Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

High Educational Aspirations among Pregnant Adolescents Are Related to Pregnancy Unwantedness and Subsequent Parenting Stress and Inadequacy

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

High Educational Aspirations among Pregnant Adolescents Are Related to Pregnancy Unwantedness and Subsequent Parenting Stress and Inadequacy

Article excerpt

The transition to motherhood is a major life event that involves a reorganization of goals, priorities, and self-perceptions in efforts to successfully incorporate the new role of mother into one's self-identity and "life space" (Rubin, 1984). Such preparatory and self-definitional role shifts are known to have important implications for the acceptance of the pregnancy, the emotional attachment to the child, and mothers' postpartum mental health (Deutsch, Ruble, Fleming, Brooks-Gunn, & Stangor, 1988; Peacock et al., 2001). When pregnancy occurs among adolescents, the developmental tasks of adolescence-such as completing or pursuing one's education-run counter to the demands and responsibilities of parenting. Indeed, continuing the pregnancy and choosing to parent her child often necessitate that the adolescent abandon her goals to graduate high school or go to college (Raley, Kim, & Daniels, 2012). Those who have strong achievement aspirations might then have a tendency to resent the pregnancy and subsequently feel trapped in the parenting role. Such feelings are significant given that they might manifest themselves as mothers' punitiveness or uninvolvement toward her child, which can have long-term detrimental effects for both the child's adjustment and the mother-child relationship (Barber, Axinn, & Thornton, 1999; Hummer, Hack, & Raley, 2004).

The association between pregnant adolescents' strong desire to continue their education and their pregnancy wantedness has not, to our knowledge, been previously studied. This inattention is likely due to research demonstrating that low educational aspirations often precede early childbearing (Manlove, 1998) and that early childbearing is highly disruptive for future educational attainment (Fergusson & Woodward, 2000). Thus, the possibilities that pregnant adolescents have strong achievement aspirations and that this might undermine their adjustment to parenting has tended to be overlooked. In fact, though, not all pregnant adolescents have modest educational goals, with several studies documenting strong aspirations and definite expectations to attend college among pregnant and parenting adolescents (Barr&Simons, 2012; SmithBattle, 2007). Thus, given the likelihood that at least some pregnant adolescents want to further their education, it seems important to address whether strong educational ambitions hinder girls' acceptance of the pregnancy and thereby thwart their subsequent adaptation to parenting. Theories related to maternal identity development, role conflict, and childbearing motivation are particularly relevant and are discussed below.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

Rubin's (1984) theory of maternal identity development describes a series of cognitivedevelopmental stages that begin at pregnancy discovery, evolve throughout the prenatal period, and end with fully incorporating a maternal identity into one's self-system and self-concept. Rubin importantly described grief as a critical phase in establishing a healthy maternal identity, given that roles or parts of one's life that are incompatible with motherhood are relinquished. According to this theory, if such roles are not adequately relinquished from one's self-definition, a healthy maternal identity is not achieved, the prenatal attachment to the unborn child is compromised, and the mother's adaptation to parenthood (i.e., her ability to competently interact and care for her child) is jeopardized. Studies addressing Rubin's theory have shown that women who do not engage in sufficient self-definitional modification processes during pregnancy have more difficult postpartum adjustments and report less satisfaction and adequacy in parenting (Mercer, 2004; Pancer, Pratt, Hunsberger, & Gallant, 2000). Extrapolating this theory to adolescents suggests that pregnant young women who have strong educational ambitions would have particular difficulty adopting the maternal role and thus would be in need of greater support and counseling in their adjustment to parenthood than young women who are less educationally motivated. …

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