"Daddy, I'm pregnant." Those words can mean two very different things to a father, depending on the circumstances. When your daughter is married and in a committed relationship, this can be music to your ears. After all, what is better than being a grandfather? But if your unmarried teenage daughter is pregnant, these words can have just the opposite effect.
You may feel angry, betrayed, embarrassed, confused, ready to kill her boyfriend, financially stressed and more.
And yet, as your emotions cool and you become more rational, and as you recognize the new realities your family is facing, you also know that you need to move past the emotions and find peace and direction for your daughter and your family.
So, what should a dad do to get over the emotions and best help his daughter through perhaps the most difficult time in her life?
Be open to help. Learning that your daughter has become pregnant can certainly be an overwhelming experience. Perhaps you were totally blindsided, not knowing she was even sexually active. Or maybe you knew all along but were convinced that she was practicing safe sex. Given the nature of the situation, it might really help to talk to someone who has been through it or to visit with your clergy or a family counselor to help you sort through your own feelings and concerns.
Remember that it's traumatic for her and others. Telling her parents that she is pregnant has to be about the worst thing a teenage girl can go through.
The daughter of one dad I know wrote him and her mother a note and then left for the weekend with some girlfriends. No matter how good our relationship with our daughter, just learning that she is pregnant and having to tell her parents seems impossible to her. Be as empathetic as you can and demonstrate repeatedly your love for her.
Keep communication and love flowing. You have to avoid getting into a blame game and certainly get over any shame or embarrassment. Accept and love your daughter for who she is and be sensitive to what she is going through. Avoiding judgment and dealing in the open about the situation will build trust and help you, your daughter and her mother through this family challenge.
Give her a safe outlet for sharing her feelings. Your daughter will continue to face conflicting feelings throughout her pregnancy and those feelings will only be amplified with the hormonal changes that are in store for her. As much as you and her mother may need some counseling, your daughter will also need some outside counsel and advice. Don't try to lock her up away from those who might help. Take her to a family counselor or get her involved in a pregnancy support group so she can express herself without fear of shame or judgment.
Seek out health care. It is important that your daughter meets with a gynecologist as soon as possible. Granted, this is likely her mother's role to get her there, but your encouragement will help. She needs to get good medical advice about the pregnancy and she will need to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases early in her pregnancy.
Explore alternatives carefully and objectively. Depending on your own value set and that of your daughter and her mother, some options may seem obvious and others less so. There are basically three options for your daughter, with a few variations on the theme. These are abortion, placing the baby for adoption, or keeping and raising the baby. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, and for many, moral values may preclude at least one option. But make sure you know all the options and think carefully about the consequences. Many churches and communities offer pregnancy counseling services; this would be a good time to seek out that help in evaluating alternatives and choosing a direction. One word of caution: you may have a strong feeling that one or another option would be best. Try to avoid pressuring your daughter into one choice or another; she may react to pressure by rebelling and making a poor choice.
Focusing on options and consequences is the best way to help her make the right decision for her.
Prepare your daughter for the physical and emotional changes ahead. Pregnancy is a hard thing under any circumstance, and being a pregnant teenager only adds to the issues. Help her understand what to expect during pregnancy and after. For example, help her understand how her body will change during the pregnancy and what to expect at each stage. Sometimes teenage girls have a romantic and unrealistic view of pregnancy and child rearing. Give her a liberal dose of reality.
Understand where things are with the father. The person who helped your daughter get pregnant has a role to play as well. If he is stable and responsible, and would make a good husband and father, marriage may well be an option. If your daughter and baby would be at risk for violence or abuse in such a relationship, you should encourage breaking off the relationship. The young father will, at a minimum, have some financial responsibility and may have legal rights as it relates to the baby unless he chooses to terminate them. You need to know his position in things and may need to seek legal counsel in defining the on-going relationships.
Keep her in school. Statistics suggest that 70% of all pregnant teenagers never finish high school and even fewer go on to post-secondary education. Even with those odds, trying to keep your daughter in school is worth the effort. If a traditional high school is not an option for some reason, consider online courses or home schooling.
Help her stay healthy. Proper nutrition, adequate rest, and avoiding harmful behaviors like tobacco use, substance abuse or risky sexual behaviors are all important for her health and that of the baby. Take an active role in her health.
It is hard to imagine a more challenging circumstance for all involved than teenage pregnancy. Quickly putting aside your own feelings, helping her sort through her options and selecting the best one moving forward, and settling gently into new realities will make the best of a hard situation for all concerned.