As our children become young adults and we envision our eventual role as Grandma, we all imagine a certain scene, a certain set of events leading up to the glorious title and tasks of family matriarch. The imagined scene doesn't usually include a teen daughter -- or a teen son and his girlfriend -- saying, "Mom, I'm going to have a baby." It's a harsh reality, but it happens. Often.
What follows are tips for navigating the uncharted waters of becoming a grandmother far sooner than expected. The tips and advice I offer are gleaned from my own teen-pregnancy experience, suggestions from a happy and well-adjusted grandma who once upon a time was a teen who became a mother long before becoming an adult.
First and foremost, when a child announces to you a baby is on the way, bite your tongue. Seriously: Bite. Your. Tongue. The words you say to your child who stands before you trembling with fear and trepidation about the news as well as his or her future will be remembered forever. Forever. So don't say the first thing that comes to mind because they're likely words you'll want to take back later, which is impossible. Even simply letting your teen know you need time to digest the news before discussing further is far better than curses, accusations and tears.
Once the initial news is shared and discussed, take the time to mourn the loss of what you hoped the future held for your teen and for what you thought the circumstances would be of learning the amazing news you'd soon be called Grandma. It is indeed a loss; mourn it, grieve it. Encourage your child to do the same. The future is going to be more difficult than either of you planned, and grieving and mourning the loss of all that might have been is necessary in order to move forward in an effective way, in a timely manner.
From there, what follows for you is a role of support. Tough as it may be, now is when you most need to be there for your child. She or he will need your help, your advice, your encouragement -- and likely, your financial support, too.
Areas you'll be most needed for support and advice from Day 1 of the news:
Medical -- OB/GYN choices, insurance and other coverage options
Education -- finishing schooling, holding off on college, and so forth
Living arrangements -- Will your child marry or move in with her or his partner? Live with you or the other grandparents?
Keep in mind that you have the supporting role; you are not the primary player in the events to follow. Empower your child to take the reins, to find ways to make things work out, to do the responsible and right thing. That said, you may not agree upon what "the right thing" is. Be prepared to argue your point but in the end, all choices ultimately are your child's to make. Trust that things will work out, though, because one way or another, they will. Maybe not how you'd planned, but they will indeed work out.
The waters you tread are uncharted not only for you but, most importantly, for the new parent-to-be. Your child is scared of the unknown, and the most gracious support you can offer as the parent is to let it be known that despite the bump, literal and otherwise, a successful future lies ahead.
The news that your beloved baby will soon have a baby is not the end of the world, despite it feeling that way. It's also not the end of hopes and dreams for an education, a career, a happy marriage and well-adjusted children and grandchildren who go on to live lives that are as big, bountiful and beautiful as a mother -- a grandmother! -- could ever hope for. Trust me on that: I've had all the above and more.
I was once a teen mother; I'm now a grandmother. The adventure from one to the other was indeed an adventure, a challenge, a scary test of character and commitment. I think the same can be said, though, for all that evolve from mother into grandmother -- regardless of age.