Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: I am an 18-year-old mom whose baby was born prematurely, which put my plans for finishing high school on hold. Now I'm finding it extremely difficult to balance my son's health issues and hospital stays with my part-time job and my online school work. My boyfriend is still attending high school and is indifferent to my stress. We are living with his sister and her husband, who have little kids of their own. How can I get some support and appreciation from my baby's father?
Hook him up with a mentor
I expect you have considered many difficult options and I commend you for your courage. It would be an extraordinary young man who was capable of equal heroism, especially if there is lack of outside support. If there is a more mature male who can act as a mentor and role model, ask him to reach out to your boyfriend and help him learn to be a good dad and partner to you.
- Wayne Coghlan, Collingwood, Ont.
He may be overwhelmed too
Adolescent fathers tend to be stereotyped as irresponsible, though they may actually want to do the best they can at Teenage Dad 101. Like you, he may feel overwhelmed and is handling his stress by distancing himself. His good intentions may quickly melt in the face of reality. You know first-hand the challenges of balancing roles and demands. What would make him less reluctant to help? What is he good at that may upgrade his contributions to all the members in the mini-civilization that is your home?
- Bob Burgoyne, Toronto
Reach out to others
You cannot control his interest in the baby; you must look to other supports in your family, friends and community. What you do have control over is your response to your baby. The first year is incredibly important, as so much hardwiring for emotional, cognitive and physical health is laid down. Your baby needs lots of love and attention to properly develop: face time, cuddling, talking, reading and responsiveness to any distress. The online schooling can wait a year or two. Time spent with the baby now will pay huge dividends in your mutual attachment, significantly reducing emotional and behavioural issues down the road.
- Dr. Kate Anderson, Fergus, Ont.
The final word
If your boyfriend is, indeed, indifferent to your stress- stress that's pouring in like Manitoba floodwaters, it sounds like to me - sitting around trying to think of ways to make him less indifferent is just going to cause you more stress. I agree with Bob's view that your boyfriend is probably as overwhelmed as you are by this sudden-onset, capital-A Adulthood - what teen wouldn't be? The difference is he has the luxury of distancing himself, whereas you don't.
I'm afraid you also don't have the luxury to sit around waiting and hoping for him to provide the support and appreciation that's currently lacking. Look around and take stock of what support you do have - his sister, her husband and, I hope, your parents and his. Then look at what you need - you need to finish school, you need to pay your bills and most of all - as Dr. Kate affirms - you need to get as much time as possible with your baby.
Next: Ask for what you need from whoever may be in a position to provide it. This sounds very simple, but you'd be amazed how frequently people like yourself, in the throes of personal crisis, develop tunnel vision - they become so focused on dealing with one problem after another, they forget they are surrounded by willing babysitters, homework helpers and even potential meal cookers and loan givers.
If your schoolwork is getting out of hand, for example, talk to your teachers and administrators. Be fearless about explaining your situation and asking for whatever leeway they can offer in terms of deadlines, extensions and extra help. Most people are going to respond to you as Wayne has, by wanting to jump to their feet and applaud your courage, and they will bend over backward to help out.
This is no judgment on your boyfriend, but I've learned through long experience that when people prove themselves unreliable over and over again, that's all you can ever really rely on them to be. He may surprise you one of these days by stepping up when you least expect it, but meanwhile, you've got a future to build for two very important people.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy .
Next week's question
A reader writes: For two years, I have dated a wonderful man, widowed four years. He's 50ish, with two kids, early 20s, truly nice, who are completely stalled in life. The younger is depressed, but nothing has been done about treatment. The elder has dropped out of college but hasn't told her dad. Their dad is successful and active in several pursuits. He refuses to allow even a polite question from me or his own family members about his kids' issues. I don't see any way to move forward. Before I cut my losses, advice?
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