I was a teen parent, and for the last 18 years, I’ve been trying to keep my sons from walking down the same road as I did. Finding my sons' Achilles' heel when it came to deterring them from unprotected sex wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped. However, I struck gold when I brought the almighty dollar into the conversation.
When I was a young, stupid teenager, I thought having a baby was like having a dog. You took care of it (easy) and it grew up (even easier). I was so dumb that when I finally did become a mom at 17, I genuinely thought having enough diapers and baby shampoo was all I needed to do the job.
Obviously, that ignorance was put in check the day my son came home from the hospital. But trying to convey that message to my own kids was like trying to reason with a toddler: impossible. They’d nod their heads and agree while looking off into space, and I knew that my message wasn’t hitting home.
My husband tried talking to them about the importance of being a father and how it takes sacrifice and unconditional love. He might as well have been the teacher in an episode of Peanuts, because I’m sure all our kids could hear was “wawawa.”
Things got more desperate when my son began dating a girl a few years older than he was. I had to find a way to stave off his raging hormones, and it seemed nothing I said (not even explosive diapers or herpes) worked.
That’s when the idea of child support popped into my head.
“You know,” I told my son, “if you make a baby, you are required by law to take care of that baby until he or she turns 18.”
My son said “Yeah,” but I still didn’t think he understood.
“You have to pay money every month to the child’s mother, even if you can’t stand her a year from now. It’s not cheap, either. And guess what? Your dad and I will NOT pay it for you,” I said.
I had his attention now. I remembered my sister-in-law telling me that her ex-husband hadn’t paid his child support, which for two children was around $600 per month. Knowing that child-support costs varied by state and by income, I used her payments as an example.
“It can be $300 per month or more for one child. And that’s not including what you pay when you are taking care of that baby, which you will because I didn’t raise a deadbeat,” I said.
My son’s eyes were wide. At 15, $300 a month was an enormous sum.
“If you drop out of high school to get a job, many employers won’t want to hire you because they'll see you as a quitter. And if you go to school and work, it’s going to be really hard to have enough money every month to take care of the baby and to pay your child support,” I said.
My son was counting on his fingers, trying to do the math.
“Oh hell no,” he replied. “I am not going to get someone pregnant!”
My youngest son, who had been privy to the conversation, was in full agreement.
“Yeah, forget that,” he said.
“You’ve got to remember: Even condoms aren't 100 percent safe. Don’t have sex with someone if you don’t want her to be the mother of your child. Think about it,” I said.
To date, my oldest is now a grown-up and managed to not get anyone pregnant (woohoo!) and my youngest is a year and five months away from legal adulthood without having made me a grandmother (so far). I’d say this is a roaring success. I’m so grateful my sons are greedy scrooges who hate the idea of spending hundreds of dollars per month on a child. Baby mama drama: averted.
As parents, we can't be afraid of important conversations, and we should keep trying to find the bullseye that will keep our children from making dumb mistakes in the future.