I am the middle child of six children. My father was a mill worker and my Mom worked part-time whenever money got tight.
My brother married his pregnant 15-year-old girlfriend on his 18th birthday. My Mom was married and having her first child at 18.
I wasn’t married when I had my daughter Teresa when I was 18 and neither was my son when he had his first child at 18.
Teen Pregnancy Runs in Families
For my Master’s project I developed a handbook for parent’s of teen father’s. During my research I found out that teen pregnancy runs in families. Teen pregnancy is not quite the “accident” that we think it is.
Teens parents, both fathers and mothers, passively choose parenthood when they believe their options are limited.
The reason it runs in families is because each generation passes on their belief that life doesn’t have much to offer outside of low paying jobs and parenthood.
Teen parents don’t believe in a bright future for themselves, so they opt for early parenthood as a way to do something with their lives.
Big Dreams Aren’t for Someone "Like Me"
I went through grade school and high school not excelling at anything. I was a “troubled youth,” by today’s standards. I had social anxiety and depression; not unlike many adolescents today.
Not being successful in school, I didn’t have any expectations for myself other than to get a job as a secretary, marry, and have kids. I secretly had big dreams, but I didn’t believe they were possible for someone like me.
Two months before I graduated, a teacher named Mrs. West, told me she thought I should go to college. She said she saw potential in me. Me?
I explained that I couldn’t go to college because I hadn’t taken any academic courses, “Only typing and office classes from you, Mrs. West.”
Anyone Can go to College
Mrs. West told me anyone can go to college and I didn’t need to have academic courses. I might need to upgrade some courses eventually, she said, but I could worry about that when the time came.
I don’t remember ever being as excited about my future as I was that summer waiting to go to college. I had big dreams of being a Social Worker or Counsellor.
It Takes Guidance to Realize Your Dreams
It didn’t take me long to realize that I couldn’t become a counsellor or social worker at a community college. I would have to get a student loan and go away for two years to Vancouver or Victoria. For a 17 year old “troubled teen,” the thought was too overwhelming to even consider.
I accidentally got pregnant instead, and my dreams were put on hold.
Dreams on the Back Burner
I had my daughter Teresa and started studying Early Childhood Education instead. It wasn’t my dream career, but at least I could complete the schooling in one year at the community college.
Five years later I had my son Tony. Life was good, but my dream of being a Social Worker or Counsellor was on the back burner.
Acts of Kindness
One day a parent in the preschool where I worked, Jennifer Checkley, took an interest in me and inquired about my future goals. I explained my dilemma and why I couldn’t really have any dreams.
Jennifer called me a few days later and told me she talked to some people and found out I could get a degree through distance education. I had never heard of such a thing. This was before household computers and internet.
Any mention of correspondence courses I ever saw was on the back of matchbook covers. But the program she was talking about was a Social Work Degree offered through the University of Victoria.
This amazing act of kindness set me on a path that changed my life. I began taking courses in the Social Work program (later switching to psychology) and volunteered as a prerequisite for getting into the program. These changes led to me getting hired as coordinator of the Elizabeth Fry Society's Victim Services Program, where I worked for many years.
It took me 20 years in total to complete that Bachelor’s degree. I took courses when I could afford it and when I had the time and energy. My kids were grown when I finished my degree, and within a few years, with the support of my husband, I completed my Master’s degree.
Despite not doing well in grade school and high school, I graduated with my Master’s degree at the top of my class. Never assume that doing poorly in school as a child determines success in University. There are many emotional factors contributing to why children don’t do well in school.
My Story Has a Point...
The moral of my story is twofold. First, we must give the message to children that they can realize their dreams. All children have a dream, until they lose it. If they don’t know how to realize their dreams, or don’t believe they’re good enough, they give up.
Second, never under-estimate the impact that a small act of kindness can have on a person. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to two women who don’t even know how much they helped me.
Thank you Mrs. West and Jennifer Checkley, where ever you are!
“To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
To learn more, or if you are interested in counselling services, please visit Validity Counselling's homepage,
Author: Jenny DeReis
Jenny is CEO and therapist at Validity Counselling in Prince George, BC. She has a Master's Degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Calgary.
Jenny has intensive and advanced training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) from Dr. Charlie Swansen, author of several books on DBT . She has also received DBT training from the Behavior Tech Institute, and from DBT expert Sherri Van Dijk.