Negotiating motherhood: the struggles of teenage mothers

J Adv Nurs. 2001 May;34(4):456-64. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.2001.01774.x.


Aims: This article presents the results of an ethnographic study exploring how teenagers negotiated motherhood. The main aims of the study were to explore how the young women negotiated motherhood and how they constructed their own identities and relationships through teenage parenting.

Background: Approximately 10% of all births occur to teenage mothers worldwide. This phenomenon is of concern because teenage mothers are reported to be disadvantaged financially, educationally, and cognitively in both the short and long term. Many teenage mothers find strength and fulfillment in their motherhood role but this does not come without cost to themselves or their children, as many teenagers are considered unsuitable to be parents and do not have adequate support.

Design: This interpretive study incorporated ethnographic practices and was guided by feminist principles. After ethical approval from the university, data was collected over a 12-month period from five homeless Australian sole-supporting teenage mothers. Methods used included observation, interviews, field notes, journalling, and discussions with key informants.

Findings: The five participants described stories of disrupted lives, unhappiness in childhood, turmoil during adolescence and a need to find love and connection in their lives. Analysis of the data revealed four major themes; transforming lives and opportunities for change, accommodating the challenges, tolerating the abandonment of supports and living publicly examined lives.

Conclusions: It was concluded that becoming a sole-supporting mother during the teenage years was a difficult struggle for the young women, because of their youth, their lack of preparation for motherhood and their reliance on welfare supports. In addition, they experienced negative public attitudes directed towards them wherever they went, and this included their visits to community child health centres. Recommendations are made for nurses to take a different approach when working with teenage mothers to help ameliorate the negative impact of poor parenting.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Attitude to Health
  • Australia
  • Female
  • Homeless Youth / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Maternal-Child Nursing
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Negotiating*
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / psychology*
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Self Concept
  • Social Support
  • Social Welfare
  • Surveys and Questionnaires