Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Thoughts on supporting young or vulnerable mothers and mothers-to-be

Young, unmarried or otherwise unprepared woman gets pregnant, family has conniptions about 'irresponsible behaviour', family accepts the situation and steps in to help, family ends up taking over and mom lets them, confirming family's perception of mom as irresponsible.

I see variations of this story reasonably often in my line of work.

The young mom carries the stigma of 'irresponsible' pregnancy, very visibly for the term of her pregnancy; partner / sperm donor / rapist is usually unscathed by such societal strictures. Well meaning family steps in to save the day - which is all good and well, except that the help usually comes at a price, and that price is often compliance.

It is truly a challenge to be strong and make good choices when you have been labelled as 'irresponsible' and you feel like you have become everyone's problem, which is often how these young moms feel.

'How are you going to look after this child?' 
'What about your studies?'
'What were you thinking?' 
'I told you he wasn't good for you.'

Once everyone is done asking questions, completely overwhelming the young mom to be, breaking down every last shred of confidence she has, then the moment comes for her own mom and dad to step and and fix it all. As if her 'failure' becomes their 'failure' and they have to do their utmost to 'fix it.'

She hands over more and more power as she feels less and less capable.

I'm sure that the delight in being the rescuer, the rock, the provider, isn't a conscious thing, but I sometimes feel that sense of power that comes with being the rescuer ends up causing disempowering situations for the mom to be.

I've seen moms given absolutely no choice about the circumstances of the birth, not because of the actual costs of her choices, but purely because mom's choices didn't line up with the choices of the financier. Mother's options are not even a point of discussion, because the perception is that she has already proven herself incapable of making good decisions so decision-making needs to be taken out of her hands. To be honest, it's not only the young or otherwise unprepared moms who experience this. Moms who are experiencing domestic abuse or marital difficulties or financial strain get similar treatment.

Often these moms are left with little to no autonomy,  as implicit or explicit threats of withdrawal of finance and / or accommodation and / or acceptance are enough to keep her toeing the line. Her parents speak on her behalf, pay on her behalf and decide on her behalf. 

I have yet to see a grandmother-to-be present her daughter with options, encourage her to research those options for herself and find a solution that makes the best of the situation, with the resources at hand, and most importantly, accepts and supports those decisions even if they weren't necessarily the decisions she would make.

I understand that a young mom may choose options that add extra strain to a family, but I'm suggesting that those who are willing to help be honest about the degree of help they are willing to provide, be it financial or otherwise, and then allow the mom to decide how to use the resources that have been made available to her.

Stepping in and fixing everything often seems to end up paralysing the mom-to-be. She may be overwhelmed at the task ahead of her and steps back, confirming the prevailing perception of her as irresponsible and not up to the task of parenting. This then requires family to step in even more, creating a cycle of disempowerment and resentment.

Rather, family should give resources as they are willing and able, and thereafter empower and equip the young mom to make the best plan she can with those resources. She is, after all, about to be a parent, and that is, after all, what good parents do. They do the best they can with what they have.

And it's not just about the birth, often these young moms are kept in check or subdued for many years with the 'Remember how much you owe me because I saved you' line.

Which brings me to the party we haven't yet considered - the baby. That baby will be the one living with the consequences of the mother's choices, as a baby, and into its future as an adult. Surely a dynamic of rescue and disempowerment is not the example one would want to set, as I have seen where the grandmother continually criticised the mother's parenting in front of the child. How is that helpful for this little person who ends up cscond guessing their mother's every move? In one particular case the child became horribly confused and acted out in the most impossible ways, never sure who to listen to or who to be loyal to, and grandmother's perception of her own daughter as a lousy mom was confirmed, thus justifying her intervention in her own mind.

Rather than disempowering moms, let's remind them that as mothers they have the most powerful influence over that child's life, equaled only perhaps by the father's influence if he is around. Let's show them the power they have and support them in exercising that power to make the decisions that will carry them and their children into the future as responsible individuals, confident in the knowledge that they are equipped to deal with whatever life gives them.

Obviously this isn't the situation for every vulnerable mom, but I do see it quite often. Congratulations to all the families and grandparents who have made the effort to encourage and support vulnerable or single moms rather than 'rescuing' them!

Have you experienced something like this?
Share your thoughts below...

1 comment:

  1. I've seen something similar when I was at school and a fellow std 9 girl got pregnant. She did her schooling from home and then returned for matric. Her parents wanted to adopt the child but I'm not sure how that panned out. They were active on the PTA etc but I think their parenting sucked.