The deepest human bond is between mother and child. It has a sacred aura. Our instinctive response to mother and her newborn baby is awe and empathy. We view her baby as her own flesh and blood even though the fetus actually was not a part of her body. This response underlies the legal framework that protects family privacy and parental rights. It also means that the image of a baby as a mother’s possession can override recognition that a newborn is a separate human being. As a result, the question of “true mother love” is seldom raised today, as it was in the proverbial wisdom of Solomon:
Two women claimed the same child as their own. Solomon offered to cut the baby in half to settle the dispute. One woman replied she would rather forfeit the child than see him killed. Solomon judged her to be the true child’s mother and awarded her the child.
The core of assessing a mother’s love is whether that love is self or baby oriented. Does she view her baby as her possession or her responsibility? Does she see herself as an owner or a custodian of her baby? Which is foremost: what her baby can do for her or what she can do for her baby? In essence is the baby’s purpose to fulfill her desires or to develop as an autonomous person?
These questions must be raised with adolescents and dependent adults as they consider continuing a pregnancy to childbirth. Are their motives egocentric or centered on the best interests of the unborn child? Although the phrase “in the best interests of the child” is commonly used, too often the phrase “the least detrimental alternative” more accurately describes a given situation. Still our focus now is on the best interests of the newborn baby and the adolescent parent.
Enhancing an Adolescent’s Personal Growth
Approaching pregnancy with a problem-solving attitude can enhance an adolescent’s personal growth. Adolescents can learn how to question and resolve their egocentric desires and gain self-respect and self-confidence in doing so.
Adolescence is a critical time for learning how to resolve personal problems in ways that uncover and serve true self-interests. Self-fulfillment can’t occur without growth in awareness, knowledge, wisdom and long-term planning. Deferring individual wishes and urges for the benefit of others is character building. When adolescents acknowledge that becoming pregnant unintentionally or intentionally was a mistake, they can make decisions that avoid grave consequences for everyone.
The decision-making process can be particularly crucial for dependent persons who are in a position to reverse inter-generational cycles of academic and social failure. They need help seeing that, contrary to their predecessors, they can build self-respect and self-confidence through achievements other than childbirth. They can be empowered to face and master the challenges of adolescence without the responsibilities of parenthood.
A dependent mother’s family is crucial to the course of her pregnancy and its aftermath. A family can choose to assist in childrearing. However, this can be complicated by an adolescent parent’s mental and emotional problems. Family members shouldn’t assume responsibilities for a dependent mother’s baby without having the decision-making authority accorded by legal and physical custodianship of the baby.
Even then, parents of dependent parents can’t be presumed to be competent. Parental involvement might not be desirable when incest, abuse, alcoholism or drug abuse is involved. Intervention might be necessary to obtain a legal and physical custodian for the dependent mother herself and for her baby. A Parenthood Planning Team can assess whether or not relatives are capable of assuming childrearing responsibilities for a dependent mother and for her baby.