Yesterday The Young Motherhood Project was shown at the House of Commons, and a number of young mums went down to the engage with MPs about challenging the myths around young motherhood!
You can watch coverage of it here – We had a great Young Mums Chat on Twitter the night before where we discussed the myths, the difference made by sharing stories and what messages we want to get across to MPs. Here are a selection of some of the fab tweets:
@prymface ans 1: people tend to believe that having a baby at a young age guarantees a failed future for the young person which is wrong
I also got told by my head of course as a young mum I should quit uni as I wouldn’t succeed. There’s no support.
#Youngmumschat @prymface Support them in education.I had so little help when at uni&would have been better off at home.Makes no sense!
Jendella did such a brilliant job of representing young mums and answering some tricky questions! The two MPs, Teresa Pearce and Kate Green, were also pretty inspiring to listen to, especially hearing about Teresa’s own experience as a young single mum. Thank you too for giving me an opportunity to have a few words!
Here is a copy of my speech below:
“I was 16 when I found out I was pregnant. I had already left home to live with my boyfriend and had become quite isolated from my friends. When we found out I was pregnant the first thing my boyfriend said to me was ‘well, you’ll have to leave college now then’
So I went into college to tell my tutor I was leaving – I could have easily just dropped out and not gone back, maybe a different tutor would even have encouraged this, but she gave me the confidence to go back to my boyfriend and tell him I wasn’t leaving college. She spoke to my teachers and adjusted by time table to ensure I could stay, she encouraged me to tell my parents I was pregnant who turned out to be my biggest support. And that was exactly what I needed at the time; someone who recognised it wasn’t the end of the world and that actually things would be ok.
After college I went straight to uni and later while working I studied for an MSc. I was lucky I’d had my tutor and my parents who supported me. But I knew the way people looked at me when they found out I was a young mum, and it does affect your confidence and how you see yourself and decision you make about asking for help or speaking up. Occasionally people said I was the exception to the rule, while allowed them to continue looking down on other young mums.
For my dissertation I wanted to study transitions made by young mothers. The young mums I interviewed had all created their own different pathways, negotiating families and studying and careers but they all faced some levels of discrimination for being young either by professionals, or through being rejected by their friends and families, which made life harder than it needed to be. Yet my supervisor at uni told me that their stories weren’t true! A middle-aged white middle class male said that their stories were wrong, that there wasn’t a problem with how young mothers were treated, the implication being that the problem was young mothers themselves.
There can be an assumption that other people understand the lives of young mothers more than we do, that young motherhood must be the problem because that’s what the statistics say. But that’s not actually what the statistics say at all. If you look at long-term outcomes of teenage mothers who were born in 1970, then by age 30 their employment, income and education are not significantly different for those who were teenage mothers to those who miscarried in their teens and didn’t become young mothers.
The proportion of births that are to women under 20 are now the lowest they have been since around 1947. But as numbers reduce the stigma seems to increase and there is a growing perception that parents under 20 are not emotionally mature enough to raise a child, despite it being quite acceptable a few generations ago (so long as you were married at the time!)
The young parents I know are now teachers, professors, midwives, social workers, civil servants. They are also amazing parents and role models to their children and others. If we share these real stories then we can challenge the myths that girls get pregnant so they can live their whole lives on benefits and that they are a problem to be solved. If we share our stories maybe other new young parents will know that their lives aren’t over too.
No one dares talk about how there are actually many positives of being a young mum, the fact we live longer with our children, we don’t interrupt a career, we are more responsible and focused and motivated from an earlier age.
Policy makers need to listen to young parents and directly engage with them about their aspirations and the barriers that are being put in their way, from lack of childcare at uni, to bullying from peers, to being asked informally to leave college because their pregnancy doesn’t give the right message to other pupils.
It’s important too that we listen to those who were young parents to ensure that the pathways they negotiated are still available for young parents now, and we’re not writing them off before their journeys even began. Policy makers need to put aside their fear of promoting teenage pregnancy and instead recognise that supporting and believing in young mothers is probably the best investment you can make.”