With the rise of teenage pregnancy across the country, the lack of support provided for younger families is becoming more and more apparent. The stigma surrounding teenage parents, particularly around the mothers, also appears to be as prominent as ever, causing a lack of confidence within young mothers and less accessibility to resources needed to succeed in motherhood. With cuts to budgets, as well as benefit schemes to under 25s, providing sheltered housing and council housing to young families has become more and more difficult. Companies that provides support for vulnerable people including young families, has experienced an extreme decrease in funding for sheltering young families and resources to help teenage mothers with, and I truly believe that a lot of the cause is down to the prejudice of teen mothers.
The mothers are not the only sufferers of teenage parenting prejudice. Society tends to either inhibit single teenage mothers and praise them for bravery (when they’re not suggesting that they’ve ‘ruined their life’.) There never seems to be an in-between. Teenage fathers, however, often find themselves victim to being blamed for the pregnancy, as well as encouraged to leave their partners by friends and families. Those around teenage partners, particularly the friends and families of the mother, assume from the age of those involved that the father will leave, no matter the individual situation. Teenage fathers are also frequently expected to provide more for the child than the mother in terms of things like financial stability, due to the pregnancy being ‘their fault’. The stigma continues for teenage dads if they do stay around the mother and bring up the child as parenting for young men is made to be incredibly difficult. The way society is laid out completely sets up teenage fathers for failure. Single teenage fathers or fathers who are taking care of their children often face difficulty due to issues like public baby changing rooms being inside women’s bathroom facilities, and fewer options for parenting classes for men. All of these things make it very difficult to parent as a team, or for young fathers to take charge of parenting.
To provide a more realistic and less prejudiced view on what it’s really like to raise a child as a teenager, I caught up with the one person who I knew could deliver an eloquent opinion and speak from an experienced perspective. That person is my own mother. I am fortunate enough to say that I’ve been raised by a teenager, who’s pushed her limitations to above and beyond to provide for me in more ways than can be described. I was raised by a seventeen-year-old girl whose life was flipped upside down, and I continue to be raised by a 37-year-old woman who deserves every credit for all of the things I achieve. Every decision I make and lesson I learn is sourced from my mother, who has given me everything I ever needed. That’s why I decided to write this piece in collaboration with her, the queen of teenage mothers.
“I found out I was pregnant in July 1996. Much of this month was a blur after the initial shock of finding out I was pregnant. I had just turned 17 and was at college and still living at home. I was in a relationship; things were going well so I decided to move in with my daughter’s father. I was terrified at the thought of telling my parents so I packed my things and moved out while my parents were at work, then rang them and told them I’d gone. It was only when my mum asked why I couldn’t move out when I was 18 that I finally said that I was pregnant. Not my finest hour.
Upon finding out my mum said; “What do you expect me to do, get my knitting out?” Within a week, she did. Dad took a lot longer to win around. Now that I have a daughter, I understand why. This wasn’t the life he wanted for me, he thought I would go on to University. And I did, it just took a while longer.
As people found out the gossip, the useful, ‘she’s wrecked her life’ comments descended as did offers to babysit in equal measures. One thing I never received was “congratulations”. I continued going to college until a few weeks before my due date but didn’t finish the year. My midwife informed me I was a teen parent and completed a form for the statistics. She advised me to go to antenatal classes. I hated them; they were full of pregnant people in their 30s and I hated going as I was obviously the youngest person there. I felt very out of place and under the spotlight, but I went anyway.
On the 5th March 1997, Beth was born and I grew up. Instantly. When I look back on this period I can only describe it as surreal and that I remember waking up one morning a little after turning 18 and feeling like I was walking around in someone else’s life.
Throughout Beth’s childhood, I was met with the familiar scenario of being the youngest in any given parenting situation. I was always aware of it, but it never stopped me going and once I started my degree I found I was far too busy to notice. From a young age, Beth was growing up around a mother surrounded by books, journals, and laptops, working as a shop assistant, cleaner, admin assistant, anything that would pay the mortgage until I finished university. Somewhere in that mix we also found time for the kid’s parties, dog parties (don’t ask) day trips and holidays.
Beth is now 19 and has just completed her first year at university. She is like me but much, much better. You can challenge that kid with anything and she’ll make it funnier, cleverer and a damn site prettier. She has a work ethic I do not see in most adults, let alone a younger person. But most of all, Beth has an amazing strength and resilience. When I look back and think about the sly comments people made about my age, it bounced off me, but Beth absorbed it and turned into a strength. It’s usually other mothers making those comments and I know it’s their own insecurities that make them say these things because motherhood is tough… so how the hell is that young kid pulling it off?
So why not be more supportive of each other as mothers regardless of age? Those older mothers are just as capable of sinking or swimming, without the prejudice to combat.
I remember one parents evening; I was reading Beth’s work on a topic her school had given her about heroes. She had written, “My mum is my hero because whatever situation she gets into, she always finds a way out of it.” It’s a statement that never left me and has got me through of those ‘situations’. It’s my mantra when things get really tough.
Young mothers are heroes; doing their best in the face of prejudice, not to mention the poverty, dodgy boyfriends and lack of choices. Yet somehow they create awesome kids.”
- Catherine Ashley, the most wonderful mother there is (this article may contain bias)