Varying sources report the current rate of births by teenage (15 – 19 year old) mothers at somewhere between 41 and 52 per thousand. All agree that the numbers of these babies being kept by their birth mothers has steadily increased and continues to do so. Being biologically capable of reproducing and being equipped to parent a child are clearly, though, two very different things. This article highlights some of the challenges that tend to be unique to adolescent mothers.
Both popular and professional reports indicate that puberty is coming on earlier in life. Whether or not there is any direct causal relationship between these things remains unproven, but whether or not they are proportionately linked, there are certain obstacles and challenges to teenagers giving birth to children that remain evident and important.
Here are four core areas in which the complications of teenage parenting are often evident and sometimes problematic.
The Problem with Schools
While going to school is known to provide opportunities for both educational and social needs to be met for young people, many school districts persist in reassigning to special ‘continuation’ campuses (or actually expelling) pregnant students.
This is a deep disservice to these students who are mothers-to-be as it tends to brand them (the Scarlet Letter lives) and either stop their formal education cold or move it, in a token way, to a school designated, primarily, for students who are unable to adapt to the normal school environment. This action also serves to isolate the girls further from their old friends and peers.
Consequently, one of the first challenges facing the pregnant teen actually happens before they give birth. Somehow, each needs to find a way to continue High School and learn something in the process if they choose to. There is a pretty dramatic correlation between High School graduation and other life successes and satisfactions. They must also find ways of staying in touch with other young people and not become socially isolated and/or outcast by a public system that just doesn’t seem to get it.
Programs in public school that take a girl’s pregnancy into account are of the essence if this is ever to change. Such programs are found in some of the more enlightened school districts in the United States and abroad.
A Young Adulthood Altered and Perhaps Lost
Working with many women over the years who had their first children while still teenagers, one of the themes I have heard most frequently is one involving the feeling that they never had a young adulthood. Many of these mothers feel that the pregnancy and birth fast-forwarded their lives from late childhood straight to full-blown adulthood with its attendant responsibilities.
Some of these moms grow to resent this and, though with neither intent nor deliberation, wind up resenting the child as well. They may love their child deeply, but the child comes to represent a constant reminder that they have missed out on the part of life they were expecting to be the most fun of all.
Having the opportunity to deal with such feelings may be imperative to many/most teenage mothers.
Babies do not Come with Instructions
Having a baby and knowing how to appropriately care for one are two different things. The frequent social expectation that being a mother comes naturally to some women and not to others has some element of truth to it, but even with good natural instincts, an adolescent mother is more apt to need tome specific training and coaching about the needs of babies and how to go about meeting them.
Teenage mothers who, like most adolescents, are in a position of dancing around or picking and choosing what to pay attention to or learn about, find themselves in the position of absolutely needing to know some things that they do not. Locating and accessing good parent education programming is probably of the essence, and as soon as possible. Beginning this process before the baby is born is probably ideal.
Who are the Children in the House?
Many teenage moms wind up remaining in their own family home with their own parent(s.) This is a particularly tricky and challenging situation for both the mom and the grandparent. Too often, the young mother is still treated as a child with the baby regarded as more of a younger sibling. The mother’s parents assume the primary parenting responsibility for the baby and the role of ‘mother’ is invalidated. This not uncommon phenomenon leads to all kinds of other problems.
There are situations where the mother actually wants another, older adult to assume the parenting responsibilities so she can remain free to engage in a more traditional teenage life. Many grandparents wind up rearing their own grandchildren under such circumstances.
In later years, when the mother has grown a bit older and perhaps wants a mother-child relationship with the child that was raised by her own parents, the shocking disappointment felt when the child continues to regard her as an older sibling continues to resonate in a painful way for many years, perhaps forever.
This article presumes, of course, that a decision has been made to bring the child to term, deliver and keep him/her. Other choices are riddled with complications and challenging aftermaths of their own.