Advice for Jamie Lynn & the Rest of Us

The theme in writing class this week has been “advice.” In this case we are writing letters to Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney Spears’ 16-year-old sister who recently announced she is pregnant.


We’re taking a break from poetry to write these letters, because a local newspaper editor has offered to publish my students’ (who are teen mothers themselves) responses to the younger Spears sister’s predicament.


In case like me, you aren’t up on the Spears saga here’s the Readers’ Digest version: Britney’s mother penned an advice book for parents, despite heading up one of the most publicly dysfunctional families in America. Britney herself is a living ‘don’t’ when it comes to maternal success — she lost custody of her two children after a series of painful incidents of serious neglect. And now, Jamie Lynn, whom her mother had dubbed the ‘conscientious’ Spears daughter, and who has been set up as a role model for teens thanks to her starring role on Nickelodeon’s “Zoey 101,” is pregnant and plans on keeping her baby.


While the rest of the world mocks Jamie Lynn, and seems almost gleeful to witness the fall of the second Spears sister, my students have been remarkably compassionate. As I walked around the classroom checking on their progress as they crafted their letters of advice to Jamie, I was struck by the fact that most of them started their missives with the word: “Congratulations.” Being a mother, they were quick to tell Jamie Lynn, is one of the most wonderful experiences life has to offer. Yes, it may be harder for teens, but with some support they assured her, she too could enjoy the loving moments motherhood promises.


Even as they have been treated harshly by the world at large, these young women, ages 16-21, who became pregnant in middle or high school, respond to Jaime Spears with love and hope. They use their experience of being sneered at by strangers when they take their babies to the mall or on a public bus, and translate it into empathy when they imagine Jamie Lynn facing down judgmental headlines in the tabloids, and being made the butt of jokes by late night comedians.


“Don’t listen to all the negativity,” they wrote in their letters to Jamie Lynn. “Stay positive.” “Get support,” they advised. And “Be the best mother you can be.”


I hope Jamie Lynn takes their advice, and that the rest of us learn from their example to be a little kinder — and to turn our personal pain into empathy for others.