Recognize what your teen is going through
When your teen becomes a parent, it might seem like everyone's life has turned upside down. You might have thought that you were almost done with raising a child, and now there will be a new baby in your life. As hard as this experience may be for you, keep in mind that life is going to get even harder for your teen, as she will have to grow up fast. Your teen needs you more than ever as her life becomes a roller coaster of physical changes, additional responsibilities and a different lifestyle.
What you can do to help yourself and your teen adjust
Acknowledge your own feelings. Although it is important for you to be supportive of your teen, it is okay for you to feel disappointed and even angry if this isn't the life you had dreamed of for your child. Some parents even feel guilty, but remember that your teen becoming pregnant does not mean that you are a bad parent. It might be helpful for you to talk to someone about your feelings and emotions. Your teen likely has enough physical and emotional stress with the arrival of the baby, so try not to take any frustration you have out on him or the baby.
Make a plan and stick to it. It will help both you and your child if you decide early on how much support you are able to give both physically and financially. However, you can provide unlimited emotional support and empower your child to make a plan to take care of the baby. Estimate how much things will cost and create a budget. Help your child find and use resources in your community, such as child care vouchers, WIC, parenting groups, and health insurance for her and the baby. Find out if there is a home visiting program for teen and/or first time parents in your area.
Support your adolescent as a parent. Having raised a child who is now a teen, you may think you know best and may be tempted to take over or say something when you think your child is doing something the wrong way. However, it won't help your child become a good parent if you don't let him figure things out for himself. So unless you think the baby is in danger, let your child figure out how to do some of the basic things like calm the baby when he's crying, and encourage your child to ask questions of the baby's pediatrician and look through parenting resources. Praise your child when you see him doing something well, which can help to boost his confidence as a parent and promote his connection with his baby.
Let your teen be a teen. Though your child now has new responsibilities, the milestones that happen during the teen years only take place once in your child's life, so encourage and support her in attending things like the prom with her peers. Having a baby likely has narrowed her circle of friends, especially if she has put school on hold, so encourage her to keep in touch with the friends she is still close to. She may feel like she does not have anything in common anymore with her old friends, so encourage her to make some new ones by helping her find groups in your community for new and/or young parents.
Remember that your role as a grandparent is an important one. No matter what your feelings are toward your child or the situation, remember that grandparents play a very important role in children's lives. While parents can get caught up in everyday stresses, grandparents tend to have a more relaxed relationship with their grandchildren. Children who grow up having a strong, positive relationship with their grandparents generally have higher self-esteem and are better able to form their own healthy relationships later in life. This is a great opportunity for you to relax and enjoy the fun aspects of parenting and watch this new child grow.
Recognize the role of your grandchild's other parent. Young children need both parents in their lives. It may not be appropriate to push your teen into an unwanted marriage, and raising a child in a situation where parents do not wish to be together is not healthy for the child. However, your grandchild will benefit from having the strong and consistent presence of both parents in her life, even if they do not live together. So, encourage your child to include the baby's other parent and extended family in sharing the responsibility of caring for your grandchild and celebrating the many milestones of her growth and development together.
For more information on the rights of teen parents in Massachusetts, please visit the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy.