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Young mothers on the margins: the meanings and experiences of early motherhood in and out of care

By Alison Rolfe

Abstract

This research study explores young women's accounts of becoming mothers below the age of 21 and in adverse circumstances. The findings are based on five group interviews and twenty-eight individual interviews. All participants were living in areas of social deprivation, and just over two-thirds had been in care.\ud \ud The meanings the young women give to motherhood are used in negotiating their social worlds. The key dimensions of these processes of negotiation are: the validation of heterosexual femininity and of a 'caring' identity; the negotiation of their class position, including their position in relation to the labour market, the education system and the care system. Motherhood also gives them agency and control when patriarchy, capitalism and surveillance constrain their opportunities to actively shape their lives in other ways.\ud \ud The young women's own discourses of motherhood and mothering allow them to resist hegemonic discourses of teenage mothers as irresponsible, promiscuous and as seeking economical dependency. Much of their own discourse of motherhood is positive, and they often employ a discourse in which they have reformed and 'grown up' through motherhood. They argue that it is responsibility, rather than age, which is the key determinant of adequate mothering. However, these positive meanings are in tension with the difficulties and losses. All the young women found that their lives are constrained in some way by motherhood and that, ideally, that would have postponed motherhood until they were more settled.\ud \ud The young women assert that there is a mismatch between their own views and professional responses. It is argued that a shift is required, in the framing of policy and practice, away from viewing vulnerable young people in terms of 'risk assessment', towards an approach based on their strength and resilience, and on a recognition that, given support, young women can be good enough mothers

Topics: HQ
Year: 2002
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:3034

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