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Q: I am a mother of a 17-year-old girl. We are from India and moved to the United States when my daughter was only five. We come from a good family and raised her to respect herself and her parents. I have now discovered, through a relative, that she is pregnant. I had no idea she was out there having sex and that she could be this irresponsible. I am ashamed that my relatives know and I am terrified to tell my husband. He will be very angry with our daughter and will also blame me. I have also told my daughter that she needs to get an abortion immediately. She is very upset and told me she wants to think about her options. I don’t know how to deal with this.

A: Your daughter has gotten herself into a difficult situation that does affect the whole family. I can understand your shock, disappointment, and fear. She too is feeling similarly. At this time she most needs her parents’ guidance as she faces being pregnant—what it means and what she will do next. Young women have become pregnant out of wedlock for centuries. Today there is more acceptance, support, and options.

She is the one who got pregnant and is responsible for having a child or not. You can share with her your viewpoints and limitations in her choices. Talking and listening are the best tools to know what is right. Forcing her to have an abortion immediately does not give her the opportunity to learn from her experience and take responsibility for it.

When a child transgresses a family expectation it evokes deep betrayal, shame, guilt, and anger. In reaction, parents often become more controlling. In the American culture a child will become stubborn and oppositional towards forceful parents. To avoid this, you and your husband need to think about this more deeply. What were you taught by your parents about pre-marital sex and pregnancy? What do you now believe about it? Take some time to think about some of this. You may want to talk with someone you trust about your preconceptions and struggles. This will help you feel less alone and more supported. Additionally, it will allow you to consider the issue from various viewpoints.

Do you want to know who the father is? What kind of a relationship she has with him? Was she using any birth control? Did she want to get pregnant, and if so, why? Inquiring into these questions will reveal a lot about how she is really doing inside. You have an opportunity to make a real connection with your daughter and get to know her more fully, based on one of the most important issues she will face as a young person.

Ask her what she thinks about telling her dad. What will he have to face in himself in discovering this?

Clearly, much of a girl’s freedom and choices in school, career, relationship, or marriage can change or diminish through pregnancy and having a child. If you can approach your daughter with some openness and a desire to understand why she became pregnant, you will not be as afraid and judgmental of her. This will help her be receptive to your input.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (650) 325-8393.

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