Many adolescent mothers have difficulty envisioning their future relationship with their infants as developmental skills consolidate because the adolescent is simultaneously in the process of negotiating her own developmental challenges. Indeed, early adolescence vies with infancy as a period of rapid biopsychosocial growth (Baumrind, 1987). One of the primary developmental challenges teenagers attempt to achieve is autonomy, and they also experiment with issues of intimacy in relationships. Challenge arises as the transition is made from childhood to adulthood. Because many adolescents experience serious difficulties in adaptation (American Medical Association, 1990; Association for the Advancement of Health Education, 1987; Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1989), it may be posited that adolescents with the added onus of parenthood will experience a greater number and degree of adaptational problems than do their nonparent counterparts. Consequently, it is important to promote adaptive skills in these adolescent mothers in order to prevent conflict in the parent-infant relationship.
Key figures in adolescents' lives help them achieve autonomy and intimacy. Competence in these areas is not simply a function of breaking away from the family, but is a product of negotiated interpersonal relationships (Bell & Bell, 1983; Cooper, Grotevant & Condon, 1988). In cases where parent-child relationships are fused or enmeshed, however, the process of separation and individuation is likely to be charged with psychological conflict (Chodrow, 1978; Kaplan, 1984). Although the process of individuation begins early in life (Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1975), it becomes increasingly evident during the transition to puberty as the physical signs of adulthood begin to emerge. While research has correlated pubertal maturation and conflicted interactions in parent-child dyads regardless of gender, this association is particularly prevalent with mother-daughter dyads (Anderson, Hetherington, & Clingempeel, 1989; Hill, Holmbeck, Marlow, Green & Lynch, 1985a, b; Papini & Sebby, 1987, 1988; Savin-Williams & Small, 1986; Steinberg, 1987, 1988; Steinberg & Hill, 1978). For example, young adolescents describe relationships with their mothers as being closer than with their fathers (Pipp, Shaver, Jennings, Lamborn, & Fisher, 1985). This intimacy may cause the mother-daughter relationship to be more turbulent and conflicted. Menarche, a physical sign of the transition to adolescence, appears to be correlated with parent-adolescent conflict (Hill, Holmbeck, Marlow, Green, & Lynch, 1985a), particularly within mother-daughter dyads (Holmbeck & Hill, 1991). In addition, the adolescent daughter's self-esteem has been positively related to maternal support and validation, while this characteristic is unrelated to paternal validation and negatively related to paternal support (Bell & Bell, 1983). Thus, the dynamics surrounding the adolescent's relationship with her parents--in particular, her mother--along with her physical and psychological transition to autonomy, may predict the kind of relationship she will forge with her infant.
For adolescent mothers, the relationship of the teenager with her own mother contributes substantially to her transformation as a parent and her ability to manifest intuitive skills such as previewing (Trad, 1989), which enables her to envision the future relationship with the infant. Each skill the infant achieves may be viewed as a sign of the infant's increasing individuation and autonomy. Under normal circumstances, parent and infant continuously adjust their exchanges to reflect the developmental status of each. Thus, the relationship between the adolescent mother and her infant is unique in the sense that both dyadic partners are confronted by the same challenge at the same time-- asserting their autonomy. Indeed, one of the adolescent's motivations for becoming pregnant may be to assert individuation and to separate from her own mother. …