Time for teen dad to step up & grandparents to man up

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 11, 2011

Dear Carolyn: Our problem has many layers. Our 16-year-old son fathered a child. At this time, he does not have a relationship with the mother, who is also 16. We encouraged her to give the baby up for adoption but we were unsuccessful. The baby is now 3 months old and we have seen him a few Saturdays in a row for several hours. He seems to be a very good baby and has been no problem.

Here are our many dilemmas: Our son has no interest in parenting (he is not ready), we are in our late forties and not really interested in being new parents again either, the mother would like us to have the baby each weekend from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I can already feel resentment building. My husband and I don’t want to spend our entire weekend caring for a child. I need to unwind and get things done around the house and we are enjoying some freedom with a son who is almost an adult.

I know it is not the baby’s fault and I am not frustrated with him. My son obviously made an error in judgment and we are all paying the price. I feel like I probably can handle one day a week and we are trying to set a good example for our son by being responsible. We feel that our son eventually needs to step up and be a father to this child, but I am concerned that if we force him to take care of his son, then he will resent his child.

What do you think? Should we continue to care for our grandchild on the weekends, or is this something our son needs to do? — Grandma too early


This is a one-layer problem: Your son needs to take responsibility for his child (DNA confirmed, yes?).

The rest are qualifiers, subplots and, ultimately, distractions.

One such subplot is the mother of the child. She overruled the father/the father’s camp (hard to distinguish the two here, a subplot of its own), and so she can’t expect to have weekend afternoons off. Call me cold, but just because the father should care for his child--and presumably is legally obligated to pay child support--doesn’t mean the mother can expect him to care for his child, not after she acted unilaterally in her decision to raise the child. The moment she did that, it was on her.

That needed to be said, but it’s ultimately irrelevant. Because:

Another subplot is your and your son’s stages of life. You’re at midlife and grateful for some freedom, parentally speaking, and he’s in his mid-teens, over-enjoying his freedom. Swell.

And, again, irrelevant, as you yourself seem to grasp. There’s an innocent baby three months into many years of dependency on the adults in his life, which means those adults have a duty to act like adults. Technically you can decline to take the child on weekends because you need time to pick up your drycleaning and weed the petunia bed, but morally you need to buy yourself a carrier and a car seat and bring Junior along for the ride.

Sometimes. Your other moral obligation--the one you assumed when you had your son--is to raise a contributing member of society, which means you can’t stand conflictedly by while your boy chooses to contribute sperm and then nothing else. Baby Boot Camp is officially in session, starting next Saturday at 1 p.m.

This training course will involve two grandparents fully and unequivocally accepting their grandchild into their home, hearts and lives--but not to let their randy son off the hook. Instead, they will be demonstrating proper child care, and respect, and prioritization, of a son for their son, who will be in attendance not because his parents applied thumbscrews, but because he will be gently reminded that you and his father did this for him and so he will do it for his child, too, if he intends to regard himself as a decent human being.

He refuses? Okay. Then his freedoms reflect his maturity.

Of course he’s too young to want kid duty. But teenage babysitters are just as too-young, and they nevertheless show up on time, take their responsibilities very seriously, and, yes, grow deeply attached to their charges by the thousands every day, week, year, decade of modern human life. And they do this for kids who aren’t theirs.

That you aren’t persuaded of your vital role in this child’s life virtually guarantees your son will feel entitled to do what high school boys do while his parents babysit his mistake as infrequently as they can justify. Rearrange your landscape to include your new family configuration, then call your son over to take in the view. Someday, son, this will all be yours. I’m thinking July.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com.

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