See also Mom, Dad, I'm Pregnant....
It is normal for parents to have strong feelings about their daughter’s pregnancy. As parents your first priority is to protect your daughter and her future. It is normal to feel worried, sad, angry, or frightened. What you say to your daughter (or son) who is dealing with an unexpected pregnancy is very important--your child needs you now and your involvement is valuable.
There are times in all of our lives when we have something important to share, but we can’t find the words, or the courage, to share it. Right now, your daughter needs your help and support. Your first reactions may be shock, anger, disappointment, sadness, and fear. You may have suspected for a while or you may have asked and she may have denied. Teenagers, especially, use denial when faced with circumstances that seem overwhelming. And, you may be feeling overwhelmed, too. If you have another adult with whom you can talk and share your strong feelings, it will help. After your initial reactions, which you may want to keep private, you will be searching inside yourself for understanding, patience and compassion. Remember, your daughter has chosen to come to you with this crisis. Now you must decide how you will respond to her display of trust.
The following contains some helpful advice for parents to help you understand and support your daughter.
Listening To Your Daughter
The single most important thing you can do is listen to what your daughter says about how she feels. It is very important that your daughter feels comfortable making the decision and that she feels that she is the primary decision-maker. This may mean that you need to take a step back and let her think this through. Of course, you will eventually tell her what you think and how her decision will affect you, but understand that this must truly be her decision. Let her explore how she feels first.
It is tempting to want to blame someone – your daughter, the boy involved, or even yourself. However, there is little point in approaching a pregnancy decision in a punishing manner. It won’t make things any better, and it won’t improve your daughter’s self-esteem, a crucial factor in sound decision making. Chances are she feels pretty bad about herself right now and is looking to you for encouragement and support.
If your daughter’s pregnancy is truly the result of an unwilling encounter, such as rape or incest, please get help for her from a rape crisis center or crime victims help center. For more help see The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network or the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Website.
Most parents want to blame the young man involved with your daughter in this pregnancy. Be careful not to set up a hostile situation that drives your daughter to rebellion. This is a time for support and guidance. In some cases, parent-to-parent conversation can be helpful.
While most women feel relieved after making their decision, many continue to experience other feelings like sadness, loss, anger or guilt. It is helpful to know the warning signs of poor coping:
1. Loss of appetite or eating more than usual
2. Not being able to sleep or sleeping all the time
3. Unable to concentrate, suddenly doing poorly in school
4. Crying a lot. Unable to be with people.
5. Cutting herself off from friends, staying in her room constantly
6. Not caring about her looks or what she wears
7. Excessive anger or irritability
8. Hinting about suicide or talking about death
In addition, women are at higher risk for emotional problems in these situations:
A boyfriend who has left her; a relationship breakup
A parent who won’t let her see her boyfriend
If she has been emotionally or physically abused
If there has been a recent death or other trauma in her life.
If she has chosen abortion and her religion says abortion is morally wrong
If she blames someone else and cannot take responsibility for her decision.
If the pregnancy was wanted
It is important to be available to her throughout the abortion experience. Review her aftercare instructions and make sure she is taking her medicines correctly. Give her opportunities to talk about her feelings about this experience and how she is thinking about it. If you observe any of the signs of poor coping and they are not getting better, call the clinic or a mental health agency in your town.
How Are You Doing?
As a parent, your feelings are important, too. Here are some common ones:
Sadness. Your sadness is a sign of your concern. Frequently, this experience can help her “grow up” and understand life a little more maturely.
Remember to assure your daughter you love her and be honest and tell her that the conversations you will have now may be broader, may be more intimate, and may be less comfortable at first. But trust – keep talking. Don’t pretend this never happened. Let this be a growing point for you – and her.
Anger. You have the right to feel anger and it may be helpful for you to find another adult to talk to. Name-calling and criticism don’t prevent future mistakes.
Make time to talk when tempers are calm –and listen. Don’t give up on her.
Rejected. Your daughter may have made a different choice than you would have, and she may have different ideas of morality, but she hasn’t rejected you. She is just making a choice that is best for her at this time in her life.
Speaking with a trusted friend or your spiritual advisor may help you support your daughter and yourself. You may want to read the thoughts of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice or Catholics for A Free Choice.
Protective. No parent can know what their children are doing 24 hours a day. If you shelter her, you will only cripple her ability to make good choices for her life.
Hurt and betrayed. You might think a trust has been broken and it’ll take time to mend it. Continue to talk, give it the time and effort needed.
Failure. No parent can be totally responsible for their children’s behavior – good or bad. You can only teach and guide. Sometimes, experience is the best teacher.
This is a challenging time – it can be a growing time and your new relationship really can be deeper and better.
Confused and defeated. You did nothing wrong, you did your best. Now you can try to help her.
Disappointment. You thought she knew better. Try to remember a time when you disappointed your parents and what you needed from them then. Tell her she is still your daughter and that you love her.
This section adapted from: “After Her Abortion” for Parents, Male Partners, and Friends,” by Anne Baker, The Hope Clinic for Women, Granite City, IL and from “Pregnancy Options Workbook” Peg Johnston, ed., and “Especially for Parents” Northland Family Planning Centers.
For more resources, go to www.ChoiceLinkup.com.