FIVE YEARS AGO, Madelynn Meads was pregnant and stuck between worlds.
Her high school in Leander, Texas, was a new school, and it had never been known to have a teen mom. Her church, where she’d been active in the youth group, suddenly couldn’t find a place for her. She didn’t fit in with the youth group anymore, but the church wouldn’t include her in its ministries for moms either. She’d lost the privilege of a relatively carefree youth without gaining the respect and spiritual investment often offered to young adults and new moms. As a pregnant 16-year-old, Meads said it felt as if the consistent message was, “You’re not a real adult or a real mom.”
Meads, like other teen moms, had fallen into a hole in the social fabric. She didn’t have the support available to teenagers carrying the hopes and dreams of their parents, or to new moms carrying the hopes and dreams of the next generation. Instead, she became part of a statistic, one that schools, government, and nonprofits are working to shrink.
In public discourse, teen pregnancy, poverty, and other adversity often go hand in hand — high school dropout rates for teen moms hover around 50 percent, and few go on to complete higher education. But advocates say that has less to do with the additional responsibility of a baby and more to do with the phenomenon Meads experienced at her church. The moms are no longer the kinds of teens targeted for scholarships and other educational opportunities. Traditional school schedules don’t work with baby schedules, and they can’t meet the time demands of most extracurriculars. If they want the kind of jobs that can help them raise their children in financial security, they must make it through a gauntlet of challenges to get there.
School systems sometimes have specialized services for teen parents to help them finish high school, and staff say they also have to help the teens renegotiate their place in family systems and community. For some Christian ministries, these extra challenges are opportunities to show the teens that there’s a secure, unconditional place for them in God’s family, with all the support to go with it.
Meads found those supports with YoungLives, a branch of YoungLife, a global Christian youth ministry. A YoungLives mentor reached out and gave her a place to belong, to be fully mom and fully teenager, both fun-loving and abundantly capable of facing the huge responsibilities that lay ahead. Instead of struggling to belong, she said, the message changed to “Let’s still have fun and let’s love God.”
Meads recently graduated from Texas A&M University and is getting her teaching certificate. During summers, she volunteers with YoungLives to try to give other teen moms the experience that made such a difference for her.