Tonight I watched "The Pregnancy Pact" on Lifetime Television. With one in six teenage girls becoming pregnant before age 20, the main premise of the movie – that the expectations of pregnant teenagers seldom turn out the way they thought, and that teens need more information from their parents in order to make informed choices – is a solid one.
This fictitious account, which has elements of a true story that TIME magazine covered in 2008, "The Pregnancy Pact" is difficult, but necessary, viewing for families with teenagers – especially those whose teens are dating.
I started watching the movie just waiting for the current wisdom: "They’re gonna do it no matter what, so give ‘em condoms so they don’t ruin their lives." And for the first hour, that did seem to be the way the movie was going.
Fortunately, the Lorraine Dougan character (Nancy Davis), offered a sympathetic – and credible – middle road, a woman who passionately believed in abstinence before marriage, and the danger of offering contraception, and finds herself on the horns of a dilemma when her own daughter becomes pregnant. And the reporter – whose own pregnancy has clearly had lifelong affects on her own journey – provides a point of view that provides additional conversation points. (The outcome of that pregnancy isn’t revealed until the last five minutes, and I don’t want to address that here and spoil the movie….)
What I liked about this movie is that it reminds families of the importance of talking – really talking – with their teens BEFORE trouble brews. As Catholic parents, we hold ourselves (and our children) to high moral standards. In truth, we often expect our children’s moral boundaries to exceed what we observed at their age, in part because we now see the dangers of youthful impulses. And yet, wishing doesn’t make those impulses go away. Our kids need to know how to cope with those impulses in a real, adult way – with a full appreciation of how short-term actions can have long-term consequences.
Our job as parents is to help our kids form long-term plans for their future, and to understand how their present actions can help or dash those plans. Our daughters and sons, both. They need to understand how our own dreams were helped or hindered because of the choices we made early in life. Not just sexual choices – all choices.
Our daughters need to understand the difference between infatuation (based on strong feelings that pass with time) and true love (based on a lifetime of sacrifice) – in order to understand WHY sex is a gift that is best expressed within marriage. They must understand that the gift of sex, misused, makes it difficult or impossible to think clearly about whether the young man they are dating is the best choice for a lifetime partner. (I thought the children’s book "The Princess and the Kiss" was a wonderful introduction to this message.)
The idea that these messages should be impressed on our daughters in a unique way will raise some eyebrows. Shouldn’t the message be stressed equally with boys and girls? Although boys are responsible for their sexual choices, the lion’s share of the consequences of misused sexuality usually falls squarely on young women. Therefore, the girl must set the pace of the relationship, knowing that their ability to bring life into the world carries a singular responsibility. Only she can choose – a choice that begins not with whether to become a parent, but whether to become sexually active.
And it is up to us, their mothers, to give them ALL the information they need so they have a full understanding of why these choices are so critical. Simply saying, "Don’t" isn’t enough. The challenges of engaging our daughters in dialogue are real. While God’s law is absolute, human nature is frail. Our daughters need to understand in concrete, practical terms the nature of both our hopes and our fears for their lives – based on our own experience. They need guidance, acceptance, and love. Above all, they need to be heard if we want them to listen.
If sex feels good, and makes you feel connected to the one you love … why does God want us to save it for marriage? Why not get closer to the one you love right now, and let that love grow INTO marriage? And if all I ever want to be is a mother, why not start now? And if he says he loves me, why shouldn’t I?
Let the conversation begin there.