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Adolescent Motherhood Struggles And Achievements In The Book Promises I Can Keep

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The US government has been tackling with the issues of teen childbearing for decades. However, non-marital childbearing is “three times as common for the poor”, in contrast to marriage rates have decreased overtime. According to the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, it shows that unmarried poor women are still “romantically involved” with the child’s father after the baby is born and do some plan to marry in the future. However, the results express that a long-term relationship between unmarried couples are very low. Therefore this proves that childbearing and marriage have become separate amongst the poor. The US policymakers also known as the Bush Administration are trying to promote two-parent families to decrease non-marital births, so that marriage unions can move away from welfare.

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In Edin and Kefalas’ book, Promises I Can Keep, they conducted a five-year study including 162 low-income single mother participants that consists of three races, which are Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and White ranging from the ages of fifteen to fifty six. They also located their study in eight of the poorest neighbourhoods in Philadelphia: East Camden, Kensington, North Camden, North Central, PennsPort, South Camden, Strawberry Mansion, and West Kensington. Also, Edin and Kefalas (2011) compares between the young single mothers and the middle class such as implying that middle class ideas are a social construct that middle class women are rewarded “to wait to have children until a decade or more after attaining sexual maturity”. This proves that young single mothers’ pregnancies are defined by their young adulthood such as others view early pregnancy as a misfortune and often face disapproval from “teachers, preachers, neighbours, and kin”. In order to produce accuracy in their study, the author, Edin moves her family into one of poorest areas in Philadelphia to understand the participants lifestyle for two and half years to gather information. Edin and Kefalas (2011) utilize this study to provide the reasons why poor women commit to have children when they cannot financially support it and why poor women settle down for motherhood instead of marriage. Also, the goal of the authors’ research will be able to teach society about adolescent motherhood. In this paper, I argue that the book creates a strong foundation about the motherhood struggles and achievements, however there are limitations such as only receiving perspectives from mothers instead of fathers and not including underprivileged mothers practices in teaching their child.

Through Edin and Kefalas (2011) findings, they investigated that there are many factors as in why women choose motherhood before marriage. They argue that poor women highly value marriage and some women believe marriage vows are “sacred” meaning that poor women take their time before settling for a potential partner. Edin and Kefalas (2011) list four common reasons that couples terminate due to financial insecurity, domestic violence, infidelity, and criminal behaviour. Disadvantaged women struggle with the lack of funds to supply the whole family. For example, Edin and Kefalas (2011) interviews multiple women about the fathers not being able to maintain a steady job and it may be associated with laziness such as making excuses like, “I don’t work no 9-5” or “I don’t want to pay no bills”. Therefore, the women felt that they were taking care of their baby’s fathers too and decides to end their relationship with men who do not contribute to the family expenses. Domestic violence is very common within all women who live in Philadelphia, especially Puerto Ricans and whites, which leads to traumatic experiences for children. According to Edin and Kefalas (2011) infidelity was the second most common relationship wrecker that breaks the trust between couples. Lastly, criminal behaviour makes it harder for men to find a job in the labour market in order to generate a steady income for their family.

Based on the women’s stories, women have been choosing the motherhood lifestyle despite the fact that they are young and financially unstable due to the connection, validation, and motivation. Edin and Kefalas (2011) research shows that the bond between the mother and their children is very important especially mother’s accomplishment is having “tangible evidence” that the child’s well-being is healthy. For example, a twenty-five year old white woman named Cheyenne gains the satisfaction for her daughter’s achievements in school. Young women with children are often judged and evaluated on their “failure or success at motherhood by these outside appearances”. For example, Edin and Kefalas (2011) interviewed a woman named Santana, which she states whenever her eighteen-month-old daughter cries in public, people often look at her with disgust. Therefore, the feeling of validation is very important to young mothers especially when they purchase an expensive “name brand outfit” for their child. Mothers believe it is to prove that they have status and they have enough money to take care of their family. According to Edin and Kefalas (2011), young mothers indicate that children “provide motivation and purpose in a life stalled by uncertainty and failure. Underprivileged women believe that children saved their lives. For instance, a woman named, Denise, has been drinking and smoking weed before her pregnancy, however her son gave her a reason to “leave drugs and alcohol behind”.

Although Edin and Kefalas’ (2011) provided an insightful study in their book, there are some limitations of their research they may have left out. I believe that in Edin and Kefalas’ (2011) book, they romanticize the idea of women accepting their early pregnancies and how they express little to no regret over their child. For example, when Edin and Kefalas’ (2011) writes, “children offer a tangible source of meaning, while other avenues for gaining social esteem and personal satisfaction appear vague and tenuous”, this quote seems like it is glamorizing the struggles of unmarried mothers raising a child. Although the authors interviewed women who do not believe in abortions, they do not indicate whether women have any regrets regarding their lives being on pause. Another limitation to this research is that Edin and Kefalas’ (2011) implies that they have only interviewed the women participants’ perspectives instead of single fathers. Even though their sole focus is on single mothers’ lives, it would be interesting to reflect on single fathers’ perspectives and the struggles they need to overcome.

Despite the fact that impoverished single mothers are labeled “as a mark of personal failure” by society, Edin and Kefalas’ (2011) book plays an important role into promoting family formations different from the traditional form. Thus, the book helps convey low-income, non-marital women to voice out their stories and experiences of being a young mother. 

09 March 2021

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