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Teen Pregnancy: Prevention and Support

April 17, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

A pregnant teen holds her baby belly.

All stages of a child’s development have its challenges and the teen years are, by all means, no exception. By now, you have introduced life to your children, guided them as they explored and tried new things, and stood in support through the challenging times they faced. All in hopes that they will make good choices, be successful, and reach their life potential: Plan A. That is all a parent wants for his or her child.

Now that your child is a teenager, you continue to introduce, guide and support his or her growth. You talk about the importance of making good decisions. You’ve discussed topics such as drugs, alcohol, and sex. What about the topic of teen pregnancy?

How do you help prevent your teenager from becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant? In my personal quest for direction, both as a mentor to teenage girls and a parent, I went straight to the source with these questions: teenagers themselves. The main theme in all of their responses was honesty. They want their parents to be honest with them. They don’t want to be lectured or threatened. They want realistic information. They welcome parents having ongoing conversations (examples below) with them about the challenges of parenting:

  • Becoming a teenage parent means you will be responsible for another human being for the rest of your life, even before yourself.
  • It means you may need to leave school, perhaps not go or hold off on going to college. You may have to delay or give up on the career you chose
  • You will need to find the means to financially support your child. What job can you get as a teenager that will allow you to do this?
  • You will need to decide where you want to live. Is the expectation to marry? Is the expectation to live with your parents?

So you’ve done everything you feel you could have to prepare your teenager. How will you, as a parent, address this issue, should it occur? Again, I asked. The overwhelming answer was again that they wouldn’t want to be lectured or threatened. They would want love, support, and understanding. They know they have disappointed you. They again welcome parents having conversations with them about Plan B:

  • Show him or her what a supportive parent you can be.
  • Help him or her to stay in school. Education is key to your child’s success.
  • Help your child create a budget to manage the care of his or her child. Can you help?
  • Help him or her determine where is the best place to live and where is the best place to raise a child. Can she or he remain at home until graduation?

While U.S. teen pregnancy rates are decreasing, teen pregnancy is a reality that parents need to consider. Just because you speak to your child about pregnancy does not mean that you are encouraging sexual activity. Your teenager may appear not to want to hear your perspective, but having ongoing conversations may prove successful in getting him or her to the finish line.

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My Story: Choosing a Daycare

March 18, 2014

By Ana Vela

Ana's sonogram

My husband and I live 1200 miles away from our families, work full-time jobs, and are expecting our first child. I never imagined that I wouldn’t have family nearby to help us raise our child. Growing up, my mother raised my siblings and I herself. As a grandmother, she has helped raise my two nieces. Naturally, I had planned for her to help raise our child as well.

I thought this was only common where I grew up, but I was surprised to discover that the U.S. Census Bureau indicates 49 percent of children ages 0–4 with employed mothers were still cared for by a relative. Only 24 percent were in a center-based care facility. It is nice seeing how common it still is to have relatives help with childcare. Since that is not an option for us, we really didn’t know where to begin our search. Here’s what I learned from trying to figure this out.

Discuss what you’re looking for.
Before we started searching, my husband and I decided that we needed to be on the same page about what we want in childcare. We came up with a list of what we are looking for:

  • Budget-friendly childcare
  • English and Spanish language accommodations during care (it’s important for us to promote bilingualism with our child)
  • Convenience and flexibility (hours, location, emergency plan)
  • A welcoming, diverse, friendly, and safe environment

Start researching ASAP. 
I quickly discovered that some childcare facilities have waiting lists now for care that starts in July! Start your search six months prior to needing the care. Ask other parents for recommendations either in person or in online forums, read online reviews, and drive around to find nearby locations.

Look at available resources. 
I discovered that many states have nonprofit organizations that provide online lists of quality childcare resources and referrals in your area. Many of the lists include information such as accreditations, ratings, and years of service. If your employer offers any kind of benefits for childcare, talk to them for information. My husband’s company hosted a childcare fair where he met with several daycare centers to ask questions and get rates.

Understand care options. 
Through research, we discovered there were several options for childcare (listed in order from least to most expensive):

  • At-home daycare
  • Off-site daycare facilities
  • Au pair or nanny services (an au pair is a foreign visitor who lives with you and provides childcare)

Know your budget and stick to it. 
Some employers offer benefits such as flexible spending accounts for childcare, matching contributions, discounts, and priority placement on waitlists at certain daycares. This information helped my husband and I set a budget for childcare. We want to choose care that’s within our budget to ensure we are not stressed over finances and that we have a safety cushion for emergencies.

Visit the options. 
I learned that many sites allow one free day of care for your evaluation. Take advantage and schedule tours to ask questions. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • Are you accredited by NAEYC?
  • Do you accommodate cloth diapers or only disposable?
  • How do I provide breast milk for my child?
  • What is the child-to-teacher ratio?

Choosing childcare is a big decision and we are very nervous about it. We still have several visits to make before we make a final decision, but as long as we stay true to our list of needs and wants, we are confident we will make the right choice.

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Couple Chat: Gender Roles

March 3, 2014

By Ana and Mario Vela

Ana and Mario Vela

Photography by Jennifer Schaffer Photography

In the Couple Chat series, we pose one or two topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s response and the couple discusses their thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion together in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked expectant parents Ana and Mario Vela about gender roles. Here’s what they said.

What traditional gender roles do you feel are important to honor with your child, if any? Why?

Ana: Growing up, gender roles were very prominent. The ones I enjoyed seeing celebrated the strength of the mother of the family. The mother tends to get the family unit together, and all members would respectfully obey their mothers’ wishes.

My daughter will be free to choose to live whatever life she wants, and I want her to feel confident and demand respect wherever she is. Women tend to be seen as a source of knowledge and compassion, and I would like to instill that in my daughter as well. She should learn to be thoughtful in the decisions she makes, and understand how it impacts others.

Mario: Before we knew we would be having a girl, we both always thought we would have a boy. One of my concerns was not having a traditional father figure. I created my archetype of a father figure through a collection of influences from role models and family influencers.

Now that we’re having a girl, I need to reflect on what my daughter will need from me as a father. I feel I have to be an even stronger figure for a daughter. I felt content and ready to be an example for a son, but I now have to be even better for my daughter. I need to reformulate my idea of a role model and use both male and female examples. For instance, my grandmother, who fought and led her life the way she wanted, is an example of a strong role model for my daughter.

What traditional gender roles do you want to ignore with your child, if any? Why?

Ana: Growing up in the Latino culture, there were several things I disliked about gender roles. My father constantly pushed me away anytime I wanted to spend any quality time with him. Several times I requested to go fishing with him and my brother, asked to help him fix the car, or just sit and watch some of his favorite western movies with him. He refused and would say that I was a girl and that I should be in the kitchen helping my mother.

That’s what I ended up doing—all the activities that were expected of me as a female: cooking, cleaning, playing with dolls, and wearing dresses. I ended up resenting it growing up, which caused friction between my mother and I as I constantly challenged these roles my parents and society were placing me in.

When I found out we were having a girl, I was excited that I had the opportunity to challenge gender roles with my daughter. I do not want her to experience these situations that only caused me heartache and confusion. As an adult, I am very grateful for the life skills my mother taught me. I just wish it had been something I wanted to learn, not a forced expectation of me.

Mario: Many times I’m at a loss for what a woman should strive to be. I always felt my son was going to have a responsibility to be a good man. I still struggle with what it means to be a good woman. Fortunately, I married Ana.
 
How do you think you can honor and ignore those roles when raising your child?

Ana: I think the best way to honor and ignore these roles with my daughter will be through not pointing them out at all. Modeling positive behavior and not limiting her interactions with either my husband or I should demonstrate to my daughter the best way we’d like her to interact with others and us.

I can’t imagine having any kind of conversation with my daughter in which I tell her that she has to be a certain way because she is a girl and not a boy. Now that my parents are grandparents and are helping raise my two nieces, I can definitely see that they have relaxed a bit regarding gender roles. I’m hoping that by adding another girl to the family, they will focus more on encouraging them to be strong, responsible, smart women, and encourage any interests they may have.

Mario: I want my daughter to learn from the strength and passion of my grandmother. I want her to learn of the irrational success of Ana. How she has become an amazing social climber, regardless of the poverty and abuse she faced, the limitations placed on her, the poor education she received, and the environment she lived in, all while being a woman. Ana is an amazing role model.

I can honor the positive gender roles by providing examples and a strong archetype of both men and women who help society, help their families, and help others. I can also teach her to care for herself and to understand the inherent value she possesses as a person.
 
I can teach her to understand the limitations of others and to not let them affect her own sense of self, her progress, and her potential to improve this world and the world around her.
 
Reflection
Ana: Mario and I always thought that we were going to have a boy. This made Mario very comfortable, and me secretly uncomfortable. Since we found out we were actually having a girl, Mario has been worried about this role and I have felt very secure.

In this exercise, Mario expressed that he needs to be an even better father now that we’re having a daughter. We both agree that we want our daughter to feel strong and confident, and not be confronted with limitations.

I was surprised to discover that we both are worried about some of the interactions our daughter will have with our families, as they still engage in some of the gender roles that we do not want to promote with her. Mario wants to utilize his grandmother and myself as role models for our daughter. On the other hand, he was very surprised with my answer that gender roles do not have to be pointed out to our daughter at all. And he agreed with that concept.

Through this emotional exercise, I finally understand why I wanted to have a daughter – because I now have the opportunity to change the definition of gender roles with her. And now I also understand why Mario wanted a son – because growing up without a father, he wanted to change that experience into a positive one with a son.

Mario and I have both used our anger, frustrations, and struggles growing up to drive us to the successful lives we now live. Although that helped my success, I do not want my daughter’s success to be out of anger. I would rather her success be out of empowerment and through us as positive role models.

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A New Parent’s Guide to Taking Care of YOU

January 15, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

A new mom cares for her baby

It has been my personal experience that when we become mothers, we instinctively become selfless. We focus on our child wholeheartedly, attempting to make his or her world perfect in every aspect. We read every parenting book we can find, research nutrition that will maximize our child’s development, and are ready for every doctor’s visit. Our child’s health and development is and will remain a priority for decades to follow until the cycle of life runs its course. But what about you? Are you prioritizing your health and your continued development? Are you reading, researching your nutrition, and preparing for your doctor’s visits with the same focus and priority that you dedicate to your child? In my experience, probably not.

I have been a parent for twenty-three years now. I have watched my two children grow into amazing, independent beings. I have been witness to their successes and their struggles, their joys and their sadness. I know that I could not have supported their development as well as I have if I had not taken the time to focus on me. By taking care of my overall health (mental and physical), I was able to participate in their lives to the fullest as the best parent I could be.

  • Simple things such as personal grooming, exercise, and social activities helped fight the reality of a post-pregnancy body (which no one tells you about) and the many emotions that come with parenting.
  • During the first months it is suggested that you establish a routine for your baby. Why not establish a routine for you and your baby? When he or she naps, exercise, take a shower, dress for the day (no sweats, no pajamas), or eat a nutritional snack. You would be surprised how far this goes towards your post-pregnancy survival and establishing a strong, consistent parenting style.
  • As you look toward reaching milestones with your child, establish milestones for yourself to reach along the way as well. Take time to reflect on what you want for yourself now that you are a parent. How will you manage your life while being responsible for the development of another?

Once you discover those things that will bring balance to your mental and physical health, you will instinctively be the best parent you can be. Whether you are staying home on leave or will remain home, establishing this routine for both of you from the start will shape you and your child’s relationship for the years to come.



Nely Bergsma is the co-founder and executive director of the Penedo Charitable Organization (PCO). Nely co-founded PCO, along with her sister and our program author Sunny P. Chico, to support at-risk girls in the same Chicago neighborhood where she and her sisters grew up. PCO works with teachers, psychologists, and social workers to mentor at-risk girls from sixth grade through high school, providing full scholarships to those who complete the program. Founded in 2009, PCO now serves 40 girls, adding 10 new participants to the PCO family each year.

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