It’s simple–support, not stigma

AUTHOR: Gabriela Valle
ORIGINAL PUBLISHER: Strong Families

Though I wasn’t a young parent myself, like many big sisters in a close family, I wasn’t very far from the experience.  My sister was nineteen when she announced to the family that she was pregnant.  My mom was sad for a brief moment.  She worried.  My sister was scared because she was afraid to disappoint anyone.  My dad was happy almost immediately, although with mixed emotions and yes, all of these feelings happened at the same time and under one roof.  But it was my whole families’ response that made all of the difference– my parents did not throw my sister out of the house because those are not our values and because that’s when she needed the most support.

Over the years, my sister loved her son, made mistakes, held small jobs, had set-backs, but also had great opportunities that brought her into social justice work.  Through it all, she was “lucky,” never needing to mother all by herself.  In addition to our mom, she had three sisters helping her raise this only boy in the family into the great young man he has become.

As a young mom, my sister was supported by her whole family and my nephew, who probably had too many moms, truly became his families’ pride and joy.  Eighteen and a half years later, as my nephew prepares to leave for college dorm-life  (and the first in our family to go straight to a university), his mother also prepares to begin a new chapter… maybe college is on her horizon too?

All young families need supports from family, schools, institutions and even strangers who can impact their future opportunities.  All young families deserve recognition because they matter.

When young parents and their kids succeed we are all better for it, especially having been a part of it. I know this from my own family, and I also know it from my work with California Latinas for Reproductive Justice.  Inspired by our work over the years with our community, we recognized the need to acknowledge young parents and  try to understand some of the gaps in education, access and family supports within and outside of the Latina/o community, CLRJ set out to do original research and make a statement about what we found.  The result is our Justice for Young Families brief, which calls on policy makers, educators and the community at large to change the way we view young families.  Our research and experience shows how important it is to support young parents rather than continuing to reinforce punitive language and policies.

CLRJ has many amazing allies around the country also doing this important work.  We are elated thatYoung Women United succeeded in their efforts to create a Day in Recognition of Young Parents. We send our love and support to them, and look forward to collaborating on a National Day!

Until then, support the young parents in your life.  Our shared hope is more great examples, like my nephew, heading out into the world with a loving strong family on his side.