When Do Young Moms Get to Speak for Themselves? [Reader Forum]

On Mother's Day, our readers tell us their own stories about motherhood, and clear away the myths about teen moms.

By Channing Kennedy May 08, 2011

On Friday, Feministing’s Miriam Zoila Pérez brought us an excellent breakdown of the barriers faced by teen moms — the lack of safety-net resources, and the social and political stigma — and illustrated how a cycle of shame feeds both. The real stories of teen mothers are too often pushed out by the spectre of "teen mothers," a gendered, racialized, classist narrative, played as both cause and effect to push political agendas.

So we were especially glad to hear from so many of you moms out there on Miriam’s post. And from what you told us, life is hard, and life goes on; the barriers that hold back teen moms look a lot like the barriers that hold back anyone. A better world for mothers would, very literally, be a better world for everyone.

Here’s turtlebucket:

I was an apparently very young looking 20 (and married!) when I got pregnant, so while I wasn’t a teen mom, I certainly got a taste of the shaming that teen mothers get.

Pregnancy and raising children are not easy tasks for anyone, regardless of age. Everyone deserves support. But I didn’t get that. I got pointed at, laughed at, lectured, and shamed pretty much everywhere I went. It made just leaving the house a daunting experience, and some days, especially days when I was feeling sick (I had a pretty difficult pregnancy) or when I was tired and depleted, I just didn’t have the mental or physical energy to deflect the constant hostility that even something like a simple trip to the grocery store would entail. And this led to my isolating myself and avoiding others when depression started creeping in, which only made it worse.

And I was, at least technically, an adult. I was married, had a supportive family, some college education, and an OK job. I can’t even imagine how someone with even fewer resources than I had is expected to deal with that.

Elizabeth talks about growing up in a small ‘traditional’ town:

I would not say that teen mothers cannot be good parents, but I do think that it is hard to balance the reality of what teen parenting is with also being supportive. I can say that these programs definitely made me more careful about using contraception as a teenager. I knew that I wanted to go to college, get out of my middle of nowhere town, and live a better life than I grew up with. Teen pregnancy is very common where I grew up, and fear played a role in the choices that I made. The few times that I thought "hey, I could do it, I could be a good mom," I would think about the things that I had heard about teen parenting. When I found out that somebody that I know was pregnant, it often made me sad for the opportunities that they were losing.

Where I grew up there is a culture around teen pregnancy that pretty much encouraged dropping out of school, and that breaks my heart. I wish that we had a school or program that helped teen moms succeed. Unfortunately even the suggestion of providing daycare gets the community up in arms.

FormerTeenMom says that the going is rough for any mother without resources, regardless of age:

In these discussions I hear a lot of "How can young people raise children because when I was a teenager I couldn’t have done it" which really isn’t meaningful. First of all, young adults have been raising children for all of human history (you don’t have to look very far back into your family tree to find lots of what we now call "teen moms") and also, there is no way to know what you would or wouldn’t have done as a teenager unless you’ve been faced with it. A great number of girls experience pregnancy and motherhood as a major life-changing event- just like older parents do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard new parents in their 20’s and 30’s complaining about not being able to go out anymore, sleep in, etc. It’s not all that different. Teenagers are capable of far more than we give them credit for and always have been. Our current culture stresses an indulgent, extended adolescence but not all young people are like that.

I had my first child three months after I turned 18. Before that I was a high school drop-out who slept until noon. When I was pregnant, I got a job, got my G.E.D., and started taking classes at a community college. Today I have a Master’s degree.

The difference between success or failure is support. I was encouraged NOT to marry the child’s father and to get my education, the opposite of what a lot of young mothers are told to do, but the absolute best advice in this day and age.

Teen moms are pariahs. They are an easy scapegoat- it’s a gendered issue, a sex issue, a race and class issue, a public welfare issue…the truth is, like this article states, poverty is the root of most of these problems, not teen motherhood, and in fact teen moms generally fall into the social class they were in to begin with ten years or so down the road. It’s about resources, not age.

On Facebook, Dennis puts it succinctly:

Too bad their names aren’t all Palin… they’d find support then.

And on Friday’s Daily Love video, "Honoring Young Mamas" from Strong Families, Ruthie O tells us:

This video made me tear up. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a baby at the age of 20, but I know someone who does: my own mother. Now, she is a nurse with a B.S.N. degree; at 20, she was a mother without a high school diploma. I turned out pretty great too. Happy Mother’s Day to ALL Mothers!!

And, finally, happy Mother’s Day to my own mom. My mother gave birth to my sister at age 17; in addition to getting kicked out of high school and the National Honor Society, she had to put her baby up for adoption. Happy Mother’s Day, too, to my sister, with whom we were reunited fifteen years ago — she’s been a part of our family ever since, along with her two wonderful daughters. My mother and my sister, both professional grammarians, will likely criticize my use of an em-dash in the previous sentence; some things run in the family.