“We wanted better for her”: experiences of teenage parenting across the generations

  • Date: Wednesday 17 June 2015
  • Time: 13:00 - 14:00
  • Location: Room 12.25 Social Sciences Building
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Dr Sally Brown
Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham University

Teenage pregnancy and parenthood have been viewed as overwhelmingly negative, often seen as a feature of deprived communities which needs to be ‘solved’ by technical and educational means. There has been a shift in seeing teenage pregnancy as a moral problem, due to the unmarried status of the mother, to positioning it as a social problem due to the age of the mother. The cumulative risks of young parenting are framed in health terms as part of a discourse about social exclusion, disadvantage and inequality. Current political discourse about ‘hard-working families’ places teenage parents outside the framework of acceptability, which is predicated on middle class norms about the lifecourse.

In this paper I discuss my study exploring the experiences of young parents across the generations, embedded in local contexts and cultures in the north of England. The study took a qualitative approach, using in-depth interviews with family members. Interviews were recorded and transcribed, and analysed using constant comparative methods. Participants were teenage parents or parents-to-be, whose mother had been a teenage parent. In some families, sisters and grandmothers had also been teenage parents.

Reactions to the pregnancies had often been one of disappointment (“we wanted better for her”), but the arrival of a new baby was welcomed (“it’s bringing new life into the family”). Becoming a parent for some people meant a pause in their education or training, rather than an end, and for many was a spur to achievement. Young parents were almost always part of a kinship network which was loving and supportive, and parenthood meant a greater degree of inclusion, rather than social exclusion.

In policy terms, in many Western countries, teenage motherhood is positioned as a ‘problem’ to be solved. There is, however, a mismatch whereby policy-makers regard it as a problem but those experiencing it do not. However, the return to moral judgements about teenage parenting which we can see in the UK leads to young parents feeling stigmatised, labelled and denigrated, despite their determination to be good parents.