Friend’s grandchild, Leon Dash about teen mothers.

Reporter Leon Dash took months to get teenage mothers to tell him the real story about their choices.

Reporter Leon Dash took months to get teenage mothers to tell him the real story about their choices.

Dunreith and I ran into a friend last week who shared that she recently and unexpectedly had become a grandmother.

While she loves the baby, she also feels several levels of emotional conflict.

She imagined the circumstances of her first child being very different than the product of a casual fling.

She felt that she had not raised her child to act that way.

She would like to raise the baby herself, but knows that she does not have enough money to hire a babysitter since both she and her husband work.

And she is concerned about how the mother is caring for the baby, having her stay with friends all over campus and generally not providing a stable environment.

The mother is a college student and, I believe, still in her teens.

I did not make this recommendation to our friend-we mostly listened to her range of thoughts-and former Washington Post reporter Leon Dash wrote a fascinating and informative book, When Children Want Children: The Urban Crisis of Teenage Childrearing.

An investigative reporter, Dash spent more than a year in a poor, black community in Washington, DC.  The book contains vivid descriptions of the havoc poverty inflicts on people’s lives: one indicator of how much stake people have in their fortunes can be gauged by seeing how vigilantly they fight against the inevitable tide of roaches.

This is background material for the main act, which consists of Dash’s coming to understand that, far from being the victims of mature men who duped them into having sex and becoming pregnant, these sexually savvy and aware teenagers make very conscious choices to become pregnant based on clear eyed assessments of their situations.

This level of sharing comes only after Dash has built trust with the young women-a process that takes months and months and return conversations, and one for which he thought he might have an advantage compared with white reporters because he, like the vast majority of the mothers, is black.

This was not the case. 

Dash does not shy away either from describing the inner workings of the Post around publishing the story-Bob Woodward does not come off particularly well here-or from talking about the community and societal consequences of these girls’ actions.

Still, though, for this reader, Dash’s recounting of his own reporting journey is one of this book’s most salient and memorable features.

For our friend, I hope that she will fill some measure of peace and that the baby receives the love and nurture all children deserve.   Dash’s book at some point may be a helpful resource for them.


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