Adolescent mothers negotiating development in the context of interpersonal violence (IPV) and gendered narratives: a qualitative study
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Adolescent mothers experience interpersonal violence (IPV) at higher rates than almost any other population in our country. Within the scant body of existing research, few studies have been grounded in the lived experiences of young mothers. These emic perspectives are critical to the development of effective and culturally appropriate policies and services. Ethnographic interviews were conducted with an ethnically diverse sample of 30 adolescent mothers. Twenty-four of the 30 interviewed mothers disclosed IPV during the interview process. Interview transcriptions were thematically coded and analyzed with matrices and tables. Analyses focused on the how young mothers’ important relationships were impacted by IPV. Four important themes about the impact of IPV on relationships emerged from the analysis. First, some mothers’ experiences of IPV resulted in lingering depressive and traumatic symptoms. Secondly, IPV made it difficult to trust others. Thirdly, some adolescents described experiences of adultification within their families of origin. And finally, some young mothers experienced the impact of IPV on their relationships when subsequent family estrangement left them without access to vital social support. In addition, nurturing and protective relationships with adults seemed to buffer or ameliorate the effects of IPV. Romance narratives provided a template through which many young mothers experienced their intimate partner relationships. As some mothers centered their lives around their romantic relationships, they failed to notice harbingers of their boyfriends’ abuse. Sexual stereotypes colluded with romance narratives pressuring adolescent mothers to stay with their partners, bottom particularly when they were connected by children. Some young mothers eventually chose to leave boyfriends behind to focus on their own futures. A few mothers resisted traditional romance narratives and sexual stereotypes, postponing serious relationships to concentrate on their educational and career goals. Social workers encounter adolescent mothers in a variety of practice settings and need to ground their interventions in empathy and a sound knowledge base. Programs for adolescent mothers must reflect the complex and diverse needs of this population. Social workers should also advocate for policies that consider adolescent mothers’ safety as they strive to become healthy, happy, and productive adults.