Lately I’ve been haunted by Adult Education, a plea published in the Washington Post by a male teacher of 30 years. His request: for the Virginia public high school where he teaches to stop supporting teen moms with daycare centers, tutors and baby showers.
Visions of 8th graders with baby bumps trying to learn algebra and reach into their lockers at nine months pregnant have dogged me since reading his story. I can’t imagine their reality, particularly since I barely survived pregnancy and motherhood even after waiting until I was in my 30s and in a strong career until I had children. But for me the worst part was the image of the teen moms’ dropping their cute little bundles at the Tiny Titans daycare center in a new $100 million building at T.C. Williams High School. In case you were wondering about the cute name for the daycare facility, “Titans” is T.C. Williams’ mascot.
First , I’ve gotta say there is something wrong with a world where pregnant teenagers have easy access to daycare and I don’t. Now I’m in favor of public daycare as widespread as neighborhood fire departments – and yes, supported by our tax dollars. But I waited to have kids. That took decades of self-restraint, boyfriend restraint, and thousands of dollars of birth control. I was careful -- I can count with one finger the time I had unprotected sex (and to be clear here, I started having sex soon after 8th grade and got plenty).
I waited with husband number two until we were ready to have children (okay, until I was ready). Then with all three pregnancies, the nanosecond the pee stick turned positive I rushed to get my baby’s name on the waitlist of good daycare. Finding good daycare in the United States made me feel like I lived in Communist Russia. So much for the chorus of “being a mom is the most important thing you’ll do in your life” I’d been hearing since I was three years old. Once I actually was a mom, our society offered me essentially zero support for being a good mom, especially one who put her children in affordable, quality daycare so that I COULD return to work.
In other words, being a good mom, particularly a responsible working mother, involves a lot of hard, lonely work, self-restraint and good judgment – long before you actually become a mom. Call me crazy, but I think responsible adult moms should get the reward of taxpayer-subsidized daycare long before teen moms do.
I don’t judge teenagers who have babies – at least not in a moralistic, “you bad girl” way. Wait –let me clarify – I don’t judge teenagers who have sex. But using birth control is as mandatory as wearing a seat belt. Any school that offers daycare better offer free birth control and pregnancy counseling. Plus, the school should inflict the real-life punishment of being a parent while you still need a parent equally on boys and girls who make babies while they are still babies themselves. (I can see it now – a science fair project that puts new DNA technology to good use finding the teen dads -- and quickly.)