is consensual. Listen to what both he and your daughter says about the situation, making sure to get her thoughts on what happened before you talk to him. Of course, as a parent, you will want him to take responsibility for the pregnancy. You’ll want him to be there for your daughter, to provide for her and the baby, and to be a man about it like he ought to.
Now, there is the flip side if you do not like him. Maybe you see him as harsh, irresponsible, not worthy of your daughter, or a waste of her time. If you’ve known the guy for a while, maybe you have a better idea of who he is, and if not, maybe you need to get a few more impressions of the guy before coming to a final conclusion about who he is. Make sure to see how your daughter feels about him before encouraging him to be around or before asking him to stay away from her. Ask him what he plans to do, now that he and your daughter are in this situation. Does he have a job? Did he want to have kids? What is his family life like? Does he love your daughter/can he see marrying her someday? Find out where he’s at. Is he still in shock? Does he seem like he cares or is disinterested? You’ve got a lot of questions, but try to space them out and get to know him a little better.
Helping Her Make a Decision for the Pregnancy
Ultimately, the decision of what do with the pregnancy is in your daughter’s hands. This may be hard to swallow, but as we’ve already gone over, she did get herself into this situation. After 14+ years of raising her, you probably know her pretty well (though she might deny it). This means that you will be able to help her sort through her options while knowing a little better than a counselor about her hopes, dreams, morals, and desires. How does she feel about being a teen mom? Adoption? Abortion? Hear her out, and of course, you can insert your opinion too and explain your reasoning. You might help her realize things she hadn’t even considered. Offer to take her to the doctor so that she can get a full prenatal check-up and an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy. Whatever she chooses, getting an ultrasound to confirm the viability and age of the pregnancy is a necessary step. You can offer to go into the room with her and the doctor, or allow her to have her space to ask the doctor questions.
What are my rights as a parent?
In certain states, your permission is required for your daughter (if she is a minor – under 18) to get an abortion. Some states also require parental consent for adoption. Otherwise, your rights depend on your living situation. If your daughter lives under your roof, obviously she has to abide by your rules. And if she won’t, you will need to sort out temporary to long-term alternate housing. The important thing to know is that you do NOT have the right to force any decision on your daughter, whether that is parenting, adoption, or abortion. You can, of course, refuse to pay for certain things or set punishments, but you legally cannot coerce your daughter into the pregnancy decision that you wish for her. According to research from Guttmacher Institute, here are state’s laws regarding parental consent for minors (age 17 and younger) who want an abortion:
- States that require parental consent: AL, AZ, AR, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MI, MS, MO, NE, NC, ND, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC†, TN, TX, UT, VA, WI, and WY
- States that do not require any parental consent: CT, D.C., and ME
- States that require the parents be notified about an abortion: CO, DE‡, FL GA, IL, IA, MD, MN, NH, SD, and WV
- States that had a law requiring parental consent or notification, but the law is not currently in effect: AK, CA, MT, NV, NJ, NM,
- States that do not specify about minors and abortion (likely do not require consent or notification): HI, NY, OR, VT, and WA
† SC’s laws refer to 16 and younger. ‡ DE’s laws apply to under age 16 only. Parental consent and/or legal counsel for minors (age 17 and younger) who wish to place a baby for adoption:
- States that do not require parental consent: AL, AZ, CA, CO, DE, D.C., GA, HI, ID, IL, KS, MD, MS, NV, NH*, NJ, NM, NY, ND, OH, OK^, SC, TN, UT, VT, VA, WV, and WY
- States that do require parental consent: LA, MI, MN, and RI
- States that do not differentiate between adults and minors (thus should not require parental consent): AK, AR, FL, IA, ME, MA, NE, NC, OR, SD, TX, and WI
- States that require parental notification of plans for adoption: PA
- States that require that legal counsel be present for the minor in adoption court: CT, KY, MO, MT, and WA
* A court can require parental consent. ^ Only applies to minors age 14+. Talk to a doctor or local pregnancy center to find additional information about your state’s rights for parents of teens age 17 and under who are pregnant.
Challenges of Being the Parent of a Teen Mom
What you’re about to go through for the next 9 months plus is not going to be easy; but, with good communication, you and your daughter will find a way to make things work. Listed below are some of the most common tension points that typically come between a parent and a pregnant teenager, as well as ideas on how to minimize the tension.
This seems to be one of the most common arguments among pregnant teenagers and their parents – who is paying for what? That is exactly why we suggest sorting it all out at the beginning of the pregnancy. Think about each aspect, write it out and come to an agreement, and sign it. That way, if a disagreement ever does come up, you can refer back to the “contract” and settle it then and there. Here are some topics you might want to cover in a discussion:
- Health insurance: If you (the parents) have her on your health insurance, does it cover pregnancy? Will you continue to pay for it? If not, does she need to apply for Medicaid for pregnancy? How will the child be insured? Who will pay the co-pays and other costs?
- Maternity clothing: Though you don’t need to specifically buy new maternity clothing, things like maternity shirts and jeans can be nice to have. Who will purchase them? (If money is tight, consider shopping at a thrift store.)
- Baby items (clothes, bottles, formula/breast pump, diapers/wipes, etc.): Many times you can get formula or a breast pump covered by Medicaid or WIC, but other baby items (especially diapers) will be a big expense that you’ll want to discuss. Of course, your daughter will likely get clothes and diapers as gifts, but what about when those run out? Who will buy these things?
- Childcare: Often a big area of contention (see the section below). You’ll have to decide how the childcare is getting taken care of, whether it’s hired out or done by your daughter or family/friends, and from there decide how to pay for it. Will you fund childcare, or will you request that your daughter covers the cost?
- Baby Shower: Many women will have a baby shower, often set up by friends and family. If so, then you might not have to discuss payment, but if you are going to be involved, you will want to talk about how it’s getting paid for.
This is always a big area of contention. Some teen moms assume that her parents will be the main ones to babysit and that they’ll do it for free. Some look for daycare options. This is something you will want to talk over as early as possible. If you do plan to help babysit, come up with your terms. For what reasons will you babysit (ex. work, school, etc)? For what reasons won’t you (a date, social events, school, etc)? Will you babysit for free or would you request payment? It is also important to hear your daughter out about what her plans were. Perhaps she already has an idea in mind about how to go about childcare.
What will other people think about my pregnant teen?
Though this should be the least of your concerns, it certainly can be a big deal, especially if you live in a smaller town or have a lot of very close family and friends. You might feel like people are talking about you and your daughter – and to be honest, you may be right. People love to gossip and your news may be the biggest thing for a while, but it will die down. If people make comments to you about how you raised your daughter, you can let them know that you did what you could but in the end, she made her own choices. If they choose to insult your daughter, you don’t have to defend her to the point of saying that what she did was right and good, but you can let these naysayers know that she is still your daughter and you will stick by her through thick and thin. Let your daughter know that people are going to talk, but you’re going to stand by her. Help her figure out some way to respond to anyone who might insult her. For example, “Yeah, I know I made a dumb mistake, but now I’m responsible for a life growing in me, and I will fight for and defend that life.” Your daughter might have a hard time brushing off insults during pregnancy since she’s likely to be more emotional than usual anyway. “Sticks and stones” may not break anything, but they still can hurt. Make a point to ask your daughter about her day each and every day. That way you can know if she’s struggling with how people are talking.
How can I help without doing everything for her?
Don’t organize everything for her! Her doctor’s appointments, vitamins, parenting classes, washing baby’s clothes, all that…she is more than capable of doing those things. We would suggest finding something small to help with – ask her if she needs help with anything. Not something you can just go do for her, but something you can do with her. Whether that be couponing, making a budget, picking jobs to apply for, folding laundry, preparing baby food – use it as a bonding moment with your daughter where she can learn something from you and get a little bit of a break. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can never do her a favor, like go pick up a new pack of diapers or babysit during an exam or doctor’s appointment for just her. You’re still her mom & dad and you’re going to want to help her and give to her! (Especially when there’s a grandbaby in the mix.)
How can I encourage her and the father to be responsible?
This is not always an easy task. The thing to remember is that teenagers like to rebel (especially when they know they’ve done something wrong and are in trouble). Try not to tell them that they “have” to do such and such, or that they “have no choice but to” do something this one way. If you can drop little hints and make them think that it was their idea, you are on your way! Try also not to overcrowd them, or they may not want you to be involved at all. Offer your help and let them know that you are someone they can count on – sometimes, that is all they need.
Resources for my pregnant teen
There are a few articles on teen pregnancy that should be of use to your daughter. They can guide her through the decision process (what to consider and different resources), how to juggle pregnancy symptoms and her relationships and day to day activities, how to stay healthy, what to avoid, and more. Have her check out:
Below are other resources that she may need to support her pregnancy, her choices for her pregnancy, and parenting resources if she decides to parent. Medical Insurance:
- Medicaid for pregnancy – contact your state chapter by clicking here to see if your daughter qualifies.
- Healthcare.gov – if she is not on your insurance, does not qualify for Medicaid, and is 18+ years, she can find subsidized insurance here – call 1-800-318-2596 or apply online here.
- National Council for Adoption – general information on adoption, more on infant adoption specifically, and an adoption agency search.
- American Adoptions – information on choosing adoption for the baby or you can call 1-800-236-7846 for more information (open 24/7).
- Food Stamps – this is a federal program to help low-income families keep healthy food on the table. Find out more and see if your daughter qualifies here.
- Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – this is a federal program for pregnant women and children up to age 5 to help provide access to healthier food choices to support good nutrition during pregnancy and in early childhood. Find out more and see if your daughter qualifies here.
- Food Banks – search for your local food bank here.
- Office of Child Care (of the Administration for Children and Families) – information on help to pay for childcare and state agencies that you can contact for assistance.
- Child Care Aware – information on state childcare assistance as well as other ways to help if you don’t qualify.
- Federal Housing Administration (FHA) – housing counseling, help to find rent assistance or Section 8 housing, and more. Call 1-800-225-5342 or visit their website.
- Maternity Homes – use a Google search for “maternity homes near me” or “[my city, state] maternity home” to find a local, caring place for your daughter to move through her pregnancy in case the home environment is not safe or for personal reasons. If you cannot find one or want help locating one, give our toll-free & confidential helpline a call at 1-800-672-2296.
Schools for pregnant teens:
- Your daughter’s current school should have information about whether or not continuing school there is possible during pregnancy, or if there is a school nearby specifically for pregnant teens.
- Many larger cities now have “pregnancy schools,” so do an online search to find one near you.
- Many community colleges or city programs offer free or low-cost GED programs. Call your local schools and organizations to find out locations.
- There are many free online GED programs and review classes that your teen could take advantage of. Do a Google search or talk to your local high school to find a trusted and accredited program.
Parenting classes/material assistance/support groups:
- What is a huge expense for parents? DIAPERS. Find diaper banks here. Local churches and pregnancy centers (and sometimes food banks) are able to provide some diapers for women in need.
- Pregnancy centers and health departments often have parenting classes free or for a small cost (search below for pregnancy centers).
- Pregnancy centers, churches, and other local organizations will offer support groups for young pregnant women. Use Google search or place some calls to find a good fit for your daughter (and her boyfriend if appropriate).
If She Wants to Parent the Child, What Is My Role?
Your role is whatever your daughter needs from you and whatever you are comfortable with. These are things you and your daughter will want to talk over before the baby arrives. Ideally, she should initiate these conversations, but if she doesn’t, here are some questions you can ask:
- What is your plan for childcare when you go back to work after the birth?
- How do you plan to juggle school and childcare?
- What is the baby’s father going to contribute to childcare?
- How are you going to provide for the baby? Are there expenses you’re not sure if you can cover?
- What do you expect from me/us (as your parents)?
- What is your plan for childcare when you want to go hang out with friends/do something social?
- Do you plan to move out and get your own place or stay at home? (If that is an option.)
Now, there are many more questions that are going to come up, but if you clear some of the things above up with her before the due date, you are less likely to come to misunderstandings after the birth. To not make it sound like an interrogation, try to space these questions out. How this works out can vary depending on your parenting decisions. Will you allow your daughter to stay at home after the birth? Are you willing to offer free childcare for the baby? What are your childcare terms (will you only babysit during school, will you help during work, will you not babysit for social outings)? What do you expect from her financially, or do you plan to pay for most things? If you’re married, you’ll want to discuss this with your spouse first so that you have a united front when you speak with your daughter. Remember: you will be a grandparent! The parenting responsibilities are ultimately going to be up to your daughter and the baby’s father (if he’s involved). This may be hard to accept, and you can step in with suggestions as need be, but don’t forget that you are not the parent anymore – at least, not to the new baby.
Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. Guttmacher Institute: State Laws and Policies. An Overview of Minors’ Consent Laws. 01 Sep 2017.