She's one of my closest friends, she's one of the best mothers I know, and she's just weathered one of the Nightmares of Parenting. Her fourth child, a daughter (15 years old, third girl), has just had a Pregnancy Scare.
Some people might leap immediately to judgement:
Pregnancy scare? Doesn't that take away her "Good Mother" card?
Pregnancy scare? Guess that'll show her for being such a sexually
common-sense liberal mother!
Pregnancy scare? What kind of stupid, low-self-esteem, promiscuous child is she raising?
Some people probably only have toddlers yet. Or have raised their children in a socially-conservative commune. Or have their heads firmly buried in the sand.
No matter what the parental rules, regulations, and social/moral values, a teenager is going to make decisions for themselves. In a perfect world, they'd make wise, sensible decisions based on the wise, sensible counsel and good modelling provided by their parents.
But this is not a perfect world. You may have noticed that.
In the world we have, teens do things their parents disapprove of. Even had my friend been in the "no-sex-till-marriage" camp, her teen is still statistically likely to be sexually active during her (unmarried) adolescence. Them's the facts. So, give your teen your moral framework, but prepare them for the possibility of other choices. You can tell them you believe those are inferior choices, but they need the information. Think about it: If you have trouble getting them to do their own laundry or keep their room clean, things which happen right under your very own roof, how on earth do you think you can keep them from having sex just because you've told them it's a bad idea?
My friend had done all the things a loving and practical parent would do. She had had "the talk" with all her children -- not just one excruciatingly embarrassing lecture, but an endless series of short, natural conversations, starting with identifying body parts, all of them, and accurately, (when they were toddlers), right through to about sex and sexuality (in later grade school). She had answered all questions as they arose, at an age-appropriate level, matter-of-factly and without squeamishness. She had, of course, added her moral perspective to all these talks, about what made for good sex and bad -- and she wasn't talking techniques, she was talking relationships and respect and patience and kindness. Of waiting till you're ready, not being pressured. When they got to be of an age to be sexually active, she had discussed birth control with them, and had made condoms available.
She poured all this out to me as she sipped her coffee, evidently shaken.
"None of her siblings ever, ever had unprotected sex! None of the rest of them was ever so STUPID! What did I do wrong?"
She didn't do wrong, of course. Some might disagree, and to them I put this question: If you want to argue that acting on the probability that your child will become sexually active in their teens is "going wrong", how do you explain her three sexually active but sensible older siblings? Siblings who are in respectful, long-term relationships? (Well, the 24 and 21-year-olds are. The nineteen-year-old is currently single.)
She didn't go wrong. In fact, I was impressed.
I was impressed that my friend had as much information as she did. She knew that her daughter had had sex. She knew that the "condom had fallen off when he was coming out"... though she wasn't sure whether she strictly believed that. How did she know that? Because her daughter told her. Her daughter felt safe to come to her.
How many of us could be sure that at a similar time of crisis, our children would feel safe to come to us? That they would avail themselves of the wisdom and experience in a mid-century parental head? How many of us, instead, would find out after even more damage was done?
Her daughter came to her. They talked about what had happened. They talked (again) about a woman's cycles, about fertile periods, about birth control and sexually transmitted infections. They visited a doctor (who, at the mother's request, gave the girl a stern/scary talking-to about birth control and STI's). The daughter had the full run of tests for said STI's. There was no doubt in the daughter's mind that this was a Big Deal, that she had risked not just a pregnancy, but her health and safety. And now she knows, even more than before, how to keep herself safe. And this time, I'm betting she'll take it a whole lot more seriously.
Yes, this mother's daughter is sexually active. Yes, the girl made a sexual mis-step (whether a condom slip due to inexperience or a full-out TEENAGE STUPID moment is not strictly relevant). No, she is not currently sexually active. She broke up with the boyfriend, in part because of his response to this situation. (She was and is not pregnant. It was only a 'scare'.)
None of this makes the mother less than excellent. None of this even makes the daughter an irresponsible, out-of-control teen.
What is makes them is a team. A team in the task of ongoing preparation for adulthood. We cannot pack out children in cotton wool, buffer them from and and all risky behaviour. Even if we could, how on earth does that prepare them for the moment they must leave the nest and deal with the daily risks of daily life?
A mother who prepares her child for the decisions that are hers to make, who walks that child through the steps to rectify a mis-step, who shows her child who and what her resources are, who guides her in how to avoid a recurrence... that mother is preparing her child for life on her own.
That's Good Mothering.