Just in case you were fooled into believing that society as a whole has accepted that some people have babies young, think again.
I was starting to feel increasingly positive, actually. I see a lot less cries of “TEENS HAVING BABIES FOR A FREE COUNCIL HOUSE!”, and a lot more support for young parents. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a funny look or a pointed comment suggesting that I’m “too young” to have an 18 month old – I was really starting to wonder if maybe we’re beyond that now (or perhaps the bigots are all too busy condemning refugees and the working class to care too much about a few 20 year olds popping out sprogs).
This post has been rattling around in my head for a while now, but I think it’s something that needs saying, because we can’t become complacent. We can’t think that there’s still no stigma against young parents, because there is.
A couple of weeks ago, my brother and sister won awards, and we went to their school – my old secondary school – to see them receive their prizes. We also made the most of the opportunity to see some of my old teachers, most of whom were absolutely lovely and made a fuss of SB, and didn’t bat an eyelid when they found out I had a baby (although many of them had been told by my brother and sister already).
However, one of my old teachers approached – before seeing the toddler in my arms, making a scoffing sound of disgust, rolling her eyes and walking away. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what she was saying, because she’d never made much attempt to hide her contempt for young parents even when I was a pupil there. To see it so blatantly, though, was a little bit of a culture shock.
I could blame the area. The school is in a very rural, religious area, whereas we now live in a big town with a fairly low average age for people to have their first baby, and no huge expectation on people to be married first. But the rest of the teachers didn’t scoff or roll their eyes. They didn’t make it clear that they were judging me. So I don’t think we can say it’s the fault of the area, or the school, or anything but the teacher’s own prejudices and opinions.
It’s hard, when you’re faced with that kind of reaction. In a way, the people who roll their eyes and walk away are harder to deal with than those who judge you to your face. If she’d come up to me and said “Oh god, not another feckless young mum”, I could’ve told her about my first class degree, my intention of doing a masters degree, my successful blog and the book I’m writing and the other things I’ve achieved as a younger mum. Because she walked away, I had no chance to defend myself.
Of course, I could be projecting. She could have just been unhappy to see me in general (I was a bit of a shit at times in secondary school). However, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that she smiled at me, until she saw SB in my arms. I don’t think it takes a genius to work out why she reacted the way she did.
But I don’t need to defend myself to people like her, and nor does any young parent. Yes, it’s tough having to bite your tongue and let people walk away thinking they’ve won, but you know that they are wrong. It’s not a debate, it’s not a matter of opinion – they are wrong, and you know it. That’s the important thing.
So I didn’t let this experience get me down. Instead, I used it as a learning curve. It has reminded me that the stigma against young parents is still very real and very prevalent, and there’s still a lot of work to do to educate ignorant people. It’s made me concerned that someone like that is teaching young people, but as long as she’s not leading hate campaigns against young parents in between classes, her personal views are her own and she’s perfectly entitled to them.
Hopefully one day, people will know better than to make silly assumptions about young parents. Until that day, however, all we can really do is remember that while ignorance may be bliss, it is not an attractive trait, and says a whole lot more about the holder of the beliefs, than it does about you.