I was talking to a friend about her nephew, a young man of 18 or 19 who is having difficulty acknowledging his potential. In other words, he’s being lazy, sleeping until noon, putting in job applications about once every never, skimming over household chores, hoping no one notices that he’s accomplishing nothing.
It got me thinking about the young women (sometimes but rarely young men) who become parents at 15 years old, the same age as the prince.
The difference between the two is the disparity in life equity. Equity, in finance, is the difference between your assets and your liabilities. In life, this is the sum of your advantages, abilities, strengths and opportunities, minus the demands of life.
In the case of my friend’s nephew, he has an abundance of equity– middle class, a high school graduate, healthy, with basic life skills and the support of people who love him– and he’s sitting on it, not attempting to grow that equity at all. In the case of the too-young mother, too often her equity is too close to zero. She has no life skills yet, hasn’t graduated high school, very likely low-income or poverty class, no opportunities and little support. And this ridiculous demand, a baby, is put upon her. Instantly, she has negative equity. The demands of life well exceed what she was given, and she has had no opportunity to build any equity herself.
We are quick to criticize both, but we reserve the harsher judgment for the young woman on welfare. “Get a J-O-B,” we think. And when, two years later, she has another baby, the critique is more severe. But look at this now 17 year old. She has not worked, so she has not learned to. What she has learned is how to take care of a baby. She’s building on the only equity she has had the keys to, since she has not been able to graduate high school or get a job. She has not been able to build the type of friendships that adults do to have someone ready to take the baby when the sitter fails to show so she can work, or who can give her a ride when her car breaks down. What car? She can’t afford a car. She doesn’t have a bank account or a credit score or the ability to cook a meal from what’s in the pantry. But she can take care of a baby.
Life equity is built by developing skills and opportunities before they’re needed, and working toward a wide range of as yet unused abilities. Just like working out at the gym: cross-training year round means that weeding in the spring, helping a friend move in the summer or shoveling in the winter is something the body is already prepared to do. The body’s equity is there to use. If all you do at the gym is work the quads, you’ll be shocked by how hard it is to clean the top of the kitchen cabinets, or carry a toddler through the zoo.
In the alternative universe, the young woman with two kids instead is back at 15 years old. She has no father in her life and her mom has no money, and there is little stability at home: but two afternoons a week she is at the public library to study for an hour. When she turns 16, she works on Saturday mornings at the farmer’s market in town, and begins to save money. She buys a bike, and then is able to work four days a week in the summer at the grocery store. There, she gets to know kids from more-advantaged homes, and instead of being defensive or resentful she becomes comfortable with their lingo, habits, and idioms. She becomes an adopted member of this middle class, and begins to see what may be possible. She grows her discipline, her self-respect, her ability to juggle work and school and study, and wake up with an alarm. She builds the equity necessary to expand what is possible for her. She becomes, in effect, in shape, and strong for her life. When, ten years later, she has her first baby, she is well equipped, sitting on enough equity to meet the demand of a baby, a job, a partner, a home. (The royal we are aware that this is an overly optimistic scenario, but the point stands).
People want things, a good life, an abundance of options. A 15 year old with a baby has all but ensured she will not obtain any of those. A 15 year old, or a 19 year old who begins with the small steps necessary to achieve small successes will compound that effort into the capability, the strength, necessary to be a successful adult.
The fact that we allow teens to bear children is appalling to me. We should sooner allow them to drive a semi cross country, or become police or therapists with no training. Parenting, or any adult pursuit, should come only after the skill set is there; allowing teens to take on more than that is tantamount to child abuse.
The fact that we allow teens to loiter (and the queen is no exception: last night I toiled past 8pm, after a full work day, dinner, and laundry, on the lawn, when I had a terribly able-bodied teen available to push that mower)– this is the type of child abuse akin to allowing kids to eat Lil’ Debbies and Cheetos all day. Requiring more of them is the only way for them to own their own abilities, grow their own equity. Teens believe they’re doing plenty when they’re made to take out the trash– one chore– in a given day. They need to be shown they’re able to do so much more, and made to believe that they will feel great doing so. They need to know that homework comes before video games, so they know later that the mortgage gets paid before the cable bill. Making it too easy for them is nearly as crippling as expecting far too much.
(the prince would like to be on record as having said that he objects to this message)