Reality check: Bristol Palin, teen moms and American hardship

Bristol Palin is going to speak at a benefit event today for the Lifehouse.  The organization is a nondenominational Christian program providing single mothers with exposure to Christianity, shelter, health care, counseling, child care classes and educational assistance.  In a recent Courier-Journal article, Lifehouse executive director Joan Smith said the organization offers alternatives to abortion and said that Palin’s life “is the reality.  She is a role model in the fact that she chose to have her child.”

A role model?  The reality?  Bristol Palin has been and continues to be rewarded for using poor judgment.  She was a teenager.  She had sex.  (Whether the preferred method of birth control failed or she didn’t use any doesn’t really matter; sex makes babies, most adults aren’t prepared for parenthood, and teens don’t even have a fully developed brain, so teens shouldn’t be having sex.)  She got pregnant.  And she and her boyfriend end up in glamorous photo shoots and on the covers of magazines.  Respectable “news” outlets follow their relationship drama and broadcast the latest fallouts to millions of viewers. She has her own company. She’s cast on “Dancing With the Stars.” Her boyfriend is interviewed on the red carpet at award shows, and she gets $14,000 for what will likely be 15 to 20 minutes of talk and a 10-minute Q&A session about how her life has changed since becoming a teen mom.

Not the story of the teen moms I’ve known.  The ones I’ve known had sex.  They got pregnant.  The ones who kept their babies spent most of the school year at a school for teen moms while their boyfriends continued to attend school with all of their friends.  They graduated from high school. Or they didn’t.  They got on food stamps.  They tried college repeatedly but nothing worked out.  They left their babies in the care of their mothers or grandmothers while they continued to run the streets.  Their boyfriends ended up dead, in jail, selling drugs or absent.  They had more babies, usually by different fathers.  They’re poor.  They work, hard, at multiple part-time jobs every day, but they’re still poor.  I know of only two who got married, one to the father of her baby, the other not, and the former got divorced.  Although some are happy, none are living a dream life by the standards of any logical person living in the United States. 

And if Bristol Palin had to live one day of her magical life like one of those girls or one of those women, I don’t think she would be able to take it.

My yoga instructor often says, “The challenge is equal on both sides; it just looks different.”  There’s no need in this case to get into a pissing contest about whose life is more difficult—I’m sure Bristol Palin has her challenges—but there is a need for a reality check.  We live in country in which our riches are taken for granted.  Journalists pat themselves on the back for writing articles about how to go a whole day without spending any money or about treating themselves to a ski vacation after cutting back on outrageously overpriced designer haircuts for a year.  We take the tiniest bit of hardship as proof that we haven’t had it easy, but if we lived below the federal poverty line or in a country where no one knows how to be fat because no one knows where to get food every day, we would really toughen up.

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