Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Identity Transformation and Family Caregiving: Narratives of African American Teen Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Identity Transformation and Family Caregiving: Narratives of African American Teen Mothers

Article excerpt

This article explores connections between informal caregiving and identity transformation as experienced by pregnant teens. Based on in-depth interviews with 51 African American teen mothers, the article examines teens' pregnancy narratives as an example of narrative repair, illuminating how attending to processes that connect one's identity to the care of others can work to empower individuals to resist threats to a positive sense of self or a damaged identity. The authors suggest that family caregiving can provide an important context that supports identity transformation not only among pregnant teens as they strive to become good mothers but among those experiencing other types of disruptions to their lives.

Key Words: adolescent parenting, adolescent pregnancy, mother-child relations, pregnancy, stress/coping/well-being, transition to parenthood.

A lot of people think that's the main downfall in females-you know, teen parenting. You know, they think that's one of the worst things besides drugs and violence ... I hated a lot of people stereotyping single Black moms to be, you know, high school dropouts: "Their kids ain't gonna' be nothing, she'll end up on welfare," and things like that. I think that was the worst thing ... I felt like they were kind of wrong to, you know, to stereotype everyone. (Maxine, 18-year-old mother)

Teen mothers' unique perspectives on teen pregnancy can contribute much to our understanding of this issue, including family and individual experiences. In this article, teens' narratives provide insight into processes and contexts of family caregiving they received during their pregnancies as one type of resource they relied on to work toward a new and positive identity. Consistent with scholarship on identity construction, teenagers described their relationships with others as critical to this development, and attention to the processes of caregiving illuminates this connection. The stigmatized status of teen pregnancy, when viewed as a master narrative (such as that articulated by Maxine above), renders teenagers' own narratives a counterstory that facilitates narrative repair. Analysis of teenagers' narratives illuminates how processes of identity transformation connect one to the care of others, empowering individuals to resist threats to a positive sense of self or a damaged identity (Nelson, 2001).

In their narratives, teenagers describe largely negative initial reactions to their pregnancies, both their own and those of the individuals closest to them. These negative reactions provide the initial context for identity change and are emphasized through themes of loss and struggle. Despite these initial reactions that cause disruptions to their lives and identities (Becker, 1997), teenagers describe interactions with mothers, other mothers (Hill Collins, 1990), and sometimes their own and their babies' fathers, whose caregiving supported a redirection of self (Charmaz, 1999b) and a more positive identity characterized by responsibility, maturity, and ultimately striving to become a good mother.

Analysis of these teenagers' narratives simultaneously contextualizes two constructs that have neither been used extensively in the context of pregnancy nor been viewed as explicitly interrelated: caregiving and identity transformation. Although sociologists and other scholars have focused on both caregiving and identity transformation, there has been little exploration of connections between these two processes, and women's pregnancy experiences have received limited attention from either area of focus (Walzer, 1995). This article contributes to family scholarship by exploring how caregiving provides an important context of support for identity transformation that occurs among pregnant teenagers. The unique experience of teen pregnancy as stemming from socially questionable behaviors presents an opportunity to explore the interconnections between positive identity transformation and caregiving in the context of family experiences. …

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