In Praise of Teenage Mums
Like many a leader before him, from William Gladstone to George W Bush, Gordon Brown in his proposals for a sort of house arrest for teenage mothers seems to have fallen victim to the urge to rescue fallen women; an urge which seems so often to have afflicted the great and self-satisfied. From the Magdalen Homes to Gladstone’s “wrestling with his passions in the company of beautiful, seductive prostitutes in the gaslit streets of London” to G W Bush’s Abstinence Czar the pattern of powerful men seeking to impose their control over the sexuality and fertility of women threads its way through political history like a nasty smell.
I’ve met lots of teenage mums and, on the whole, think they are great. They bloom with health and energy as do their babies. They don’t get pregnant to get a council flat but usually by accident having been persuaded by some boy or by their peers to take a foolish risk with sex. They decide they want to keep the baby and be a mother for the same reason thirty-something married career women do – to have a child to love, cherish and care for. Lucky for the human race that the maternal instinct is strong or we would have become extinct long ago. That instinct is just the same for teenage women as it is for older, and usually less fit women.
Teenage mums who do not have the backing of their own family – sometimes because they do not have a family in any meaningful sense – and sometimes because the pregnancy is the result of sexual abuse from within their family – deserve and need unstinting community support. Supportive housing is ok, if it’s of good quality and is a choice that is offered among others. But where are the university mother and baby halls of residence? Where are the free school, college and workplace crèches? Where is the fully checked, free and approved baby-sitter service? Where are the rewarding career opportunities? And for those who do have the backing of their family what community support is available to that family?
It is claimed that young unmarried mothers are no longer stigmatised but they certainly are not offered the sort of support and help which they and their children need to achieve equality with other women in education, in employment or in income. As a result these vibrant young women are often ground down by repeated disappointments and they and their children are forced to remain in poverty.