A typical day for a university student involves going to class, hanging out with friends and utilising their free time to have some fun. But not for 21-year-old Priscila Nireere, every day is unpredictable, and there is no such thing as ‘free’ time.
Nireere is a mother of a two-year-old boy whom she had shortly after she’d settled in at university. Nireere says when she first found out that she was pregnant, it was like a dream.
“At first I had mixed feelings, being both shocked and excited, until reality hit me. I imagined a little boy. I then imagined telling my parents and how hard that would be,” she recalls.
Luckily for Nireere, her family was supportive upon hearing the news, even offering to support her and her son while in school.
Nireere and her son’s father plan on being role models to their son. She admits that young parents face daily challenges as they struggle to be the best parents they can be.
“There are moments at school that make me feel out of place, ever since my son was born. My son’s father and I opted for evening classes to find time to work and support our child. Still, I can’t ignore the fact that my life is ‘weird’ compared to the lives of most girls my age,” she says.
Immy Murekatate, a former news anchor, says raising a child is a challenge, regardless of one’s age. The experience can, however, be more daunting when parents are young.
Once a young parent, she admits it was a hard experience from pregnancy to nursing, and learning to wake up at night to feed or soothe the child because of colic. However, every parent faces challenges differently, she says.
Many young people find parental duties a daunting task.
With many teen mothers not working, they use support from friends, relatives or parents to pay for the expenses that come with raising a child.
Ruth Ndahiro got pregnant at 20, and even though she had previous experience with babies as she babysat her younger siblings, she believes that in some way, a woman in her 30s might have been more prepared than she was to have a child.
“The babysitting experience is nothing. When I first got pregnant, I would tell myself ‘You got this, girl. You used to babysit’. But watching over someone else’s kid is something else altogether. Sure, I knew how to warm up a bottle or mix formula, but I wasn’t prepared to wake up at 6a.m to tend to a crying baby,” she says.
Adolescent fathers who want to be involved in their children’s lives often find the odds stacked against them.
Richard Kagarama comes from a family of four well-educated and responsible brothers, and was expected to be doing the same with his life when he found out that he was going to become a dad.
“I was scared to tell my parents and brothers. I was only turning 20 and she was 19 when we found out she was pregnant. I saw my future pass by me like crazy. I knew I had to make some changes, as I became a young dad. I had to learn real fast what it meant to be there for my family as a father, and a son to my parents.
“I couldn’t let her handle the pregnancy alone. I had to go through everything with her. I can say having a child is challenging but it also shows that, as a young person, one can still be very responsible by completing school and having no regrets,” Kagarama says.
Kagarama admits that becoming a parent while still so young adds tenfold to the issues youngsters face as adolescents.
“For young fathers, the barriers to becoming a responsible dad are complex because too often their own needs aren’t addressed. Many have little or no contact with midwives, or their children’s caretakers,” he says.
Coping as a young parent
Coping as an adolescent parent can be difficult as the demands of a child, combined with sorting out your own future, can affect even the most energetic, enthusiastic parent.
Aaron Hakizimana, a businessman in Kigali, believes that culture has for long tried to blame young parents for their mistakes, rather than support them.
“For so long, our culture has treated boys who become fathers as the cause of many societal problems, rather than helping these young men face the difficult circumstances that placed them at a great disadvantage,” he says.
Jackline Iribagiza, a counsellor, says that first-time adolescent mothers also deal with challenges that place extra demands not only on their stage of adolescent development, but also on their ability to adapt to their new role as a parent.
Learning ways to meet the responsibilities will help them get on their feet and establish a future for their children.
“Because most young mothers are still attending school, as parents, finding the time and financial means to finish their education should be a top priority alongside raising their child.
“Education is still an important quest for a teen mother. Finishing high school and pursuing a college education will allow a young mother to be financially stable so that she can support her child and be more independent. Alternative education resources are available and this may assist teen mothers more easily than traditional schooling,” Iribagiza says.
She adds that parents who feel disappointed when their children become parents so early should also learn to be tolerant in such situations, as judging their children or harassing them can lead them to depression or drug abuse which would, in the long run, affect how they raise their child.
Murekatete says that the best way to cope is to learn from older mothers, but advises that one needs to sieve what works for them.
“There are times where you feel overwhelmed and worried, but it’s a learning process. Allow yourself to learn from your mistakes and live each day as it comes. If you never mature and grow when you have a baby, then you will never grow,” she says.
Doreen Kabera also advises that understanding young parents’ rights to education and employment will help them plan and prepare for their future. In short, you cannot be excluded from school or prohibited from working because you are a teen parent.
“One of the most important responsibilities that a teen mother has is being able to financially support her child. If you feel that you are being discriminated against in employment due to your status as a teen parent, talk to your local authorities so they can help you seek justice,” she says.
Eugene Mugabo, who has also been through young parenting, says another way to fully take care of a child is by being determined to live an independent life.
“If you want to be a responsible parent, being independent enables you to make decisions for you and your child,” he says.
He adds that the key to negotiating greater independence from your parents is to prove that you are ready for it.
Young parenthood: People share their views on how to
handle the situation
Parents react differently; some may feel a sense of guilt — that they didn’t do enough to protect their child — while others may feel happy about the news of a soon-to-be grandchild, especially if the child is older and in a mature relationship. A pregnant teen would need her parents more than ever, to be able to communicate with them, especially when emotions are high. Getting pregnant at a young age also poses health risks, so to ease the process; the girl needs emotional and physical support so that she knows she won’t go through it alone.
Christine Iringaniza, Human
Adolescents don’t plan on getting pregnant, when it happens; they’re often terrified of the anger and disappointment of their parents. Also, although some boys do own up to parenthood, others get scared and need to be encouraged to face their responsibilities. Parents should offer advice and realise that open communication with the child will help.
Amos Agaba, Student
Parents should help youngsters understand that they are too young and that some decisions on their part might not be the best. They don’t know what life is like as an adult. Give them honest advice on how to cope with such situations.
Edwin Kagabo, Graphic designer
The certainty that a baby is on the way requires parents to set their own feelings aside for the sake of the child. If a parent needs help coping with the situation, talk to someone you trust or seek professional counselling. An impartial third party can be of great help at a time like this.
Ruth Mutesi, Housewife