parents who are very young face a daunting crisis. They have many urgent
decisions to make, and they must prepare for continuing struggles in all areas
of their lives (Sawhill, 2002, p. 74; Smith, 2003, p. 24). They need the help
and support of others more than at any other time of their lives. Family
members, close friends, professionals, and agencies can provide this support
best if they're able to resist becoming overbearing or taking control (Brough,
1994, p. 22).
first find out their unwed son or daughter is expecting a child, a variety of
emotions can surface: surprise, anger, discouragement, or anxiety about the
future. Sometimes parents think they could have done more to prevent the
situation and have to deal with feelings of guilt. These emotions are common
and natural. As you sort out your own feelings and deal with them, you will be
better able to help your unwed child (KidsHealth, 2002, ¶ 4-7).
decisions have to be made during an unplanned pregnancy, and each one must be
based on what's best for the baby and the mother. Although it may be tempting
for parents to pressure their child into one decision or another (such as
placing the baby for adoption or keeping the baby), the decision is ultimately
the unwed parents'. A parent can help by listening, discussing options, and
helping a child anticipate consequences. These important decisions cannot be
made quickly, so parents need to be patient and supportive in the extended
struggle of their loved one (Evans, 1985, pp. 42-43).
Groups and Professionals
professionals can help tremendously. Counseling can be done individually, with
family members, or in groups to help unmarried men and women feel hope for the
future and make plans that nourish that hope. Doctors, social workers, and
clergy can also assist birth mothers in obtaining proper medical care,
schooling, temporary housing if the mother has been "kicked out" of
her home, and/or finding a couple to adopt the baby (Unplanned Parenting, 2002,
hospitals and universities have created programs to give unwed mothers and
their children better prospects for a successful life. One program, for
example, helps mothers overcome factors that led to their unwed pregnancy,
teaches them how to care for their infant, and runs support groups for mothers
in this situation. These programs generally have shown much success and are
highly recommended (Rothenberg & Weissman, 2002, pp. 68-82; Smith,
Cudaback, Goddard, & Myers-Walls, 1994, p. 5).
Help is also
available to unwed fathers. Although not married to the mothers, unwed fathers
can contribute much to the lives of their children and in turn feel fulfilled
as individuals. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best way
to feel good about being a father is " to become as actively involved in
fathering as possible" (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2000, ¶3). This is
often more difficult in cases where the unwed fathers are teenagers and young
adults, but with added support, these dads can embrace fatherhood and deal with
the emotions they will inevitably face in their new role as "dad"
(Schwartz, 1999, ¶1).
Your Loved One's Decision
As a parent,
you may disagree with the decisions the unwed parents make. Although you can
try to influence their decisions, you need to remember that your unwed child's
decisions are his or her own. Whatever they decide, you can help make the
outcome as good as possible if you provide the best support you can. If you emotionally
cut yourself off from them because you disagree with them or feel angry or
upset, you deprive them of the parental influence they need, and you deprive
yourself of a continuing relationship with people you love (Day, 2003, p. 279).
For more information
about decision-making for unwed parents and sources of help, see the Forever
Families article, Young, Pregnant, and Unmarried.
by Sarah A. Smith, edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
American Academy of Pediatrics.
a father. Retrieved June 30, 2004.
J. (1994, September). Guidance
for unwed parents . Ensign , 19-23. Retrieved January 23, 2004.
(2003). Introduction to family processes . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Evans, J. F.
(1985, September). From
tragedy to hope: Helping unwed parents . Ensign , 41-43. Retrieved
January 23, 2004.
The Nemours Foundation. (2002). When your
teen is having a baby . Retrieved March 25, 2004.
A. & Weissman, A. (2002). The development of programs for pregnant and
parenting teens. Social Work and Health Care, 35, 3 , 65-83.
Sawhill, I. V. (2002). The perils of early motherhood. Public Interest, 146, 74-84.
fathers: New support strategies. Retrieved June 30, 2004.
better to wait, teen moms say: Young mothers caution students about pregnancy
. Mountain View Voice Online Edition. Retrieved March 8, 2004.
A., Cudaback, D., Goddard, H. W., & Myers-Walls, J. (1994). National extension parent
education model . Manhattan, Kansas: Kansas Cooperative Extension Service.
Retrieved March 2, 2004.
(2003). Primary care intervention for the sexually active adolescent. Clinical
Excellence for Nurse Practitioners, 7, 24-26.
Unplanned Parenting .
(2002). Retrieved March 3, 2004.