What is a teen parent?

To me, it seems to be a name or label given to those who have had a child under the age of 20. To me, it seems like somewhat of a stereotype, as if age puts these people in a different grouping from the rest of the population who have children. To me, ‘teen parent’ seems to be used more often in a negative way, spoken with a change of tone, in a bad manner, and, portrayed, through statistics, as a problem. When hearing the words ‘teen parent’, more often than not people respond in shock or disappointment, they make assumed judgements and unnecessary statements. Just a few examples I have witnessed personally are families and friends turning their backs on young people who have children, and these same young people struggling financially; relying on social welfare and being refused housing because of their ‘situation’. I have heard people state openly that teen parents have no education and will go nowhere in life. Time and time again, I have come across these so-called ‘teen parents’ and a majority of them just lack confidence in themselves, and have been demeaned or diminished by others, because of the fact they have had a child at a younger age. To me, this seems not only unfair, but also inconsiderate and hurtful to see, because the only difference between a ‘normal parent’ and a ‘teen parent’ is age. It makes me think that age is just a number, and what even is ‘normal’?

One of the very few positive ways I have seen the term ‘teen parent’ used is when it adds the extra word to make ‘teen parent school’. Teen parent schools are becoming more and more known and established, they offer these young people, who have children, the opportunity to continue their journey of education. These teen parent schools are immediately unique for the fact that they accommodate for the needs of teen parents, but what makes them even more unique, is the way in which they approach and deliver education. They keep the focus on mainstream NCEA qualifications as well as offer elective subjects and short courses to gain other qualifications and certificates. In addition to this, having smaller sized schools means having fewer numbers in class, which results in better opportunities for one-to-one teacher-student time. This creates an easier, calmer and more comfortable working environment for the students.

I myself am 21 years old, I was 17 when I fell pregnant with my daughter who is now going on 4. When I was first told I was pregnant, I had already dropped out of school and was beginning to take my life downhill. When my whanau heard my news, there was a major sense of disappointment and often embarrassment of me. I was halfway through my pregnancy when a friend told me about this teen parent school called He Matariki, I enrolled there almost immediately.

At first I found it weird going back to school at an older age, and even more so, being surrounded by fewer people, but all who had something in common with me; we were ‘teen parents’. When I started at He Matariki the teachers made me feel comfortable and reassured me that everything was going to be okay, they then went on to discuss with me my short-term as well as long-term goals. We had set that I was to work towards Level 2 and Level 3 NCEA with University Entrance, a year later I had achieved these goals. Studying at He Matariki was both enjoyable and easy, there was an allocated van for students and children. It would pick us up every morning and drop us back off after school; once our babies were 3 months old they attended the childcare right next door. My daughter settled into this childcare very well and thoroughly enjoyed her time there, having the childcare there definitely made leaving my baby and going to school easy for me.

While I was a student at He Matariki, I decided I wanted a career in the health sector. Once I had decided this, the teachers created my own personal timetable that was completely focused around achieving the requirements I needed in order to pursue my career goal. I gained my First Aid certificate and achieved University Entrance with the subjects of Maths, Health, and Biology. When I graduated from He Matariki, I received a big scholarship to go towards my future studies, 6 months later I was accepted into the Bachelor of Nursing programme. I am now halfway through my degree and have so far been achieving this with good grades. Although I have followed my long-term goals of pursuing a career in the health sector, I have now set a more specific goal, I am hoping to gain my nursing degree and specialise in mental health as well as have a focus on Maori health. I hope to work closely with Maori in both a hospital setting as well as in communities and rurally, I then hope to someday take what I learn to other parts of the world and work closely with other smaller ethnic groups.

My daughter, she has grown to be such an intelligent and caring young girl, she speaks both Maori and English very well and is a part of a small Kapa Haka group that performs regularly. From starting childcare at the young age of 3 months while I was at He Matariki, she has become a natural social butterfly and looks forward to going to kindy every day.

Life for my daughter and I started off as a struggle, being labelled as another ‘teen parent’ made it hard for me emotionally, financially, and socially. Three years later, we now have our own home, own car, a supportive and helpful family, and for me most importantly, a settled and stable routine. My daughter goes to day-care every day from 8am-4:30pm, I study full-time as well as have clinical placements that quite often require early morning starts or late night finishes; in these cases my daughter goes to stay with her dad or nana. I am now expecting my second baby in 3 months. Because of this, I have taken 6 months leave from my degree and during this period have picked up a part-time paper in Rongoa Maori Appreciation; this to increase my knowledge in Maori traditions and beliefs in relation to health and wellbeing.

Life for my babies and me at present can be described in 3 simple words; happy, stable, and driven. Where I was back then to where I am now never ceases to amaze me, I am extremely proud of myself and am completely appreciative of all the help I have received, and opportunities I have been given. Studying with a baby would not have been something I would have done if it wasn’t for the He Matariki Teen Parent School, and for this I will be forever grateful. I am proud to be known as a ‘teen parent’, I may be a part of this grouping or statistic but I have proved to many that the common stereotyping and judgements of ‘teen parents’ are wrong. If it wasn’t for my daughter being born when she was, I would not be where I am now as she has been my main motivation and the reason why I strive for the goals I have. One day I will not have to rely on social welfare, I will be able to provide, not only the basics for my babies, but will be able to go the extra mile and give them everything they deserve. On top of this, I hope I can show my children as well as others, that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and that education is always an option, no matter your situation or age.

My life journey began when I became a mum at the age of 17, but my educational journey began when I stepped foot into He Matariki; if I had the chance to change my past, I would not change a thing. Life is near perfect for my babies and me. I am a teen parent, and I love it.