How families experience the phenomenon of adolescent pregnancy and parenting: Implications for family therapists and educators
The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe how family members experience the phenomenon of adolescent pregnancy and parenting in the family unit, over time, and to examine the meanings family members attach to the experience. The participants were six nuclear families (20 individuals) of six adolescent mothers who had previously participated in a pregnant and parenting students support group at a large suburban North Texas high school. The families were interviewed using semi-structured interview questions, and the interviews were audio and video-taped. Transcriptions were made and analyzed for themes, based on coding by the researcher and coding checks by another researcher and a faculty member.
Seven themes emerged as the transcripts were qualitatively analyzed. The themes were Just a Lot of Emotions – A Rollercoaster, Estrangement – They Wouldn't Talk to Me, Mom's Gonna Kill You – Sibling Relationships, Family Healing – A Joy in the House, Unconditional Support – Someone Stepped Up, Musings on Family Therapy – We Thought about That, and Unresolved Family Issues – Residual Anger and Resentment. Implications for family therapists and educators working in partnership for families like the ones in the study were discovered.
Conclusions were drawn based on the three research questions that guided the study. The first research question addressed how family relationships changed and/or remained the same as the family experienced adolescent pregnancy and parenting within the family unit. Family relationships remained constant, overall, and the majority of families reported increased closeness, especially between adolescent mothers and their own mothers. However, most of the adolescent mothers perceived that they lost status in the family as a result of their pregnancy, with half of the young mothers specifically stating that they had lost their status as "the good one" after the pregnancy was disclosed. Sibling relationships were significant in the narratives of the families. Older sisters were more likely to be jealous or resentful regarding the pregnancy, while younger siblings were more accepting of their older sisters' pregnancy and typically had a close relationship with their niece or nephew.
The second research question sought to determine what the families' needs were, based on their own perceptions. The family members named the school, and specific people within the school, who helped meet educational needs of the family. They also named extended family members and friends who were "like family" as those who helped meet needs. The parents tended to place high priority on the educational needs of the adolescent mothers, and some mentioned needing someone to support and empathize with them, as well as with their daughter. The young mothers, while stressing educational needs, as well, also put high priority on feeling emotionally safe, accepted, and understood.
The third research question asked how family therapists and educators might meet the needs of families like the ones in the study. The families were overwhelmingly positive when asked if they would have taken advantage of family counseling if it had been offered through the school. The researcher concluded that a partnership between school and family therapists to meet educational, emotional, and developmental needs of families who experience adolescent pregnancy was seen as a natural and practical fit, and recommendations were made for accomplishing this, along with recommendations for further research.
This study is significant for schools, family therapists, and the families of pregnant and parenting adolescents. It is the only study that has focused on the family, as a whole, and each individual family member, and it is the only one to do this while seeking direction for family therapists and educators.