The assumption that teenage girls who have babies face a dismal future seems to be incorrect, suggests a study by a researcher at Saint Louis University. Professor Lee SmithBattle has been researching teen mothers for 17 years and found that, contrary to popular belief, early motherhood has not ruined their lives.
SmithBattle has followed the lives of the teen mothers and their families starting when their babies were less than a year old. In this new study, appearing in the Western Journal of Nursing Research, she interviewed former teen moms who are now in their 30s to understand how becoming a mom as a teen affected their lives.
She found that teen mothers fare better over time than generally assumed. "Earlier studies exaggerated the long-term negative consequences associated with teenage mothering," said SmithBattle. Some of the women in their early 30s found great meaning in parenting, marriage and their work, while others were devoted parents but lacked fulfillment in marriage or a career. A third group of mothers found much less meaning in parenting and felt powerless to cope with the responsibilities of motherhood.
Some women "first find their voices in loving and caring for a child," said SmithBattle. "Mothering placed them on a new path and gave new meaning and depth to their lives. In spite of adverse childhood experiences, mothering for some teens provides a corrective or turning-point experience. Some mothers face many challenges but it's not strictly because they had a baby when they were teenagers."
She added that early motherhood was often not the only obstacle the women faced. Many had difficult childhoods and came from disadvantaged communities with poor schools. There was often little hope of finishing high school or going to college and becoming a mother was often seen as inevitable. Once they became mothers, the lack of support for education and job training for anything other than low-skilled positions without health benefits reinforces the disadvantage that often led them to become teen parents in the first place. "We stop them dead in their tracks. Those strikes are not just from their family situation, but from our shortsighted social policies," SmithBattle explained.
The study suggests that nurses who visit teen mothers in their homes can be critical in helping a teen mother grow into the responsibilities of parenthood. SmithBattle believes that nurses must intervene when educational, health or social policies make it even tougher for teens to succeed as mothers. "The responsive presence of a nurse can help a teen to imagine and carve out a meaningful future," she said. "Clinicians can play a key role in mentoring and nurturing young mothers when their sense of self, agency and future are nascent and fragile. Nurses also play a pivotal role in linking teens to resources to complete school, obtain day care, access health care and mental health services and gain life skills."
Source: Saint Louis University