My teenage sister is pregnant.

She has decided to give the baby up for adoption. I’m proud of her for this decision, and I wouldn’t have expected it from her.

Maybe that’s part of the problem. Over the past few years, I’ve come to expect her to make decisions based on how much they would hurt our mother. She has spiraled downward pretty fast recently. She has no chance to graduate high school.

The father of this baby has been arrested twice for violent crimes, both involving knives (one in which he seriously injured someone). But they’re in love! If we would just open our minds, we would see what a good person he is. I have come to expect her to make foolish decisions like this, though, and maybe that’s part of the reason that I don’t see her climbing out of the pit she’s dug for herself. We (her family) expect her to fail, and are not surprised when she does.

I wish someone could help her. I don’t think I can, and I’m a little ashamed of how I have treated her for so long. I have been disappointed in her for so long that I’m not even sure what it would feel like to see her succeed at something. She is a disappointment. It’s how I feel, even though it’s an ugly feeling, and hard to admit to myself.

Maybe now that I recognize the disservice I’ve done her, I can actually be there for her. I’m sure now that she doesn’t know what it feels like to be able to depend on someone, and she might not even know how to react to it. I want to be there for her. I want to stop judging her, and help her feel better about herself, but I really don’t know how. I’m afraid that the disappointment will seep through in an obvious way whenever I’m around her. There’s no way she can trust me if it’s obvious that I don’t even take her seriously.

So what can I do? She just told me tonight, and my first thought of reaction was to demand that she learn from this mistake, and try to force her eyes open to the fact that she’s been acting ridiculously defiant for no reason, and to just fucking LISTEN TO US FOR ONCE IN HER GODDAMNED LIFE, but I didn’t say it. I didn’t say anything. I just thought. After a few seconds, I realized how terribly unhelpful such a response would be, and after that I was able to keep my responses fairly distant and unemotional. It was all I could think of.

I hope that comes across as something like “I don’t want to intrude on your life, and I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to influence your decisions.” I AM proud of her decision though, but I don’t want to come out and say it because I’m still afraid of her changing her mind out of juvenile spite if she finds out what I think.

Do you think there’s anything I can do to fix my relationship with my sister? More importantly, is there anything I can do to help her be happy, and comfortable with herself?

You might start by offering to listen to her if she needs to talk. This is a big thing she’s involved in right now, and she probably hasn’t had time to work through all the implications. Ask her if there’s anything she needs, maybe. Give her a hug here and there, if she’ll let you. Let her figure out on her own what a loser the boyfriend is. She might be more willing to let herself see it if people aren’t so eager to show her. I’d think an ear and a shoulder might be what she needs most of all, along with maybe some help to make sure she takes good care of herself and the baby. Not scolding, but offering what help she needs to get prenatal care. Don’t nag, offer. Is it possible for you to provide transportation to prenatal doctor appointments? Car rides are a great time to talk.

If you and your family make it clear to her that you expect her to make foolish decisions and to fail, that is most likely exactly what will happen. IMHO, you need to open your arms and your heart to her. She needs emotional support, not condemnation. Let her know she can talk to you; respect her confidences, if any are forthcoming. Don’t try to dictate to her; offer her advice if she asks for it, and help if she needs it. Teach by example and don’t try to force feed her your ideas as to what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. Don’t push her to give the child up for adoption but do let her know she has made a mature and loving decision; if she changes her mind, accept it and don’t condemn her for it. All the foregoing is, of course, just MHO but it is based on a certain amount of experience.

If her decision made you proud (this coming from someone who congratulated a schoolfriend on being responsible enough to get an abortion), I suggest getting her involved in some nline forums and groups about adoption, especially ones that feature positive stories from adoptive parents. Pregnancy will definitely change her - the hormones alone - but it might also help her to know how much she can affect someone else’s life.

Is the reason “she has no chance to graduate high school” because of the pregnancy or other issues? If it’s the pregnancy and you’re in the US, there’s good news - almost all states have a program in place in the schools where kids with diagnosed disabilities or medical conditions (of which pregnancy is one), can get what’s called an “Individual Education Plan.” This IEP lists specific things the school has to do and provide in order to help her get her education. Most often, an IEP is written for kids with learning disabilities or handicaps - a blind kid’s IEP might specify that the school needs to provide large print copies of books and handouts, or a dedicated assistant to read things aloud to him, or books on tape. A kid with a language processing disability might get additional time to take tests, or time with a school provided tutor on writing assignments.

The upshot of all this is that the public school in her district, even if she’s never attended it, HAS TO find her the help she needs to graduate if that’s what she wants. They may need to go so far as to pay for a private tutor to come to her bedside at home or in a hospital to teach her individually. (This happens when students are recovering from surgery or long-term illness and will miss more than a specified number of school days.)

She may decide not to do this, of course. And if she doesn’t, there’s always the GED and community college, which are not so bad, either. But maybe if you could find out more about the IEP regulations and channels in your state, it could be the starting point for a positive conversation with her about what she can do now, instead of what she should have done in the past.

That’s rough.

My advice is going to echo what you’ve already heard - don’t give her advice, especially unasked for advice. Advice is often what people give when they can’t be bothered to put themselves out to actually do anything.

Ask her questions like, “What do you need?” “How can I help you?” “What problems do you have I might be able to help you with?” “Do you want to talk about anything?”

Talk to her, and listen to what she has to say.

I have no trouble with tellling her that you won’t give her things that you feel will hurt her, or have a negative effect on her life, but listen to her requests, first. Set boundaries, but let her learn she can ask you for help and that she’ll get more than just platitudes. I’m not saying that’s what you did before, just that sometimes advice really, really sucks to be given.

Very often a hug is worth more than all the advice in the world. Even when it’s accompanied with, “I have no clue how to fix this latest mess.”

Just remember to add: “Let’s try to work something out.”

Make her a partner in this campaign, not simply it’s object.

And yeah, take my advice with a grain of salt. (grinning)

It’s not because of the pregnancy, but the pregnancy has certainly complicated things. The “downward spiral” I mentioned earlier started with her chronically skipping school, shoplifting, getting in fights, stuff like that.

When my brother was 19, he got a friend pregnant. They put the baby up for adoption. It was the best decision they could have made. His situation was a little different in that he otherwise wasn’t a screw-up, but here are some things that helped the two of us.

She’s no doubt very sacred right now, and she doesn’t need to hear that she’s ruining her future, that she’s behaved badly, that you expect her to fail, etc. She does need to hear that people besides creepy boyfriend love her. So…

Tell your sister that you love her. Let her know that you’ll always love her and that she’ll always be your sister. Even if it’s hard for you to say right now, focus on the things you like and love about her.

Don’t yell at her. Try not to be mad at her. She’s actually behaving very responsibly, if she’s giving her baby up for adoption. Should she have been having sex? Maybe not, but horse, barn door, etc. Lots of us had sex as teenagers, and it’s only through the grace of God and effective birth control that we didn’t wind up pregnant.

This is probably the hardest, but don’t tell your sister what a loser you think her boyfriend is. (Yes, he is a loser. No, I don’t want anyone in my family dating a violent criminal either.) But if you badmouth him, that will just make her even more convinced that her family doesn’t understand and this (sleazy, lowlife) guy does.

Thanks for the replies. I’ve been trying to do just what you suggested. I just want her to know that I’m here for her even if she can’t really bring herself to trust me. I’m doing my best not to talk down to her, or scold her for screwing up, or judge her. It’s basically a 180 degree spin on my usual personality and how I normally treat her, though, so I’m afraid that I’m coming across as fake or shifty.

Mosier, sounds like you’ve started on the right track then. Don’t forget that changing yourself, which is part of what you’re going to be doing, is pretty damned hard.

If you feel your sister might find it easier to accept, apologize for how you had been treating her, and ask her for her patience while you try to change yourself. I think this would be beneficial beyond simply acknowledging the hurt you may have done her, but also to show her that you’re recognizing something you feel is a flaw in yourself, and that you don’t expect yourself to be able to change it overnight.

Which may do a lot to reassure her about what you do expect from her.

She may not be in a place where she could benefit from that admission on your part, but I think it may well be worth considering.

Mosier, I have nothing to add here except that you’ve been given some very sage advice here, and that for what it’s worth, I’m really impressed with what I’ve seen of you in this thread.

awkward straight guy hug with lots of back-slapping

Thanks for the support! I love you guys. back slap