Young mothers and middle-class morality

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You’re going to tell me how I’m a bad mother? Go ahead, I’m sure this will be riveting.

It is frustrating that in ‘Young Mothers and the Age-Old Problems of Sexism, Racism, Classism, Family Dysfunction and Violence’ Deborah Byrd provides proof that teen motherhood is not an epidemic in the western world. It is frustrating because even if teen pregnancy were on the rise, the supposed issue is one of middle-class morality. The state and its influence on society is not worried about the well being of these younger families, it is worried about the challenge against patriarchal mothering. Instead of admitting to this the image of young, single working-class and poor mothers are being painted by their oppressors, in order to destroy any social support and rallying around this challenge. These mothers are called welfare queens and drama queens, they are told that if they do not have enough money, they can not possibly properly care for, or even love, their children. Byrd makes an interesting point in how these young mothers are punished by state institutions as well as every day societies for being too young, yet they are being tried as adults.

These single mothers reject the idea that any father is better than no father. However, with so little guaranteed support for these women, it is common for them to share in class solidarity with their children’s fathers. Working-class and poor, young, single mothers may find more in common with these men they are no longer partnered with than with others they once considered their peers. In Miriam Toew’s Summer of My Amazing Luck Lucy watched the people she was grew up with go into careers and get married. Writer Ariel Gore asks a question to this change in, and exclusion from, social circles, “How could it be that the simple acts of getting knocked up and having a baby had alienated me from every single subculture I ever heard of?” Gore found that after she had her child she was different from everybody. She says she was different than people without kids, different from parents who were not considered to have had high risk pregnancies based on their age, different from people with husbands, and people who had financial security, “I understood all the culture messages I was getting,” she says. And then there are the people who fetishized single, young mothers, like what happens with Lucy when first meeting Hart. This fetishizing seems to happen with all roles given to women.

In addition to shunning these mothers from different social groups, society is constructed in a way to punish the need for strollers. Whether this means a ‘no stroller’ sticker on public transit, or social assistance offices having no area for mothers to park their strollers. I used this quote in my essay as well, because I think what the character of Lish says to a waiter is so true: “You know, you people remind me of those other people who put up signs in their store windows that say ‘No Strollers.’ Basically they’re saying No women and children. Especially no poor women who have to cart their kids and everything else around in strollers. I’d like to see a sign in a window that said ‘No suits’ or ‘No toupees’ or “No Body Odour’ for a change, you know?”  Lish is empowered in her way to reverse the “us versus them” dichotomy the state has created against young, low-income, single mothers.

Byrd found that white girls outnumber girls of colour in cases off teen pregnancies. White families statistically have more resources to keep the child. If the young woman and/or her family decides another family should adopt the baby, they can rest assured that a white baby has higher likelihood of being adopted. For young women of colour, their baby is more likely to end up in foster homes. Due to racist preconceptions it is widely assumed that girls of colour are more likely to be pregnant, because of racist stereotyping painting people of colour as hypersexualized and immoral.

The faults in young, single mothering are shared widely, while the skills honed in such life circumstances are not. Though higher incomes usually equate to better grades, since financial security alleviates a lot of labour and stress, student mothers have been found to be pretty successful in school. This success can be attributed to the organization needed in parenting being applied to schoolwork, as well as the drive to succeed when you are taking care of a family. Byrd does not use examples such as academic success to imply that young mothers have superhero powers, but this success is worth noting when the hegemonic message is saying young mothers are nothing good. These success stories are not shared because young mothers are rarely invited to share these stories and this can be frustrating. As Gore writes of her own experiences as a single, young mother, “Was I so naïve to imagine folks would just trust me on this one?”

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