‘It’s bringing new life in’ Teenage parents and inter-generational values of family life

WISERD was joined by Dr Sally Brown from Edinburgh Napier University for the latest Civil Society Seminar, which looked at teenage pregnancy and intergenerational relations. Read her blog to discover more about the findings from her qualitative interviews with teenage mothers and mothers-to-be from different generations.

The paper I gave recently at WISERD stems from my research with young parents and their families about teenage pregnancy.  From a policy point of view, teenage parents, particularly mothers, are regarded as a problem; Hilary Graham and Elizabeth McDermott have shown how quantitative research on teenage pregnancy and parenting highlights the problematic aspects, whereby teenage parenting is a route to social exclusion.  However, they argue that qualitative research shows the opposite, that it can be a route to social inclusion, and I’d agree.

My paper is based on qualitative interviews with teenage mothers and mothers-to-be from different generations, from one who had her baby in 1955, through those who had their children 15-20 years ago, to some who had their babies in 2013.  We discussed reactions to a pregnancy, and feelings about becoming a parent or a grandparent. In almost every case, the pregnancies had been unplanned, the young women had been very nervous or scared about telling their parents, and the parental reactions ranged from disappointment to anger. However, as one of the soon-to-be-grandmothers said, ‘it’s nice now I’ve got used to it’. Despite the parents talking about having ‘wanted more’ for their daughters, they also talked about the joy of new life being brought into their family, and how they were looking forward to, or enjoying being, grandparents. Becoming a grandparent was a natural and desirable stage of life, something to be anticipated with pleasure and enjoyed, whether that was ‘doing all the things that grandma gets to do’ or seeing other people pushing babies in prams in the park and looking forward to being able to do that themselves. The context of these young women becoming mothers, then, is one where they are part of a loving family where a baby, although unexpected, is welcomed.

Teenage parenthood was acknowledged to be challenging, and this was where the initial disappointment stemmed from – the older generation who had experienced hardships and challenges of teenage parenting themselves didn’t want their daughters to suffer similar hardships.   The teenagers themselves looked to their mothers as evidence that it was possible to navigate a successful life as a young parent. In addition, for many of the young people becoming a parent was not an end point, but a turning point; many of them were highly motivated to return to education which they saw as a route to getting a good job in order to support themselves as a family. So it seems that my work fits with other qualitative research suggesting that teenage parenting often results in a greater desire to participate in civil society, i.e. social inclusion rather than exclusion. What’s interesting at the moment is the increasing presence on social media of young women who are voicing these sentiments for themselves, feeling ignored and dismissed by politicians and media who stick with the line that teenage parenting is always problematic. Undoubtedly there are some young parents who struggle, as do some older parents. As a society, we should be ensuring that all parents can access the support they need in order to become more socially included.