A recent report by the Children's Commissioner named several groups of children who "put their futures at risk with their actions". Included in this list are the 36,000 mothers aged 19 and under who are living with their children. As you can imagine, I have a problem with this.
Three years ago, I was one of these mothers. I was nineteen when I gave birth to my daughter, and I lived with her - and her dad - in a flat in our university town. By doing this, according to the Children's Commissioner, I was putting my future at risk.
Perhaps it's clumsily worded, or perhaps it's a thinly-veiled suggestion that the best thing for younger mums is to live separately to their children. Are we supposed to ship them off to live with grandparents and be raised as our siblings, like they did in the "good old days" of the 50s and 60s? Or are we supposed to rush to the local adoption agency in our thousands and relinquish our children, lest they destroy our futures?
Has the Children's Commissioner considered that perhaps our futures wouldn't be at risk if educators and employers were more supportive of students who are pregnant or have parenting responsibilities? I was lucky and went to a university that couldn't have done more for me; I've heard from plenty of other student parents who weren't as fortunate. At best, the support they received was half-hearted and mediocre. At worst, they were pressured to the point of leaving.
I am also lucky in now having an understanding employer, and knowing that if I wanted to, I could ask for family-friendly hours. Finding a job that is automatically family-friendly is like searching for a needle in a haystack, and many employers expect employees to work for a long time before any flexible hours requests would even be considered. This is fine if you're coming back from maternity leave to a company you've worked at for ten years beforehand. It's not so easy if you're a young mum walking into your first proper job.
Perhaps the biggest risk to our future is the stigma we face. Young mums quickly become adept at recognising the look that says. "Wow, you look a little young to have a three year old". I always feel compelled to take people on a whistle-stop tour of my life since having a baby - the first-class degree, the blog, the budding career (see, I'm doing it now!). It's a clamouring to show this total stranger - look, I became a mum at nineteen, but this is all the stuff I've done since then to make up for it!
To make up for it.
No mum should ever feel compelled to "make up for" having her baby, and yet this is something young mums face - often unconsciously - on a regular basis. We rush to reassure people that we're not like those young mums, we're not like the ones you see on the telly (I had to stop using that one after I appeared on the telly about being a young mum), we're different. We try our hardest to show them that "different" means "better".
This isn't something we want to do. It isn't something we consciously choose to do. It's something, somewhere inside us, that compels us to do it because otherwise, they'll write us off as just another teen mum. Just another young person whose actions put her future at risk.
One has to wonder whether, in a report designed to identify the children at risk and in need of support, putting forward these groups who put themselves at risk with their actions - the onus being very much on these young people to stop putting themselves at risk, rather than employers, educators, agencies and services putting plans in place to aid and assist them, will do more harm than good. Would you read that report, as - for example - a seventeen year old mum, and think, "This isn't good, I need to do more to make sure my future isn't at risk" - or would you read it and think. "Great, so because I've had a baby and I'm doing the best I can to be a good mum to it, I'm putting my future at risk. I might as well not bother".
Spoiler alert: it's going to be the second option.
Still, if they feel that young people take risks in becoming parents, that's their opinion. If the report results in more support and encouragement for young parents, and better education about contraception and safe sex, I'm all for it. If they could do it without shaming the 36,000 young parents mentioned in the report, it'd be better, but you can't have everything.
In 2013, I put my future at risk by becoming pregnant at nineteen. In 2017, I am married to my daughter's father, I have a first-class degree, and I am at the start of what I hope will be a long career in the ambulance service.
I may have taken a risk, but that's a risk I'd be willing to take all over again.Suggest a correction