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Bridal Shop

A new version of home economics class has arrived, and it involves a marriage-simulation project designed to teach teens about the responsibilities that come with starting a family.

May 06, 2002|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

So students carried their babies to and from school. If there was an activity their babies could not attend, they had to provide "child care" and budget for it.

"They can't assume grandma will watch their child," Klingner said. "She's finally free of her child-rearing responsibilities."

For Antwon and Patricia, who have been good friends for three years, the lessons started early in the project. Not only did they differ on what to name the "baby," they also had disagreed on what Patricia would do after the baby was born.

Antwon, who hopes to be a police officer, found a "job" as a security guard for $25,000 a year. He thought Patricia would go to work after "Alyssa Marie" arrived. But she had plans of her own.

"He's crazy if he thinks I'm going to work," Patricia said on their wedding day. "I don't want to miss any of those precious first moments. He's going to have to make more money."

So after a couple of days of discussion, they decided Antwon would get a "job" as a police officer, and Patricia would stay home with the baby for a few months. Then she would work part time to share in the expenses, Antwon said.

As for shopping for furniture and baby needs, Antwon said he let Patricia take care of that.

"I knew I wouldn't be able to win, and she would get what she wanted, so I just let her go," he said.

And, of course, the baby.

"The baby felt like a lot of responsibility because I couldn't put it down," Antwon said. "But it was a good feeling. I liked being a father."

Patricia did take care of the baby after school, more than Antwon did, he said.

"It just worked out that way," he said. "I have a job and a lot of things to do. But I took the baby on Thursdays and Fridays."

The couple would exchange the baby at school, seeking each other out during the day to swap duties.

Kate, the oldest of six children, said carrying her baby made her realize how much work being a mother can be.

"I've always been around babies. I even thought I would want to have one pretty young," she said. "But this made me see some of what my parents go through toting us around all the time. It made me see there are things they don't get to do because they are responsible for us."

Just before the school's spring break, the unions were dissolved as promised.

"I hope the students got a more realistic understanding of married life," Klingner said. "It's usually a lot more than they expected."

For Patricia and Antwon, it was an eye-opening experience.

"I have never worked this hard in my life," Patricia said. "I never knew how expensive everything is, especially a baby. I thought I wanted kids pretty young, [but] I never really thought about the expense. I thought everything just fell into place.

"I also didn't realize what it's like to be responsible for another person," added Patricia, who baby-sits often and works at a creative play center for children. "I've never had to be responsible for someone else."

As far as working out issues within a relationship, Patricia said she understands how difficult it can be to consult someone on important decisions.

Antwon agreed that marriage and child rearing can be difficult. "I thought I would get married young," he said. "But now I see that I want to have my foot into the world. I want to make sure I have all I need emotionally and financially before I take that step."

But it wasn't only marriage's hardships that the students took away from the project.

"I learned it's important to compromise and be a team player," Antwon said. "And it's important to really listen. But something nice about marriage is you always have a partner. You never have to do something alone. It felt good to `come home' to one person, and be able to tell her all my problems and goals. I really felt like I could tell her anything."

Learning to communicate is essential, said Rona Levi, a licensed clinical social worker at Family and Children's Services at the Family Life Center in Columbia.

"Finances, day care, job stress - these are all very real issues," Levi said. "But the major underlying issue is how people communicate through these decisions."

Not all couples going through the project have happy endings, however. Some students who are dating choose to do the project together, then decide to break up, Klingner said.

That's what happened to Scott Fraser, a junior who took part in the project with his girlfriend of one year.

"The project really showed me an example of what marriage would be like," said Scott, who, even beforehand, thought marriage looked difficult.

"This project showed us that we shouldn't have been together," he said. "We got to see things from the inside. It showed us how much work goes into a relationship. We wanted to focus on more important things like school and work."

Klingner said she just wants students "to get an inkling of what marriage takes. It's not something they should jump into lightly."

And that lesson they learned.

"I still want to get married one day," Patricia said. "I think it'll just be a little later than I thought."

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