With the help of our local pregnancy center, I established a list of what was most important to keep in mind when coming alongside a teen parent.
Where do you start this process? Once she is committed to life, begin to expose her to six areas that may be unfamiliar to most teenagers:
- Social Services (with a twist)
- Spiritual Encouragement
- Education Options
- Community Awareness
- Care and Concern
- Support Emphasis
Wrapping around a teen parent will involve guiding wisdom, generous amounts of spiritual insight, as well as an understanding of the vast array of social services and guidance in community awareness… Oh, and a lot of care.
The hope is to address and meet this young mother’s needs by utilizing all these areas of service that already exist around her.
Help mom jump through the hoops of social services. Bring the social services to her. Monthly group meetings highlighting local, state, and federal resources benefit your clients, as well as bringing a vast array of networking opportunities your center’s way. Imagine for a moment you’re a teenager, trying to sort through medical papers and legal jargon. Help mom see the benefits to these services by empowering her to make choices. Start with identifying the services available to her. Sort through them, and piece together those with the best-suited benefits.
If your center offers a packet of resources available in your area, that’s a great start… But, what if you take it one step further?
What if you offer to go through that packet of information with this client? What if you arrange a follow-up, educational, session to equip her with all the information she needs?
The Twist… Give Back!
The twist to Social Services is training your clients to give back. When we eat too much, we get full. Too much candy causes tooth decay and tummy aches. Ask any 5-year-old after Halloween. Too much of anything generally leads to trouble.
Giving back is a powerful teaching tool. If we dismiss giving back as an educational-teaching tool, we completely miss out on the blessing that comes with giving. There is growth and maturity that transpires in giving. There is something powerful in saying, "I gave to someone else. I was useful, and I helped."
We only need to remember a time when the Lord used us to help another, and how satisfying it was to have been used. The principle of giving transcends understanding. Teach your teen clients to give back now and they will reap the benefits.
To mentor someone means to come alongside them as a wise, trusted guide. How do you mentor a teen mom or dad? Gently, by the hand. You cannot force a teenager to do anything. A shepherd (or a mentor) diligently looks after his and quickly responds to any lost lambs. He gently curbs them back to the flock and leads them (Matthew 18:10-14).
Ultimately, we must remember your client is a teenager, a child in her own right. She does not need our judgment. She needs our love and support. Teen parents need to know they can be forgiven. They may or may not know the acts they have committed were sinful, but they will most likely feel the shame others place upon them.
Teens will not listen to your words with as much attention as they will watch your actions. Moving in love towards mom will motivate change quicker than mere words. If your actions toward here are loving, she will not expect you to be "up" on the latest texting fad or care that you don’t understand all the functions on your Smartphone.
Concern can be felt when you enter the room. How is your presence perceived? How would she feel when you entered the room? Would she feel judgment or embrace?
Your teen parent will need help exploring her educational options. Make your center staff and volunteers aware of local high school programs. A director who’s savvy in these areas will be able to make options available for clients.
Contact your local High School and request a collaboration meeting, looking for various networking opportunity such a meeting would present. Initially, there may not be a warm reception to this idea, depending on the department's worldview. But go into this meeting prepared, with your agenda in hand.
What questions do teen parents ask regarding education? Are there established plans in place for teen parents? What educational options do teen dads have, if any? How can both entities—the school and your center—work together for the betterment of the teens?
Are there resources you can provide, or ways you can both partner together to encourage academic success during the teen parents’ high school and college years?
Even if these meetings are not pleasant, keep in mind that an educational advocate is needed for teens in several arenas. Your center represents that for teen parents!
Are there other resources centers can provide for additional support? Creatively structure a child-free study hall time, manned with knowledgeable volunteers who are willing to assist with homework. You can also consider dedicating one night a week to a homework-help hotline for teen parents. Reaching out in the educational realm will broaden your scope, and has the potential to draw more teens from the community.
I am currently working with a creative bunch to lead a single mom's ministry within our church. Our reoccurring discussion is, "How do we advertise this group and offer support to the community and families at-large without isolating or offending single-parent households?"
We want to be sensitive so they do not feel put forth for judgment. Our goal is to wrap love around them and provide them with unique services. I am learning a great deal about my approach to these women through a friend who is also a single parent. Single moms do not necessarily choose this option. It's a lot of tough work. Many are alone, making hope out of less-than-hopeful situations.
As a church, we do not want to error in our approach to love them. Since I am not a single parent, it takes effort on my part to more accurately relate to and understand single parents. I must educate myself through resources and other women. That's exactly it! Awareness does take work!
Are you and your center willing to exert yourselves to really get to know these young moms? Are you willing to walk in her shoes in full view of both Christian and Non-Christian communities made up of judges who focus only on her sin and mistakes?
Are you willing to advocate for them?
One of the teenage moms I interviewed expressed through tears the shame and judgment she experienced firsthand from her school nurse. The hurtful words expressed were written across this young woman's face and proven in her tears.
How does your center promote a healthy outlook for teen parents in your community? First, it begin with you, your staff, and volunteers by renewing your commitment to teen parents. Activate this commitment by hosting focused annual workshops and trainings on community awareness for local churches, the community at-large (i.e., local public libraries), as well as local school boards.
Continual training and awareness-raising actively pursues the hearts of these young women and educate others on ways to support them. Providing trainings for the community and for churches exposes the teen parents' struggles and the reality of these situations. It may also be useful to attract donors for your cause.
Go with the hearts of these young mothers in mind, and anxiously wait upon the Lord to provide wisdom, acceptance, love, and the potential of new funding.
Care & Concern
View the development of care and concern as a flower. Every flower starts with a seed. When properly planted, growth is likely to occur.
Fostering care and concern starts the moment the client enters your building. Offer the teen parent support, resources, and supplies. Pray this seedling germinates into deep roots once authentic care, legitimate concern, and plenty of prayer permeate her life.
When mom knows you actually care about her, the relationship you offer can grow. Research has a lot to say about the client/volunteer relationship (or whoever works closest to her), suggesting the client/volunteer relationship can be more important than anything discussed. Use your relationship with mom as a training model. Chances are, she may have poor interpersonal skills and her relationships may need major repairs. The client/volunteer bond can be used as a guide for her to cultivate healthier friendships with others.
Growth brings change, and we know that true change only comes from the Holy Spirit. Pray she fixes her mind upon Him (Hebrews 12:2), and He changes old mindsets (Ephesians 4:20-24). He can make all things new!
Offer to help put a support plan in place. Who are her current support people? These are the dominant figures involved in her life. Creating a support plan allows you to know the valuable people in her life. It also gives her the opportunity to establish a list of people to access. Good or bad, this list will quickly tell you a lot about her current status and situation.
Does she have people who support her? What roles do these people serve? Where is she lacking in support? What needs still exist? A support plan provides her with needed resources, including people resources.
Bringing it Home
When mentoring teen parents, take an honest evaluation of the services your center currently provides. Consider restructuring or increasing your existing services to fully experience success. Think outside the box when given the opportunity to do life with teens.
All the while, keep in mind the truth that our God is not limited by your resources or skills. He will be blessed as you work for "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40). Thank you for serving!
Rebecca Dawson is author of "Help! I'm a Mom-To-Be!", which gives a comprehensive view for creating a support plan and offers greater detail and application on these discussed topics.