The first weeks of learning about our teenage daughter’s pregnancy were filled with roiling emotions. We felt shock, anger, betrayal, but most of all acute anxiety and dread for what the future might hold. All paths seemed dangerous and full of uncertainty – the opposite of what one wishes when difficult decisions need to be made. What we were clear on was that the primary decision was our daughter’s to make, and she determined early on that terminating the pregnancy was not an option. Going forward, she needed real world information and a deep reality check on single parenting in order to proceed to the next set of decisions.
When we found the traces of various Crittenton Homes on the web, we were encouraged – someone had thought about how to help frightened and unprepared teenagers learn about parenting, adoption, safe relationships, completing high school, building a home, getting a job, and setting standards for other accomplishments and life goals. Crittenton programs had mostly been established in the 19th century by local communities and were not connected to each other administratively, so they were highly variable in their present-day forms. Although there was even a Crittenton program in our area, it had shrunk to a day program with no wrap-around support. Another in a distant state had full support, but only up until birth, leaving the perilous early months of parenting or post-placement counseling up to chance. Still another would only take clients from the state justice system. Finally, we found Florence Crittenton in Helena.
What impressed us from the beginning was the continuity and commitment of the core staff. Not only had many of them experienced and succeeded at teen parenting in their own lives, they also had personal stories of adoption as often being the best possible decision a girl can make. The balance of these professional and personal qualities convinced us that our daughter would find everything she needed to make the right decision about her child and her future.
Most importantly for us, the staff provided counseling, set appropriate limits, conducted important group sessions around important life issues, and in general made sure that every girl at the Center had the emotional support she needed to make the best decisions. An unexpected benefit for our daughter were the lessons being put in practice all around her by the other teen mothers – sometimes poorly but often exceptionally well. What the extraordinarily qualified and devoted staff in Helena has done is to provide a safe but realistic world for these young mothers and mothers-to-be. The young women are soon enlisted in making medical and other appointments for their the babies and themselves. They learn to be involved in cooking, cleaning, and calculating the actual costs of food and other aspects of the lives they will be leading. They were taught truly relevant strategies of how to parent—and healthy ways of living and parenting. And they were constantly assisted in navigating the extraordinary path of advancing their education while raising a vulnerable infant.
In this context, our daughter rose to the extraordinary challenge of her situation. She delivered a healthy baby, confirmed her decision to parent her child, and was able to move into her own apartment where she cared for her baby and completed high school, with continuing support from the Center’s child care and counseling services.
As parents and now grandparents, we are enormously grateful to the loving and learning that the Crittenton Center fostered. These are made manifest every day in the wonderful mother our young daughter has become.