On the campaign trail, Barack Obama famously told a Pennsylvania audience that if his daughters had sex as teenagers, he wouldn’t want them “punished with a baby.”
The message was clear: babies ruin your life.
I was 16 when I found a now-famous poem she wrote comparing me to various calamities that struck and impeded the lives of other women writers. Virginia Woolf was mentally ill and the Brontes died prematurely. My mother had me – a ‘delightful distraction’, but a calamity nevertheless. I found that a huge shock and very upsetting.
This idea permeates our culture: children are an inconvenience, an obstacle, sometimes even a curse or a calamity. It is in this climate that teen mom Bristol Palin filmed a public service announcement about the struggles of teen motherhood.
Staring forlornly into the camera, she says:
What if I didn’t come from a famous family? What if I didn’t have all their support? What if I didn’t have all these opportunities?
Believe me, it wouldn’t be pretty.
Pause … before you play.
Apparently you should keep your legs crossed (Candie’s Foundation’s preferred method of birth control) if you’re poor, don’t have family support, or are not a celebrity. What a despicable, classist approach.
Nonsense. Bristol Palin’s acknowledgment that her circumstances give her an edge isn’t classist, it’s honest.
But I wonder if this Candies Foundation ad goes too far in demonizing motherhood. There’s a fine line between “teen pregnancy is less than ideal” and “motherhood ruins your life,” and I’m not sure this PSA strikes the appropriate balance.
It doesn’t discourage the behavior that leads to teen pregnancy as much as it warns of the nightmare of teen motherhood. And when the children of unintended pregnancies are perceived as life-ruining burdens, abortion starts to sound less like a choice and more like a foregone conclusion.
We don’t want to glamorize teenage parenting, but is it helpful to portray it as an insurmountable challenge or intolerable burden?
Yes, the situation is not ideal for teen parents. But it’s challenging, not impossible. It doesn’t have to be as bleak, empty, and joyless as portrayed in the ad. As tough as teen parenthood can be, it’s a far cry from the ugly scenario Bristol depicts.