My 17 year old daughter is severely disabled. My husband and I are both mature, successful professionals. Our daughter’s care has—without complaint—drawn deeply on our resources and reserves, both financially and emotionally. I could not envision having capably dealt with the challenges of providing her with a safe, loving home if I had been 17 rather than 37 when she was born.
Why consider such a hypothetical situation? Because I was pondering another “hypothetical situation”. Let us say that a 44 year old mother’s 17 year old daughter delivers a baby with a disability, such as, oh, for example, Down’s syndrome. Even with the best intentions, 17 year olds rarely have the complement of skills and resources to be ideal parents. The additional challenges of parenting a special needs child, one who may need interventional medical care, social service support, occupational and physical therapy, special education services, etc,… might overwhelm a single parent of any age. For a single teen, the involvement of her extended family might be life-saving for both her and her child with disabilities. Either guardianship or official adoption of the child by the maternal grandmother and grandfather with the single teen’s consent could be viewed as a way to guarantee effective parenting to meet the baby’s needs, while allowing the teen to co-parent to the extent that she is willing or able. Under such circumstances, the arrangement would pass ethical review.
What would not pass ethical review would be for the baby’s grandparents to pretend that the child is theirs so they could—hypothetically--disguise their teen’s pregnancy. Nor would it be ethical for these grandparents to, let’s say, use the baby’s disability to enhance their political resumés as advocates for people with disabilities, especially when their promises to fully support and expand funding for IDEA (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) contains a not-so-hidden school voucher program that could draw funds from public to parochial schools, potentially their real agenda.
Parenting a daughter with disabilities has taught us the meaning of unconditional love. I would wish that all parents could so unconditionally love their children, and be able to honestly acknowledge and assist with the realities and consequences of teen behavior--without resorting to the “hypothetical”.