We generally think of “the family” as two parents living together with children. However, more and more single women and adolescent girls find themselves in a situation where they must raise their children in single-parent homes.
When an adolescent girl discovers that she is pregnant, it can be one of the most frightening moments of her life because she is totally unprepared. To add to the confusion she is feeling, she may come under strong censure simply because people in our society still have mixed feelings and reactions to women who become pregnant outside marriage.
Any family that is different from our imagined norm, the two parent nuclear family, has to deal with the possibility of being stigmatized, being marked by defect or disgrace for not being the “ideal” family. Although single parent families are growing in numbers and unwed mothers are more numerous than ever and therefore, more visible, they are still branded by the stigma.
The teenager who finds herself “illegitimately” pregnant is faced with limited alternatives. She may get an abortion, or she may carry the baby to term and then give it up for adoption, or she may choose to have the baby and raise it herself. In talking with some students, I found that most of their choices were based on moral judgments, not on what was best for them or for the baby.
A premarital pregnancy not only jeopardizes moral respectability, it lessens the chances for continuing in school and attaining a better life. Young people who become parents while in their teens are much more likely than their classmates who postpone childbearing to have their educations cut short. The younger the parent at birth, the greater the educational setback or total loss.
A single teenage parent faces a number of problems. Will she be able to cope with being pregnant? Is she ready to assume the role of a parent? What about financial responsibilities? Will she be able to return to school after the baby is born? What about child care?