With a brand new season of Teen Mom Australia just around the corner, we were stoked to have a chat with season two's newest cast member, 19-year-old Tanisha Kandiah. Tanisha lives in Melbourne with her one-year-old daughter, Bianca and her 'adoptive parents', Jan and Peter. (Her tumultuous relationship with her own mum, which caused her to move out of the family home, is also covered on the show.)
We spoke with Tanisha about her struggles with anxiety; the challenges of co-parenting with ex-boyfriend Dante (and the status of their relationship now); and how having a baby when she was so young herself made her wise beyond her years.
MTV Australia: Tell us just a little more about you – how do you spend your time when you're not with Bianca?
Tanisha: Actually I've been reading a lot recently in the past three months, kind of some spiritual stuff and some like self-help stuff. Just becoming more aware of myself. I think with kids as well, you've got to be as present as you can. So even when I'm not around Bianca, I'm trying to educate myself on how to be a better parent.
Why the self-help stuff? Is self-improvement important to you?
It's been a big process of trying to be present, you know, cause with my anxiety, a lot of it is worrying about the future and stuff. You know, [I'm trying] to be present with myself and then also be present with her. I don't want her to grow up and miss all these moments [because I was worrying about other things].
Your scenes on the show are really raw, I think you've done an awesome job in terms of breaking down some of the stigma around mental health issues. Were you nervous about sharing your personal struggles with the cameras? How do you feel about it now?
I was never really nervous about it. I just felt like, you know, when I put my mind to something, I'm just doing it. I actually brought that up with the producers first, [I said] 'I do have anxiety and I am willing to talk about it on camera,' and they were really comfortable with it. So they always made me feel comfortable in filming and things like that. But I think moving forward, it's just a really important topic to be normalised in households. So if I'm even just a little bit part of that [normalisation process] or if I can help one mum out there, or one person feel a little bit better [about their struggles], then that's worth putting myself out there.
One of your most poignant scenes on the show is when you go to counselling. How'd you find that experience?
Yeah, no, it was a little bit weird [because I'd never really done counselling before]. I felt it was a good process to do anyway, and I always felt comfortable filming.
A key arc for you on the second season is thinking about the future: how you can show up for your child and what the future holds for you in terms of career. Where did you land with those questions?
I still didn't really know what I want to do career-wise, but I'm just kind of at a point where I'm just really trying to like enjoy the show's process. I'm kind of just letting whatever comes come at the moment [and] not stress about it too much, if that makes sense. And just know that I will figure it out.
How did you find filming? Especially filming with your ex-partner [Dante]? I feel like that would be quite difficult.
I think like, honestly, like I just felt uncomfortable because [others] felt uncomfortable. Like actually, like it didn't bother me. Like I didn't even notice the cameras.. it was pretty normal for me. I don't know why, but you know, as soon as like they would get weird, I'd be like, 'Stop being weird because you're making me feel weird!'. To be honest, I became close friends with the producers – I felt like I was having a therapy session every time I filmed. It was so much fun.
Did you ever think that you would be a young mum? Is being a mum something that you always wanted or saw for yourself?
Yeah, definitely. Like obviously not really this soon, but at the same time my mum had me at 18, so it wasn't like a really taboo topic in our household. My friends and I would joke about it, funnily enough, when I was younger, and I feel like we kind of accidentally manifested it. [My ex] Dante and I would obviously talk about having a family one day and things like that, but we never thought it would be so soon.
How did having Bianca affect your and Dante's relationship? I imagine it had quite an impact.
Oh, definitely. We both obviously had to grow up really fast and deal with things. When you have kids, you learn about a person so much more. We both deal with things very differently as well. I feel like we've become more motivated in like our own kind of goals, and after we grew apart a bit as well. Having Bianca just made us totally different people.
Yeah, totally. I can imagine it's kind of an awakening. I think it's easy to not prioritise yourself and your future when it's just you, but then when there's someone else relying on you, you have to step it up.
Yeah, there are so many conversations we have to have now. Like I look back and I'm like, how did we not talk about that? But when you're that young you don't think of having conversations about schools and you know, finances, you know what I mean?
And honestly, Dante and I are really close. So even now if we're not together, we still consider each other family and like I'll go and stay at his house with Bianca and stuff so we can always kind of find our common ground there.
Watching the show, it seems like you and Dante understand each other on a very deep level and there's still love there clearly. What's it like going from a romantic relationship to a co-parenting relationship? How have you gotten to the positive place you're in now?
It's 100% been a process. It's not like we just woke up one day and were like, 'We're going to get along now'. I think, you know, we both had to heal separately from our relationship to then be able to get to this point and like, you know, we have so much love for each other. Like even though we're not together and you know, he was my first love, so I could never really hate him. He gave me the best gift, Bianca. Like honestly we really had to hate each other to then be like, 'Actually, I love you'. We're gonna do the best we can and we're always going to be a family, you know?
Yeah totally, you need a clean break and a bit of perspective initially to move on.
We just needed to be so separate. Like literally not really communicate and live really separate lives. And then, you know, we could kind of be like, 'Okay, like this is where we can fit each other in now,' and get along for Bianca and create that family environment for us.
I know you guys had some disagreements, which play out on the show, but overall, did you feel that you had both came to a good place by the end of it?
Yeah, definitely. Like the thing about Dante and I is like, we will argue and then he'll call me 10 minutes later and then be like, 'My tummy hurts'. We never really take things very seriously. Even with that argument [on the show], we were over it in two seconds. Even though I was frustrated and you know, it seemed like this huge thing, realistically I knew that I was going to forgive him and I knew that we'd be fine [eventually].
It's such an unconditional friendship and relationship that we have as well. We just both want what's best for Bianca and best for each other.
It's something that has come up a bit for another of our Teen Mom Australia couples: do you worry about how you guys dating other people might impact your relationship?
It honestly doesn't really bother me. If he wants to date other people, if he wants to do whatever, that's totally fine with me. As long as Bianca isn't impacted by it. If it got to the stage that he had a girlfriend, [I would tell him] don't introduce her to Bianca until she's really permanent. Like, don't get her attached to people that she might lose. So we've kind of had that conversation now and I think we're both on the same page about it. I'm sure we'll both get into relationships eventually and then we'll need to have the conversation again.
You're very mature!
Yeah (laughs). I don't really have a choice.
True. I wanted to ask you about being a young mum and how that's viewed by the public; have you ever felt discriminated against or judged for being a teen mum?
Yeah, honestly, I'm pretty lucky with that. Like, I've never had someone say something that's made me really upset. The only comment that I have gotten... I remember a nurse that was looking after Bianca one time said a comment one time and it was just how – because I live with Peter and Jan – they must do most of the work for me. Like, parenting-wise, I guess. That comment really pisses me off because I pride myself so much on being a mother and my being there for her. But that's really the only thing that's really been said to me, honestly. And when that happened to me, Jan butted in and was like: 'No, she's a mother, she does it herself.' So I don't feel like I'm on my own there. Either she or I will always say something.
There are so many good lessons in your story. What would you like people to take away from your journey on the show?
Mums don't have to be strong every second of the day, you know? And it's okay to break down. It's okay to have those moments when you're like, 'Fuck, can I actually do this? Because I'm about to fucking cry'. But you do have to get up and keep going, you know, you have to give your kids a better life than you had.
Is there any other advice you would give to other young mums out there? Maybe someone who's just starting out with a little one?
Pretty much everyone warns you about how physically hard it's going to be have a baby but no one really tells you that mentally, you're gonna be a whole other level! From not sleeping and then going through every stage.. there's just so much going on in your life. Like sometimes you just really need to take a break and breathe. Get to know yourself as not just a mum, but as a person. What kind of person do you want to be? Who do you want your children to look up to? It's not about constantly trying to be the best, just do the best you can.
Watch Tanisha join fellow Teen Moms Ammi, Sita and Georgina when the second season of Teen Mom Australia premieres on Tuesday, 27 October at 8.30pm. The season will premiere across TV channel 10Shake and on MTV on Foxtel (channel 124), Foxtel Now, Sky (015) and Fetch (104) at the same time. More info here.
This interview was conducted by editor, Alice Griffin. Words have been edited for clarity and brevity.