Public attitudes towards teen pregnancy and parenthood are socially constructed and are changing over time. New social norms and expectations of a preferred life course for women influence social policy and how teenage mothers are regarded and supported. The purpose of this study was to explore the pregnancy and parenting experiences of teenage mothers in the present day and examine how early motherhood impacts upon their lives and aspirations.
Study Design and Methods
Qualitative research methods were used to gather in depth data from 12 young women who became mothers while in their teens. Participants were recruited through teen parent units and support organisations in Canterbury. Subjective data was collected through individual semi structured interviews, then recorded, transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis methods which revealed three major themes of stigma, identity and managing risk. Findings were further discussed in reference to theoretical concepts and relevant literature.
Rapid social changes of the late modern era are not yet translating into widespread social acceptance of teenage pregnancy and motherhood. Participants were aware that having a baby at a young age is not considered an ideal life choice, but they were enjoying and deeply invested in motherhood which had given them a sense of purpose in their lives. Relationships with their children were prioritised ahead of relationships with the child’s father. Young mothers were concerned with day to day struggles rather than long term ‘risks’ for themselves and their children, and depended heavily on families and support networks. Becoming a parent triggered reflexive consideration of their own childhoods and participants were optimistic they could avoid repeating past mistakes and make better lives.
Recommendations were that researchers examine parenting according to risks and benefits for all mothers rather than focus on age, and to look at positive indicators as well as those associated with disadvantage. Further investment is needed to help mothers achieve education and employment goals and to develop their parenting knowledge and confidence, as they are highly motivated to achieve in the early years of parenthood. There also needs to be acknowledgement and support of the multigenerational households supporting teen parent families, and development of teen father parenting knowledge and engagement.