In September 2001, I was one of a dozen women waiting expectantly for the first teen mother to walk through the door. After working as a volunteer director of Hope Pregnancy Center for two years, I finally found a tangible way to meet the needs of teen mothers—through the launching of a Teen MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) weekly support group. The mentors grinned broadly when two teen mothers arrived for our first meeting. The next week we had four moms. The week after that, eight girls attended!
Now, two years later, twenty to twenty-five young moms attend every meeting, and we have over five dozen names on our roster. These young moms come to make a connection with others in the same life situation. They also learn how to be better moms and women by listening to encouraging speakers and meeting with personal mentors. During our two years as a group, we've seen a number of teen mothers finish high school. Some have chosen secondary virginity. The greatest result is that many have given their lives to Christ.
Because of the large number of attendees, we're currently planning to launch a second Teen MOPS group! How did we do it? Here are the ABCs of providing an encouraging and educational support group for young moms:
Assemble a caring team. Many caring volunteers from our local PCC volunteered to help with the teen moms. Radio ads, community service announcements, and church bulletins helped spread the word and attracted volunteers. Former teen mothers, working moms, and even grandmothers from the community turned out. Those who believed in our mission and statement of faith soon found themselves holding babies and providing a listening ear to young moms in crisis.
Be diligent in training yourselves about the needs of young mothers. Read books on teen parenting, talk to former teen mothers, and if possible visit other support groups to see what works. Get together with a teen mother, and you'll be amazed to hear about her unique challenges.
Consider a young mom's needs. When planning our weekly meetings, we organize rides, meals, and childcare. We design fun games to introduce the young moms to each other, and we invite speakers such as alternative education teachers, job trainers, and child educators to provide informative talks. We also look for a neutral place to hold the meeting, such as a community center rather than a church.
Decide whom you want to serve. We opened our meetings to young moms, ages thirteen through twenty-two. Yet we also allowed parents, grandparents, and boyfriends to attend if the young mom felt she needed extra support. We found these teen moms by taking flyers to alternative schools, doctor's offices, the public health department, and other low-income service providers.
Earn their trust. Don't make promises you can't keep to the young moms. If you say you're going to call, then call. If you offer help in a certain area, provide it. Young moms have often been hurt by those claiming to care. Your follow-through will prove that you really do care.
Follow up. Some moms come every week without fail. Other moms seem to drop off the map. Volunteer leaders are encouraged to call young moms to check up on them. We also send "missing you" notes in the mail. We've discovered that the times these young women don't want accountability are the times they need it the most!
Give special attention to their babies. Young moms are more likely to receive condemning looks rather than enthusiasm over their children. Even though the circumstances under which these babies were conceived are less than ideal, the babies themselves are precious children, created in God's image! Rejoice over these little ones, and it will bring joy to their moms too.
Have open arms. These young moms aren't perfect. They often say the wrong things or strike out at those who want to help. Yet, open arms demonstrate Christ's love.
Invite input. Every few months we ask the teen moms what topics interest them. They've suggested such topics as "claiming parental rights" and "domestic violence." Getting input insures we're meeting real needs. It also lets us know what problems our clients are facing.
Judge not. When our meetings started, we encountered women with pierced body parts, tattoos, and skimpy clothes. We didn't judge them or criticize them. We just kept caring and loving—never giving up. As these young hearts softened, their appearance often did too.
Keep the community involved in your group and your group involved in the community. Our local PCC provides all the funds for our group. Likewise, we help the center with fundraising events. The young moms have served joyfully at banquets or have spoken in support of the center. This interaction helps the young moms witness the loving support from their community. It also helps the community see the difference we're making in young lives.
Listen to your heart. If you notice a girl who is downcast or if you sense that something's wrong, take her aside and offer a listening ear. Many times our hearts pick up on pain, even when it is not voiced.
Make sure you seek help from experts. When planning our group, we received help from MOPS International. MOPS provided manuals, materials, and experts to help us create the best group possible. Check them out at www.mops.org/teen.
Never allow gossip. Young women are good at "sharing," and sometimes the leaders have trouble with gossip too. Stomp out gossip quickly. If prayer is needed, share the requests with those you trust and take the requests before God together.
Open the floor for discussion. In addition to good instruction, young moms need a safe place to share their concerns. After the speaker finishes, allow the moms to share their hearts' concerns in discussion groups. Remind them that everything shared in the group stays in the group.
Provide for their physical needs. Teen moms need support and encouragement, but they also need practical items such as diapers, wipes, clothes, and baby furniture. We use the "Earn While You Learn" program to help these young moms earn items for their children. We also give extra "Mommy Money" for attending meetings and bringing a friend.
Question what part each leader should play. Some leaders love getting into deep conversations with the young moms. Others enjoy cooking or working in childcare. Encourage each leader to follow her gifts. Each task is important.
Require responsibility. Our doors are open to any young mom, but we ask her to take on responsibility for being part of the group. Young moms help set up and clean up for meetings. They also must be responsible for their words and actions. To make it a safe place, we require each young woman to behave respectfully and responsibly.
Set Boundaries. There are some young moms who would never ask a favor. Others push the limits. Leaders are not babysitters or chauffeurs. Setting boundaries in the beginning helps keep leaders from getting overwhelmed. Rules also give leaders a way out when requests are made.
Trust they are listening. Sometimes the young moms seem more interested in everything but the speaker, yet I've discovered that they often are listening even when it doesn't seem so. Months later I sometimes hear parts of previous discussions in the conversations among the young women. It warms my heart!
Use resources they can connect with. When I started working with teen moms, I had a hard time finding resources specifically for them. That's why I joined up with MOPS International to write Life Interrupted: The Scoop on Being a Young Mom (Zondervan).* This book focuses on the needs of our youngest mothers. There is also a free group leader's guide available from MOPS.
Visualize where you see these moms five years from now. How can you help each one be a success? Share your dreams, listen to theirs, and prod them on.
Weigh your motives. Sometimes it's easy to get discouraged when we don't see immediate changes. It's good to ask: "Am I focusing on where God is working or on what I want to see?" Often we'll never see the impact we make, but God is faithful!
Xpect challenges. Any time you share the love of Jesus, you will come across opposition. Deal with the opposition through prayer. Pray for the babies, for the other leaders, and especially for the young moms.
Yield to "good enough." As leaders we will never run a perfect meeting or say all the right things at the right time. Know that the love you show is good enough to make a difference. Also know that in your weakness God's strength will shine!
Zero in on the young mom's heart. It can be discouraging when a young mom drops out of school or maybe even becomes pregnant again, but it helps to zero in on her heart. Every young mom can be changed through the love of leaders and the love of Christ. We may not be able to see the changes for years, but know that each effort to show God's love will make a difference!
*Web site for Life Interrupted: www.psmediarelations.com/pressroom/lifeinterrupted.html.
Tricia Goyer is the Teen MOPS coordinator at Hope Pregnancy Center in Kalispell, Montana. She volunteers at the center and is on the Board of Directors. She and her husband have three sons whom she homeschools. Learn more about her ministry at www.thegoyers.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.