Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

"He's Not There When I Need Him": Adolescent Mothers' Romantic Relationship Expectations and Experiences

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

"He's Not There When I Need Him": Adolescent Mothers' Romantic Relationship Expectations and Experiences

Article excerpt

This study used focus groups to explore what 107 primarily Hispanic adolescents (pregnant young women and new mothers) expected from their romantic relationships. Discussions most frequently centered on the adolescents' expectations of trust, honesty and fidelity. Narratives revealed that adolescents valued a partner who would be there for them and their children. Although the adolescents were able to articulate their expectations, the narratives indicated that their current relationships did not always meet their stated expectations. These findings support the need to help adolescents identify their relationship expectations and reflect on the degree to which their current relationships meet those expectations.

According to Erikson (1968), identity formation and establishing intimate relationships are important psychosocial tasks during adolescence and young adulthood. However, there is a dearth of research on adolescent romantic relationships, particularly adolescent parents' relationships. One possible explanation for this lack of research is the assumption that adolescent relationships tend to be casual and short term in nature (Collins, 2003). Despite this assumption, scholars agree that these relationships play a critical role in adolescents' lives (Furman & Shaffer, 2003; Shulman & Kipnis, 2001). Therefore, it is crucial to examine romantic relationships between adolescents because they play an important role in their development of self and in their future relationships (Erikson, 1968; Sullivan, 1953).

The majority of research has examined adolescents' expectations with respect to cohabiting and marrying (Crissey, 2005; Manning, Longmore, & Giordano, 2007; Plotnick, 2007) rather than what they expect from romantic relationships more generally. In one study that did examine expectations about relationships, Martin, Specter, Martin, and Martin (2003) found that many adolescents held unrealistic expectations. This finding is pertinent because researchers have found unrealistic expectations to be related to decreased relationship satisfaction and stability among adults (Glenn, 1991; Sabatelli, 1988).

To our knowledge, studies have not examined adolescent mothers' relationship expectations, although Edin, Kefalas, and Reed's (2004) qualitative exploration of low-income mothers did include some adolescents. Their findings indicated that many of the mothers expected partners in a relationship to be "honest, trustworthy, and sexually faithful" (p. 1011). They did not determine whether these expectations were shared by the adolescent mothers in their study. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore adolescent mothers' reports of what they expect from their romantic relationships.


For the purposes of this study, 107 primarily Hispanic (87.8%) pregnant and parenting female adolescents (both referred to hereafter as adolescent mothers) enrolled in a school-based parenting program participated in one of 14 focus group interviews. The participants ranged in age from 14 to 18 years (M = 16.5 years), and 81.1% had at least one child (the others were pregnant). Focus groups were used because they provide an opportunity to discuss a range of perspectives in a short period of time and yield insights that might not be accessible without the interactions found in groups (Morgan, 1997; Taylor & Bogdan, 1998). A semi-structured interview protocol examined various aspects of adolescent relationships and what the participants expected from their romantic relationships. Interviews took place in a classroom during school hours and included an average of 8 participants per group (range: 2 to 13).

The first author moderated each focus group, accompanied by a note-taker. The moderator followed the interview protocol to ensure that the same topics were addressed in each focus group but also probed to saturation the topics students mentioned without prompting. The following questions were asked during the interviews: (a) What characteristics do you want in a partner? …

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