Preserving customs is important in many families and many parents encourage their children to carry on established traditions. But not all traditions need to be repeated. In this installment of MPR's Young Reporters Series, Jasmyn Taylor tells us how she's bucking the trend in her family -- by not becoming a teenage mother.
By Jasmyn Taylor
Going back at least three generations, nearly every woman in my family was a teen mother. My grandmother, Anita Dempsey, said being a young mom wasn't a surprise.
"In those days, that was the norm," she said. "Being a teenage mother was something that happened on a regular basis. And I think a lot of times people are trying to reverse that, they are trying to make that different for the young girls that come behind us."
It is different. Fewer teens are getting pregnant and having babies. In Minnesota over the past 40 years, the birth rate for girls aged 15-19 has declined by nearly half, according to the state Department of Health -- from 43 births per 1,000 girls in 1970 to 22 per 1,000 for the same age group in 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available.
Even though girls are still getting pregnant, I refuse to be one of them. I'm a senior at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, and the months are moving fast as I prepare for my first year of college at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
My relatives have pressured me my whole life to do well in school, and have made it very clear that if I don't go to college, they will be extremely upset. My mother, Von Howard, is at the top of that list.
"I think that I would be a little disappointed and worried for your future," she said, "because I know that college is very instrumental in a successful life, and a financially successful and stable life. If you didn't go to college, I would worry about your struggle to be stable in life long term."
My mom knows what she is talking about. She delayed going to college because she got pregnant with me at the age of 18. She got a job and moved out of grandma's house, deciding to live on her own. My grandmother offered her support, but Mom refused the help and took full responsibility for me.
Because of that experience, she tried to prevent me from becoming a teen mom by keeping me from dating until I was 17. She thought that I wouldn't have been mature enough for love and all the complications that come with it.
"They are very grownup feelings and topics -- being in love," she said. "I just didn't want you to have to experience that before you were ready to totally take that on."
Waiting to date was frustrating. I think I could have handled a relationship before my senior year. However, I know that right now, I am not ready for motherhood.
Over time, I have seen the women in my family, including aunts and cousins, struggle because they were teenage moms. Most of them were single mothers, trying to support themselves and their babies. Still, all this time, I believed that if I were to become a teen mom, I would receive the same support that mom could have gotten from grandma. But in a surpising conversation with mom, I discovered I was wrong.
"It would be a very different type of support system that I would be for you," she said. "And it would be in a way that would allow you -- or kind of force you -- to be the kind of mother that I was for you without very little help."
I never thought that Mom would give me "tough love." Either way, I don't need that type of support because motherhood is not on my agenda right now. But college is, because I want to be a talk show host. I know that being a young mom would hinder my dreams, as well as my mom's dreams for me.
"I want you to have work that doesn't feel like work. I want you to enjoy what you do in life, so that you can continue to do it without feeling the pressure and the stress of living and making a living," she said.
My mom's dreams are things that she never got. My grandma's dreams for me include children, just not right now.
"I dream that you will accomplish all the goals that you set for yourself like college and having a good job, and getting married and having kids, and just living a good life," she said.
I know without a doubt that college is the next step that will lead to the life my mom and grandma want for me. At the end of it all, I just want to make my family proud.