DEAR KELLY: I’m 15 (almost 16) and my mom had me when she was 16. She never married my dad and lived with my grandparents until she was 21, when she met my step-dad. They had two more kids who are a lot younger than me and they have built a really good life.
Whenever she meets people and she’s with me, they tell her how young she looks and how it’s not possible she can have a teenager. I think she likes all the attention. She laughs and then she always says the same thing: “I made a huge mistake when I was 15, and I just pray my daughter doesn’t do the same thing, even though it turned out to be a wonderful thing and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m so not ready to be a grandparent. She’s (pointing at me) way too smart and going to go to college because I never had that chance. I’m just going to live it through her.”
People then tell me how wonderful my mom is that she wants me to have what she didn’t and how lucky I am to have her. Some people have even said things like, “You’re so lucky your mom didn’t have an abortion or you wouldn’t even be here,” or that I’m lucky my mom didn’t give me up for adoption. I hate it and it makes me feel like I shouldn’t even be here. It’s getting to the point where every time someone starts to talk about how young she looks, I just want to walk away because I know what’s coming.
Kelly, why do I feel so weird when my mom refers to me as “a huge mistake” and I somehow feel like I changed the whole direction of her life? Because of me, she couldn’t go away to college and become an attorney. She has to live her life through me because I stopped her from doing what she wanted.
I’ve talked to my grandma who always tells me how much of a blessing I was to her and my grandpa and how much they loved having me live with them when I was little. They make me feel wanted and loved, but my mom makes me feel like a mistake who didn’t let her live her life like a teenager and go to college like she wanted.
Please help me know what to say to my mom or to other people when they talk about how lucky I am that she kept me, or how young and beautiful she is. I don’t know what to say in either situation. Torn Teenager
DEAR TORN: Let’s start with the basics. People say stupid things. Let it go. You can’t let people’s dumb comments affect you or make you question the meaning of your life. No matter where you are in life, you will always encounter people who say inappropriate things or don’t think before they speak. It is part of life, and the sooner you learn to let go of other people’s words, the happier you will be.
Next point of business: You are not a mistake. Like your grandma says, you are a blessing. You were meant to be here, and you are important. Your mom uses the wrong words and you aren’t able to hear what she is saying. Because she says you were a huge mistake, you are missing that she also says you are wonderful and that she wouldn’t change anything.
That means that even though things were hard, she appreciates you and can’t imagine her life without you. It means that she wouldn’t change you or the fact that she had you when she was a teenager. It means that the joy you bring her now makes her forget the struggles she had as a teenage mom. It means that you are a huge blessing to her as well.
Your mother made a choice to be a teenage mom. You aren’t responsible for that decision. You are the wonderful outcome of that decision. You are right: Your mom’s life changed with that decision, but it changed in a way that brought goodness to her. What if she didn’t have you and she never met your step-father? Or your two siblings were never born? You changed her life but in a good way. Maybe she was headed on a crazy life path and you brought structure and stability to her life. Maybe she was making poor decisions at that time and you helped slow her life down so she was making safer decisions. While you will never know the life path your mom might have traveled had she not gotten pregnant, rest assured that you were meant to be here and that you didn’t take away from your mom’s life; you gave her so much more than she ever imagined.
Have a talk with your mom. Tell her how you feel when you hear her say “It was a huge mistake” even though she follows it with how wonderful you are or that she wouldn’t change a thing. Perhaps once your mom is aware of what you are hearing, she will make a conscious decision to change her response. Let her know that you feel bad that she made a mistake, and you feel like you somehow stopped her from doing what she wanted.
Then stop talking and listen to what your mom says. Really listen and absorb what she says. If she says that you were the best thing that happened to her, believe it. If she tells you that she wouldn’t change anything, believe it. If she says that things were hard but that but it was all worth it, believe that. If she says that you are smarter than she was at your age and that she can’t wait to see you go to college, then believe that she is proud of you and you are bringing joy to her with the life you have ahead. Listen to what she says and what your life has brought to her.
Your mom might struggle a little right now because your age is bringing her back to when she was 15 years old. She is probably a little scared, even though she knows you are two different people. It’s normal. Let your mom know that you have learned from her decisions and that you are strong, determined and wise with your decisions.
You are here for a reason. You are not a mistake. You may have been unplanned, but you are a gift and your life has a purpose. Some of the best things in life are unexpected surprises. We call those miracles.
Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.