Julie Penkalski, Hope Academy Teen Liaison, Family & Children’s Center

Having a child when you are a teenager will make your life much more difficult, and you will have to work much harder to attain your goals.  But it can be done and you can raise a happy healthy, successful child, and achieve success yourself if you are committed to doing whatever it takes to make a new life.  Here are some tips that will help teen parents and their children.

Ask for help.  There are many friends, family, people and organizations out there that are willing to assist you.  There’s no reason to do it all on your own.  Get the help you need so that both you and your baby have the best opportunities to be happy and healthy.

Stay in school.  If you’ve dropped out, you have to go back or find an alternative to getting your diploma. If traditional high school is not an option, look for programs in your community that assist teen parents in finishing school.  One option for teen parents in the La Crosse area is Hope Academy at Family & Children’s Center. Giving up on school means giving up on your chance to reach your dreams and to make enough money to pay your bills and give your child a comfortable life.  Going to school while parenting is VERY hard, but it will be worth it.

Keep yourself and your baby healthy.  When you have to work long hours and don’t have much money, it can be easy to eat junk food, not get enough sleep, or not keep fit.  But eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising actually gives you more energy.  Your baby is growing and needs plenty of healthy food to develop.  If you can’t afford healthy food, ask about the Food Stamp and WIC programs at your local Health Department.

Don’t drink, smoke or do drugs.  First, you don’t have the money for these things, and if you do, you should be spending it on things your baby needs or saving it for an emergency.  Second, these harm your health and if your baby is exposed, it will harm his as well.  If you have a habit and you can’t quit on your own, get help.  Your baby deserves a healthy mom.

Realize that you are going to miss out on fun that others your age are having.  But look for ways to have fun with your child and your family that you can afford.  Spend time with positive, supportive friends that encourage you to succeed.

Keep a stable home for you and your child.  Kids need a safe, secure environment and a regular routine.  Right now, you have to focus on work, school, and taking care of your baby.  You don’t have time to party, and if you’re single, try to stay that way.  Once you get your life back on track and have matured you can look for a partner or spouse, but right now your focus should be on you and your baby.

Make time to relax and do something fun on your own.  To be a good parent, you have to take a break from time to time.  Find a babysitter, ask a family member or friend, or trade babysitting with another mom.  Take a walk, read a book, see a movie, go out to dinner with a friend, or take a long hot bath.

Realize that you are going to feel overwhelmed, angry and sad from time to time.  You may resent having to take care of your baby, but that is not your baby’s fault.  Accept responsibility and find a healthy way to deal with your emotions such as going for a walk, talking to a friend, taking a nap or writing in a journal.  If your baby won’t stop crying or you feel so angry that you want to hurt or shake your baby, put your baby in its crib, step outside, and call for help.  Take deep breaths and ask your neighbor to watch your baby until your help arrives.

Take parenting classes.  Being a parent is hard and confusing.  Learn what to do and how to help your child by taking some classes.  Knowing more about being a parent is always a good choice.

As a teen parent, you and your baby are going to face unique challenges.  But if you commit to making good choices and working hard, you have a good chance for a better life for you and your baby.