One of my dear friends once said that a lot of parenting is an effort to re-parent ourselves - to correct the wrongs of our parents so that each generation is a little smarter, better than the last. He doesn't have children. I add that, not because I think he's wrong, but because it provides some context. In the real world, not every parenting decision falls into this category. A lot of my parenting is down-and-dirty, split second decision-making. I do the best I can. Sometimes it isn't good enough.
I'm going to take a breath here and say this is just an observation. If you happen to be my parent you can probably take this very personally and decide never to speak to me again, but that would really suck so I hope you don't.
The single-most failure of my parents' parenting was in preparing me to have adult relationships. I don't know if they thought they'd have more time to accomplish that and the ill-timed failure of their relationship got in the way, that it was someone else's job (the school), or since no one taught them it was something that I was supposed to learn on my own.
When I was seventeen, I took my first trip to Planned Parenthood. One of my high school friends had just had a pregnancy scare and I decided I didn't want to be in that position. I didn't discuss this with my parents, as I didn't discuss any of the other details with them either. The boyfriend I was with was not my first lover. At that time, you could buy up to 12 months worth of pills directly from them. I bought 6 month's worth because that was how much cash I had on me when I was there. When I got home, I put the box in my bottom drawer under some clothes and put the current pack in my top drawer so I'd remember to take them every morning.
Although it wasn't the usual for my mother to put away my laundry, she claimed she found the pack in my top drawer this way. She screamed. Why had I done this without talking to her first. Didn't I know about the horrible side effects of the Pill? I was too young to be having sex!
I don't think I engaged her in this conversation. I listened to her scream for a while, and then I said coldly, "I'm not talking about this with you. If you want to ground me, that's fine...but I really don't have anything to say."
She threw the pack of pills on the table. "Fine."
We never spoke again about it.
Why did I do it without talking to her? We'd had exactly one previous conversation about sex when I was 12. She seemed terribly uncomfortable. I already knew the details, and this conversation was just Hell. When I'd asked her about sex when I was 9, she refused to talk about it, so the awkward conversation 3 years later just sent along the message that she was not someone to talk to.
Did I know about the horrible side effects? Yes. A doctor informed me of some pretty mild side effects as juxtaposed with having an abortion or being a teen mom. I also knew that while condom use protected well against sexually transmitted diseases, it wasn't most effective at preventing pregnancy. I thought, and of course this is some chip-on-my-shoulder teenage impetuousness, that I was making a pretty responsible choice.
Was I too young to be having sex? Probably. I was already doing that though, so it seemed like a dumb topic.
What would I have said to my seventeen year old?
This is the hard one. I'd imagine the teenagers are interested in sex earlier than that these days. I'd like to think I'm not coming off to my girls as being unapproachable (though did my mom think the same thing?).
I'd probably still ask if she was having any side effects from the pill, because they can be common and there are so many formulations now that you can try if one doesn't agree with you. I'd remind her that while the Pill protects from pregnancy, it doesn't against sexually transmitted diseases - the most common of which can be symptom-free in women. I'd say that respect is very important in sexual relationships and to make sure she was being both respected and respectful. Beyond that, I don't know. I probably need to figure it out, because I'll probably have to have this conversation twice.